Climate Change Shifts Terrorist Activity Patterns, Study Reveals

A new study suggests that climate change is causing terrorist groups to move to new locations, according to Dr Jared Dmello, an extremism expert from the University of Adelaide’s School of Social Sciences. The research, published in the Journal of Applied Security Research, found that changes in temperature, rainfall, and elevation are affecting where terrorists operate in India.

The study looked at terrorist activity in India between 1998 and 2017, a period during which there were over 9,000 terrorist incidents recorded. Dr Dmello and his team found that as urban centers have grown in population, particularly in areas with better climates, some of the more remote regions once used by extremists have become too difficult to live in due to changing weather patterns. This has forced these groups to move to other places.

“Suitability analyses indicate that all the climatological variables tested – temperature, precipitation, and elevation – relate to shifting patterns of terrorist activity,” says Dr Dmello.

The research also showed that it wasn’t just the severity of these climate variables that led to terrorists moving to new locations, but the changes were also seasonal.

“This research shows that stopping the damaging effects of climate change is not just an environmental issue but one that is directly tied to national security and defence,” says Dr Dmello, who recently received the Early Career Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences’ Security and Crime Prevention Section.

The study focused on where attacks occurred, but the data also suggests that other aspects of extremist behavior, such as where they train, are likely shifting in response to climate change as well.

“Average temperatures in India reached record highs during our 20-year study period,” said Dr Dmello. “This time frame represents a broad enough range to demonstrate climate change, while also availing of the most recent reliable data that covers both the climate change and extremism dimensions for the country.”

This new understanding of how climate change affects patterns of terrorism is important for governments around the world, including Australia, to inform their national security and defense strategies.

While terrorism and violent extremism are different in Australia compared to India, with far fewer attacks, radicalization is still a significant challenge and one that the Australian Government has made a national priority.

“To effectively mitigate radicalisation, other critical issues, such as homelessness, food insecurity, water and energy crises, and enhanced social equity, are essential for ensuring a more secure space for us all,” says Dr Dmello.

Dr Dmello, who joined the University of Adelaide at the beginning of 2024, also recently co-edited a book examining security in the Arctic from a multi-disciplinary perspective and plans to continue his research into terrorism and extremism in the Australian context.

“Some of my recent projects have been trying to understand how emerging issues impact radicalisation here in Australia in an effort to find ways to partner with government and law enforcement to prevent engagement with extremist ideologies,” he says.

Dr Dmello is also interested in expanding his research to investigate the role of water and food inequities on radicalization around the world. As climate change continues to impact our planet, understanding its effects on terrorism and extremism will be crucial for governments and law enforcement agencies to develop effective strategies to combat these threats.

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