International-security experts have suggested that climate-change-related damage to global ecosystems and the resulting competition for natural resources may increasingly serve as triggers for wars and other conflicts in the future.
According to Jurgen Scheffran, a research scientist in the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security and the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research at the University of Illinois, "The impact of climate change on human and global security could extend far beyond the limited scope the world has seen thus far."
In a survey of recent research published earlier this summer in the 'Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists', Scheffran did critical analysis of four trends identified in a report by the German Advisory Council on Global Change as among those most possibly destabilizing populations and governments.
He also cited last year's report by a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicating that climate change would affect species and ecosystems worldwide, from rainforests to coral reefs.
In his analysis, Scheffran noted that the number of world regions vulnerable to drought was expected to rise.
"Water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover in major mountain ranges such as the Andes and Himalayas also are expected to decrease," he said.
"Most critical for human survival are water and food, which are sensitive to changing climatic conditions," he added.
According to Scheffran, the degradation of these critical resources, combined with threats to populations caused by natural disasters, disease and crumbling economic and ecosystems, could ultimately have "cascading effects."
"Environmental changes caused by global warming will not only affect human living conditions but may also generate larger societal effects, by threatening the infrastructures of society or by inducing social responses that aggravate the problem," he said.
"The associated socio-economic and political stress can undermine the functioning of communities, the effectiveness of institutions, and the stability of societal structures. These degraded conditions could contribute to civil strife, and, worse, armed conflict," he added.
In fact, according to Scheffran, there's evidence that such dramas are already playing out on the world stage.
"Large areas of Africa are suffering from scarcity of food and fresh water resources, making them more vulnerable to conflict," he said.
"Other regions of the world - including the Middle East, Central Asia and South America - also are being affected," he added.
With so much at stake, Scheffran recommends multiple strategies for forestalling otherwise insurmountable consequences.
Among the most critical, according to him, is for governments to incorporate measures for addressing climate change within national policy.
Beyond that, he advocates a cooperative, international approach to addressing concerns.