Alumni lectures on environmental ‘triple threat’

The “environment is a threat multiplier, whether it’s climate change, the loss of biodiversity or pollution,” said Valerie Hickey, the Kroc Institute’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, in her lecture at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on Tuesday afternoon.

Hickey, who received her Master of Arts from Notre Dame in 2000, is the global director for environment, natural resources and the blue economy at the World Bank. In her lecture, Hickey detailed the ways in which climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution — what she calls the “triple threat” — exacerbate conflict and poverty throughout the world.

“We know that from 1946 to 2010, 40% of interstate conflict was made worse by — or paid for by — environmental crime and the loss of biodiversity,” Hickey said. “A quarter of conflicts between 2014 and 2018 were fights over natural resources.”

Hickey warned that as climate change has a more pronounced impact on the world, these conflicts over natural resources will only increase.

“For every one-degree-Celsius increase in global temperature, we’re going to see domestic violence rise by 2.42% and intergroup violence rise by 11.3%,” she said.

Hickey detailed that by 2050, in places such as Mali, GDP could decrease by 6.5% every year as a result of the environmental triple threat. In Nigeria, a 53% loss and in Ghana, a 60% loss in fishing stock is expected as a result of climate change and a lack of biodiversity, she said. Currently, 70 million people earn their living from the fishing industry in West Africa.

While recognizing the severity of the problems caused by climate change, a lack of biodiversity and pollution, Hickey also acknowledged that there is no easy solution to these problems. Perhaps the most immediately pressing obstacle is a lack of capital.

“In 2020, there was $632 billion spent on climate finance,” Hickey stated, “That’s a lot less than the $4 trillion that was needed.”

Hickey said that a big part of this problem stems from the fact that many in Western nations are — perhaps rightfully so — hesitant to commit their tax dollars to help other countries deal with the effects of climate change.

“Eleven percent of Americans and 39 million people live below the poverty line in this country,” Hickey noted. “Are we going to ask the families in Flint, Michigan who can’t get clean water out of their pipes to pay for climate emissions in China? There’s not such an easy answer.”

In addition to the lack of investment into solutions to climate change, Hickey said there is also a dispute over how the money that is spent ought to be allocated.

“If we’re spending 93% percent of climate finance on mitigation, we’re sacrificing current generations who don’t have the coping strategies to deal with climate change today, for the interests of future generations,” she said. “That’s not climate justice either.”

While much of Hickey’s lecture centered on the devastating effects of climate change and the barriers to solutions, she highlighted the fact that these issues are being addressed — even if progress is slow.

“We’re also finally seeing the emergence of leadership that is much stronger than we’ve seen in a while and people standing up for what’s right and for good, even though they have to sacrifice,” Hickey said.

You can contact Liam Kelly at

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