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Climate Change: Source of Conflict or Promoter of Cooperation? How to Sort Arguments in the Debate on Climate Change and Violent Conflict


Abstract and Figures

Since 2007, the interest on environmental conflicts experienced a renaissance in the form of discussions about violent conflicts induced by climate change. This article argues that in this debate existing classifications summarizing the various positions regarding a climate-conflict-nexus are delusive and incomplete, particularly those referring to the distinction between neomalthusians and cornucopias. By reviewing main theoretical arguments and latest empirical evidence, a comprehensive new typology is developed which distinguishes between three perspectives, each providing a different answer to the question whether climate change is a (potential) source of violent conflict onset: (a) The Climate Conflict perspective claims that climate change increases the risk for violent conflict onset, while (b) the Social Conflict perspective states that climate change is mostly unrelated to the outbreak of violence. Finally, (c) the Environmental Peace perspective suggests that environmental problems, resource scarcity and natural disasters -which can all be exacerbated by climate change -may provide opportunities for cooperative behavior. Especially this last perspective has so far neither been coherently portrayed nor received adequate attention in the literature. There is empirical evidence supporting each of the three perspectives, so the central question of future research should not be whether climate change will stimulate more violent conflict (or intergroup cooperation), but rather under which conditions the claims of the different perspectives are valid.
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Tobias Ide
Jürgen Scheffran
Climate Change:
Source of Conflict or Promoter of Cooperation?
University of Hamburg
Research Group Climate Change and Security
Working Paper
Climate Change: Source of Conflict or Promoter of Cooperation?
How to Sort Arguments in the Debate on Climate Change and Violent Conflict
Tobias Ide* and Jürgen Scheffran
Research Group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC)
Department of Geography
University of Hamburg
Since 2007, the interest on environmental conflicts experienced a renaissance in the form of
discussions about violent conflicts induced by climate change. This article argues that in this
debate existing classifications summarizing the various positions regarding a climate-conflict-
nexus are delusive and incomplete, particularly those referring to the distinction between
neomalthusians and cornucopias. By reviewing main theoretical arguments and latest empirical
evidence, a comprehensive new typology is developed which distinguishes between three
perspectives, each providing a different answer to the question whether climate change is a
(potential) source of violent conflict onset: (a) The Climate Conflict perspective claims that
climate change increases the risk for violent conflict onset, while (b) the Social Conflict
perspective states that climate change is mostly unrelated to the outbreak of violence. Finally, (c)
the Environmental Peace perspective suggests that environmental problems, resource scarcity
and natural disasters - which can all be exacerbated by climate change - may provide
opportunities for cooperative behavior. Especially this last perspective has so far neither been
coherently portrayed nor received adequate attention in the literature. There is empirical evidence
supporting each of the three perspectives, so the central question of future research should not
be whether climate change will stimulate more violent conflict (or intergroup cooperation), but
rather under which conditions the claims of the different perspectives are valid.
Key words: violent conflict, climate change, resource scarcity, environmental peacebuilding,
disaster diplomacy
1 Introduction
The world is facing several large trends at the beginning of the 21st century. One is climate
change, and for different scenarios it is estimated to raise the global mean temperature by 1.8 up
to 4 degrees until end of the 21st century compared to end of the 20th century, with the higher
end of this range being more likely (IPCC 2007). The negative consequences of climate change
include, inter alia, changed precipitation patterns, melting glaciers, rising sea level, worsening
conditions for agriculture and more frequent natural disasters (IPCC 2007). Another major trend
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is the rising importance of intrastate vis-à-vis interstate conflict (Themnér/Wallensteen 2011).
