As Nigerian army officials ramp up their search for the hundreds of children kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram, a tragic spotlight has been placed on Nigeria as a hub for unprecedented, unspeakable violence. But while Boko Haram’s actions have mostly been attributed to terrorism and extreme jihadist ideology, the reasons behind why those ideologies have been allowed to thrive in Nigeria have been largely overlooked. According to many experts, one of those reasons may be the increasing physical effects of climate change, which have driven poverty, hunger, and infuriating inequality in the country.
“Instability in Nigeria … has been growing steadily over the last decade — and one reason is climate change,” Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, wrote in the Guardian on Friday, citing a 2009 study from the UK Department for International Development warning of climate change’s contribution to desertification, water shortages, and mounting crop failures.
The fact that anthropogenic global warming increases violence, especially in already conflict-prone and hunger-stricken countries, is no secret. Indeed, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report said climate change would “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” thereby “increas[ing] risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.” Experts have pointed to climate change as a factor in the violent conflict in Syria, for example.
The IPCC has in the past identified Nigeria as a climate change “hot spot” that is more likely to see major shifts in weather — more heat, less rain, and therefore increased desertification — in the twenty-first century. This, according to a 2011 report on Nigerian conflict for the U.S. Institute of Peace, creates “economic, social, and psychic stresses” that contributes to violent unrest, especially in Nigeria’s more-affected younger population.