ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Climate change and food insecurity are "threat multipliers", and 32 countries dependent on farming face an "extreme risk" of conflict or civil unrest in the next 30 years, a global analytics firm said on Wednesday.
Food shortages and rising prices have the potential to worsen political, ethnic, class and religious tensions, the risk advisory firm Maplecroft reported in its annual "Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA)".
Analysts noted that several nations' military leaders are ahead of their governments in focusing on such risks.
In Nigeria, for instance, the rise of the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram may be linked to population movements caused by a west African drought a decade ago, the UK-based company said.
Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea face the highest level of risk, the Maplecroft report said.
Countries with fast-growing economies including Cambodia (12), India (13), Myanmar (19), Pakistan (24) and Mozambique (27) also feature in the "extreme risk" category.
A common feature of the states most affected is their dependence on agriculture; 65 percent of their combined working populations are employed in farming, which contributes 28 percent of their overall economic output.
"I think the most surprising thing (the new data shows) is how closely linked food security and climate change are," James Allan, Maplecroft's associate director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We were not expecting this level of linkage."
Ordinary people could go hungry if their countries cannot produce enough food, and companies also face increased risks from climate change if states ban exports of basic foodstuffs.
There are also "reputational risks" for firms exporting cash crops from countries facing domestic food insecurity, Allan said.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the production of staple crops such as rice, wheat and corn could fall by up to 50 percent in some areas over the next 35 year as a result of climate change.
The Maplecroft study echoes reports from the Pentagon and other military bodies about the security implications of global warming.
While some governments have wavered in their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world's main military establishments recognise the risks posed to peace and stability by global warming, it said.
"In one sense the military is more progressive on climate change than government as they can see the direct implications," Allan said.
"They see this as a risk management issue, while (elected representatives) politicise climate science due to domestic pressures."
The U.S. military, for example, has revised its outlook on climate change, from considering it a risk multiplier, to viewing it, more negatively, as a catalyst for conflict.
The Maplecroft report links the Arab Spring, conflict in Syria and other examples of social unrest to food price volatility and climate change.
"It's challenging to draw a straight line between these trends and (violent groups like Nigeria's) Boko Haram as there are so many factors at play," Maplecroft environmental analyst Richard Hewston told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A drought across most of west Africa in the early part of the 2000s led to a surge of migrants entering Nigeria from neighbouring countries, causing tension with local residents and competition for scarce work.
Disenfranchised young men with few work prospects were fertile recruits for extremist groups like Boko Haram, Hewston said.
Some countries have improved their rankings in climate and food resilience by investing in poverty reduction, resilient infrastructure and drought-resistant crops, the study noted.
Indonesia, China, India and the Philippines have improved their standings in Maplecroft's Adaptive Capacity Index in recent years.
"Climate change adaptation funding should be targeted towards food security," if businesses and governments are to avoid mounting insecurity, Hewston said.
(editing by Tim Pearce)