This paper explores the interrelations between these two important developments by asking the
question: Is climate change a source of intrastate violence, or can it even be considered as a
promoter of cooperation?1 Consequentially, we will solely focus on the relation between climate
change and violent conflict onset.2
But before proceeding, some basics should be clarified. First, the most important definitions have
to be spelled out. A conflict exists when the incompatible expectations of at least two social
groups meet and become manifest (Bonacker 2009: 184). A violent conflict is a conflict in which
both actors use a certain amount of direct physical violence against humans in order to enforce
or articulate their expectations. For the sake of simplicity, we speak of “conflict” when we mean
“violent conflict” in the following. A factor, situation or development is termed conflictive,
conflict-relevant or a source of conflict if it can be considered as a root cause of, a trigger of or
an enabling condition for conflicts. However, a conflict is the product of multiple factors, so
there is never one single source of violence.
Second, it is unlikely that climate change (or environmental change) contributes to large-scale
(Melander/Sundberg 2011; Urdal 2008) or interstate conflict (Joe Barnett 2003; Deudney 1990),
so we focus mainly on small-scale and intrastate violence. 3
Finally, there is a significant overlap of research on environmentally-induced and on climate
change-induced conflicts. This is no surprise since climate change manifests itself mainly in
environmental changes and (a central issue of both debates) the shortage of natural, renewable
resources. However, a certain difference can be noted since authors working on the
environment-conflict-nexus take all kinds of environmental change into consideration, while the
research on climate change and conflict only deals with the kinds of environmental change which
can be considered a consequence of or closely related to climatic change.
This paper will proceed as follows: First, some well-established classifications of the various
positions concerning climate change-induced conflicts are introduced and criticized (2). In the
following section (3), a more comprehensive classification will be presented, distinguishing
between the Environmental/Climate Conflict (3.1), the Social Conflict (3.2) and the
Environmental Peace (3.4) perspective. Especially the later one is often ignored in the literature
and comprehensively portrayed for the first time by this article. We review the main theoretical
arguments and latest empirical evidence concerning environmental respectively climate change-
induced conflicts provided by all three perspectives in order to answer the main question of this
1 The last IPCC report (2007) contains only a few statements on this topic, which rest on shaky empirical and
theoretical foundations (Nordås/Gleditsch 2009).
2 See Dalby et al. (2009) and Rønnfeldt (1997) for a history of the research field.
3 There exists, however, some interesting research and climate change and (violent and non-violent) interstate
conflict (e.g. Gartzke 2012; Link/Piontek/Scheffran et al. 2012).
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paper. Particularly section 3.3 examines the increasing number of large-N studies which have
been conducted in order to support the Climate Conflict or the Social Conflict perspective.
Finally, a conclusion is drawn and some directions for future research are suggested (4).
2 Classifying Positions Regarding the Climate-Conflict-Nexus
The most widely used way to sort the different positions regarding the connection between
environmental problems, renewable resource scarcity and conflicts is the differentiation between
(neo-)malthusian and cornucopian positions (e.g. Theisen/Brandsegg 2007: 4f.; Urdal 2008:
592f.). This distinction suffers from various problems. First, in his 1798 essay, Thomas Malthus
considered the discrepancy between the linear growth of agricultural output and the exponential
growth of human populations as the cause for human misery and conflict (Malthus 1992). Within
the discussion about the climate-conflict-nexus, however, climate change and not population
growth is the possible source of resource scarcity (and violence). Consequently, many studies on
this topic do not consider population issues at all or only as one of many important factors.
Moreover, Malthus assumed a deterministic connection between population growth, resource
scarcity and misery. In contrast, many environmental conflict scholars underscore the importance
of institutions and human agency, therefore dismissing any deterministic connections. Bächler
(1998: 32) already claimed:
„However, passing the threshold of violence definitely depends on sociopolitical factors and not
on the degree of environmental degradation as such. Critical sociopolitical factors include the
lack of institutional capacities for peaceful conflict settlement, the readiness and/or capacity of
authorities and leaders to organize and mobilize collective actors, the (mis-)perception of
alternatives to resorting to violence, the preferences and opportunities of actors, and actor
The label “cornucopian” greatly reduces the range of arguments criticizing the
environmental/climate conflict thesis. Cornucopianism refers, broadly speaking, to positions
claiming that societies can adapt to natural resource shortages or that crucial natural resources are
not getting scarce (Lomborg 2001b; Simon 1981). However, most criticism of a connection
between climate/environmental change and conflict concerns the lack of consistent theory and
empirical evidence as well as the need for further methodological justification (see sections 3.2
and 3.3). Finally, the simple distinction between neomalthusian and cornucopian positions
ignores other crucial positions in the debate, namely the one put forward by Environmental
Peace scholars (see section 3.4).
