As climate change intensifies in many parts of the world, more and more policymakers are concerned with its effects on human security and violence.
From Lake Chad to the Philippines, including Afghanistan and Syria, some violent extremist (VE) groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State exploit crises and conflicts resulting from environmental stress to recruit more followers, expand their influence and even gain territorial control. In such cases, climate change may be described as a “risk multiplier” that exacerbates a number of conflict drivers.
Against this backdrop, this case study looks at the relationship between climate change and violent extremism in North Africa, and more specifically the Maghreb countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, which are all affected by climate change and violent extremism. There are three justifications for this thematic and geographical focus. Firstly, these countries are affected by climate change in multiple ways: water scarcity, temperature variations and desertification are only a few examples of the numerous cross- border impacts of climate change in this region. Secondly, these three countries have been and remain affected by the activity of violent extremist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Islamic State organisation (IS) and their respective affiliated groups. Algeria endured a civil war from 1991 to 2002 in which Islamist groups opposed the government, while Morocco and Tunisia have been the targets of multiple terrorist attacks by jihadist individuals and organisations. Thirdly, the connection between climate change and violent extremism has received much less attention in the literature than other climate-related security risks.
Although empirical research has not evidenced a direct relationship between climate change and violent extremism, there is a need to examine the ways they may feed each other or least intersect in the context of North African countries. Hence, this study concentrates on the ways violent extremism can reinforce vulnerability to the effects of climate change and on the potential effects of climate change on vulnerability to violent extremism. While most of the existing research on the interplay between climate change and violent extremism concentrates on terrorist organisations (Asaka, 2021; Nett and Rüttinger, 2016; Renard, 2008), this case study focuses on the conditions, drivers and patterns that can lead individuals to join such groups in North Africa. In other words, it looks at the way climate change can exacerbate a series of factors that are believed to lead to violent radicalisation – “a personal process in which individuals adopt extreme political, social, and/or religious ideals and aspirations, and where the attainment of particular goals justifies the use of indiscriminate violence” (Wilner and Dubouloz, 2010: 38). This approach is needed not only to anticipate how climate change could possibly affect violent extremism in the medium and long run but also to determine whether and how the policy responses to both phenomena should intersect in the near future.
Does climate change affect the patterns of violent extremism in North Africa? If so, how do these phenomena interact in this region?
To answer these questions, the case study paper first gives an overview of the threat posed by violent extremism in the countries of study and examines the drivers and factors that are believed to lead to violent extremism in North Africa. Secondly, it discusses how these drivers could be affected by the effects of climate change on resources, livelihoods, mobility and other factors. Finally, an attempt is made to understand the possible interactions between climate change and violent extremism in the future and the implications for policymaking.