Links between youth, climate change and security

The combined pressures of climate change and growing youth populations will influence security environments and affect already fragile contexts, according to a new UNICEF report co-authored by peacebuilding charity International Alert and the Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), and commissioned by UNICEF UK.

The report, titled Climate change, violence and young people, is based on four case studies from Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia and Guatemala, and illustrates the growing challenges these countries face: weak governance, low resilience to the impacts of climate change, significant ‘youth bulges’ (populations with a high number 15-29-year-olds), livelihoods vulnerable to environmental change and fragile underlying security conditions. The timeframe for this study looks out to 2050, when the effects of climate change and demographic growth will be more pronounced.

The report shows that regions where large youth bulges will be present in the coming decades generally have low resilience to climate change impacts and already experience poor governance and social and political instability. Without adequate planning and preparation in those vulnerable countries, the pre-existing security risks may be exacerbated by low resilience to climate change, and may compromise sustainable development.

The new research finds that the combined effects of climate change and growing populations are putting additional strain on already stressed governments and social systems. If not well managed, pressure on basic service provision such as health, energy or education can disrupt people’s lives, particularly amongst young people.

Large youth cohorts can boost economic growth under the right conditions. However, they can also agitate, sometimes violently, for political change when their economic needs are not met, and climate impacts are likely to complicate economic growth and increase pressure on livelihoods”. (Climate change, violence and young people, 2015)

In turn, instability and fragility also impair economic performance, erode people’s resilience and limit their capacity to sustainably adapt to change, further increasing vulnerability to climate change.

The report provides some key findings and recommendations in order to inform appropriate responses and policies:

  • Tackling disaster risk in a manner that is sensitive to the political context, especially specific dynamics of conflict or fragility, provides opportunities to reduce long-term disruption to youth education, livelihoods and well-being that can follow from disasters and potentially increase the risk of conflict;
  • Forward-looking policies that invest in education, secure employment opportunities and representation in governance can avoid further marginalising youth, and instead harness their potential to boost growth and development;
  • Creating sustainable and inclusive economic growth that provides opportunities for young people and is resilient to future climate impacts may prove a challenge in the coming decades, particularly for states with already weak governance capacities;
  • Building economic and social capital to promote peace and stability will be particularly relevant in countries that face concurrent demographic and climate risks;
  • Exploring further the links between population, resources, economy, governance and how the interactions between these factors can positively or negatively reinforce security trends.