Other attempts to classify positions regarding the environment-conflict-nexus (e.g. Brown 2005;
Floyd 2008; Kahl 2006: 4-25; WBGU 2008: 25-30) either term positions according to key authors
(Homer-Dixon, de Soysa etc.), institutions (Toronto Group, PRIO etc.), academic disciplines
(neoclassical economics, political ecology etc.), or a combination of these categories. All of these
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classifications do neither enlighten the broader lines of thought which compete in the discussion
nor do they cover all of the key perspectives existing in the field of research. In the next section,
we will therefore introduce a novel classification of positions which is intended to overcome
these shortcomings in order to come closer to an answer to the question whether climate change
will lead to more conflict or more cooperation. Especially, we will shed light on the so far hardly
acknowledged argument that climate change can, under certain circumstances, induce intergroup
cooperation rather than conflict.
3 Will Climate Change Breed More Violence? Three Main Perspectives of the Debate
This part of the article will develop a new classification of the various arguments regarding the
connection between climate change and violent conflict. This typology is based on a
comprehensive reading of classical texts and latest research. The debate will be arranges along
three main lines of thought, namely the Environmental/Climate Conflict, the Social Conflict and
the Environmental Peace perspective.
3.1 Environmental/Climate Conflict
The main argument of this perspective can be summarized as follows: Environmental change –
and therefore climate change, too – causes scarcity of natural, renewable resources as well as
disasters (e.g. storms, floods) migration and economic turbulences and is therefore an important
factor for the onset of conflicts. However, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition and
often not even the most important source of violence. The most likely forms climate change-
induced conflicts will take are small-scale, subnational conflicts in poor, undemocratic regions
with a history of violence and a low climate change-related adaptive capacity.
3.1.1 Environmental Conflict
Since they constitute the basis of the research on the climate-conflict-nexus, six main causal paths
suggested to connect resource scarcity and conflicts are presented first. The pathways can
coincide and even interact.
a) Need: When people absolutely lack the means to sustain their own livelihoods, they may
resort to violence in order to capture the necessary resources for survival from other
groups. This argument is not very popular in the environmental conflict literature, maybe
because one can raise serious doubts about (a) whether people would wait that long with
capturing resources and/or (b) the ability of emaciated individuals to engage in organized
violence (Joe Barnett 2000; Nordås/Gleditsch 2005). More recent research on small-scale
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b) Grievance: Another reasoning contends that resource scarcity will reduce the well-being
of individuals either directly or via reduced economic growth. Homer-Dixon/Blitt (1998)
argue that absolute deprivation (people are worse off than before) and – more important
– relative deprivation (people are worse off than other groups or than they expect)
provide strong motives for people to fight privileged groups or the government. Similarly,
resource scarcity can lead people to migrate, causing tensions about scarce resources or
identity conflicts in the receiving area (Reuveny 2008).
c) Opportunity: This style of argumentation can be traced back to the work of Fearon/Latin
(2003: 76), who state:
“Surely ethnic antagonisms, nationalist sentiments, and grievances often motivate rebels
and their supporters. But such broad factors are too common to distinguish the cases
where civil war breaks out.”
Consequentially, researchers should focus on the opportunity structure aggrieved
individuals and groups face when they want to engage in conflict. Environmental change
plays a twofold role here (Homer-Dixon/Blitt 1998; Kahl 2006;
Miguel/Satyanath/Sergenti 2004): First, environmental change weakens the state. It
reduces (via its negative impact on economic growth) tax revenues and increases (via
damages caused by disasters) the amount of money which must be spend on
infrastructure. A loss of economic growth occurs mainly due to damages done by
disasters and the scarcity of natural resources (such as suitable land in economies with a
strong agricultural sector). Furthermore, in times of scarce resources, natural disasters or
economic turbulences, citizens may demand more support from the state. This reduces
the state budget further or, if the government is unwilling or unable to deliver support,
undermines the legitimacy of the state. Finally, resource scarcity may also lead to intra-
elite competition. A weakened state will be an easier target for rebel groups or be less able
to prevent intercommunal violence on its territory. Second, environmental change
reduces recruitment costs for fighters. If resource scarcity and natural disasters lead to
lower yields and lower incomes, the opportunity costs for people to join a conflict group
decline. In addition, resource scarcity tends to strengthen group coherence because in
times of scarce resources, people increasingly rely on their social networks or even have
to join certain groups in order to acquire the resources necessary. Stronger group
coherence, in turn, increases the willingness of individuals to fight for “their people”.
Finally, since resources that become scarce often increase in value, they can be used as
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selective incentives by elites in order to attain allies and stimulate conflict that serves their
d) Insecurity: The “State Failure Hypothesis” developed by Kahl (2006: 44) claims that there
might be another connection between the weakening of states, resource scarcity and
conflicts. If a state fails, a fundamental insecurity (“security dilemma”) between various
social groups arises due to the lack of a neutral authority setting and implementing
binding rules. If such a situation coincides with resource scarcity, all social groups face
incentives to change the destabilized order to their favor in order to acquire more of the
scarce resources. Since all groups know about these incentives, they will (independent
from their own ambitions) distrust other groups, further intensifying the climate of
insecurity and making preventive strikes or the rapid escalation of single violent acts more
likely (see Schilling et al. 2011 for an example).
e) Motivation: A very recent approach, so far only applied to Africa, claims that not only
droughts, but also unusually wet periods could lead to conflict onset. The basic argument
here is that climate change will improve conditions for agriculture and pastoralism at least
in some regions during some times of the year, thus providing stronger incentives for
groups to capture abundant resources such as food or especially cattle violently
(Hendrix/Salehyan 2012; Raleigh/Kniveton 2012; Schilling/Opiyo/Scheffran 2012). In
contrast to the very similar opportunity argument, the motivation pathway refers to
resource abundance and not the resource scarcity.
f) Aggression: Several studies in social psychology indicate “that in many settings hot
temperatures cause increases in aggression” (Anderson 2001: 37). According to this logic,
heat causes more anger, animosity and a higher readiness for vengeance on the individual
level, which may escalate into conflicts via spirals of violence or a higher readiness to
fight (Anderson/DeLisi 2011; Fritsche/Cohrs/Kessler 2012). These psychological
arguments only gained minor attention in the broader research on climate change and
conflict so far.
One apprehension often articulated by environmental conflict scholars is that resource scarcity
may lead to conflicts while conflicts themselves exacerbate environmental problems (UNEP
2009), therefore leading to a vicious cycle (e.g. Evans 2010).
Most of the works concerning the environment-conflict-nexus mention several intervening
variables and context factors that make their claims more precise. An extended debate of this
issue is not possible here. However, Carius/Tänzler/Winterstein (2006) collected 73 incidences
of environmental conflicts taking place between 1980 and 2005. They found the following
context factors to be especially relevant for environmental conflict onset:
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- Unequal distribution of power and resources as well as corruption.
- Government failure and no adequate decentralization of competences.
- Already existing social, political and cultural tensions and insecurity.
- Insecurity of livelihood and poverty.
- Population pressure and multidimensional migration.
- Problematic socio-demographic structures or trends.
- Unequal possession of and access to land as well as natural and common-pool resources.
- Inadequate land use systems and technologies.
3.1.2 Climate Conflict
Mostly from 2007 on, many of the basic arguments of environmental conflict scholars were
adopted by the fast growing research on the climate-conflict-nexus (Brauch 2009). Barnett/Adger
(2007), for example, convincingly connect “grievance” with “opportunity” arguments. They
suggest that environmental degradation caused by climate change undermines human security,
therefore raising grievances and lowering opportunity costs for violent behavior. This is
particularly the case for poor areas with low capacities for adaptation and a strong dependence on
natural resources.
The most comprehensive study on the climate-conflict-nexus so far has been carried out by the
German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU 2008). It identifies four conflict
constellations which could be induced by climate change (WBGU 2008: 79-129). All dynamics
are to a large extent influenced by several natural, economic, political and social scope conditions
which cannot be fully discussed within this paper:
a) “Climate-induced degradation of freshwater resources”: The melting of glaciers, changing
rainfall patterns and increasing evaporation may cause increasing regional scarcities of
fresh water which can raise need, grievance, opportunities and insecurity. Especially
prone to this conflict constellation are regions that already face water stress or depend on
water from glaciers, such as Peru, the southern and northern parts of Africa, the Middle
East, central and parts of southern Asia as well as northern China.
b) “Climate-induced decline in food production”: Climate change can reduce food
production through higher temperatures, changed rainfall patterns, and more (severe)
natural disasters. The question whether food insecurity stimulates conflict is answered by
Brinkman/Hendrix (2011: 4) with “a highly qualified yes”. This claim is well founded in
the empirical literature, where recent studies by Bessley/Persson (2008), Pinstrup-
Andersen/Shimokava (2008), Sobek/Boehmer (2009), Arezki/Brückner (2011) and
Rowhani et al. (2011) all find a statistically significant connection between some
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c) “Climate-induced increase in storm and flood disasters”: Bhavnani (2006: 38) illustrates
the mechanisms connecting natural disasters to conflict:
„Natural disasters in general contribute to conflict because they create competition for
scarce resources, exacerbate inequality with the unequal distribution of aid, change
power relationships between individuals, groups, and the organizations that serve them,
and can create power vacuums and opportunities for warlords to usurp power.“
Hydro-meterological disasters are especially conflictive if the government is identified as
responsible for inadequate prevention, emergency relief or reconstruction measures
(Goldstone 2001). Areas facing a high risk of conflicts related to floods and storms are
the Caribbean, the east coast of India and China as well as Bangladesh.
d) “Environmentally induced migration”: Resource scarcity, natural disasters or a rising sea
level as well as climate change-induced conflicts can act as push factors4 for people to
migrate to other places. In the receiving areas, competition for scarce resources or ethnic
and political tensions between newcomers and longer-time residents have under certain
circumstances the potential to be a source of conflict (Reuveny 2007). Refugee camps
may also provide good opportunities to recruit fighters (Salehyan/Gleditsch 2006). If
Diasporas are an important factor in stimulating conflict in their homelands because they
provide various forms of financial and organizational support (Collier/Hoeffler 2000;
Smith 2007), climate change induced migration may also raise the conflict risk of
outsending areas – a hypothesis hardly considered so far. Altogether, the regions most
prone to the climate-migration-conflict-nexus are Latin America and the Caribbean,
Northern Africa, the Sahel zone as well as South and East Asia.
The WBGU (2008: 189) summarizes his findings as follows:
“The conflict constellations analysed by WBGU show that unabated climate change will increase
human vulnerability, worsen poverty and thus heighten societies’ susceptibility to crises and
conflicts. The specific threats will depend on the dynamics of climate change, local
environmental conditions and the affected societies’ and actors’ crisis management capacities.
Another important aspect is that not only climate change itself, but also attempts to mitigate or
adapt to climate change can be conflictive. Mitigation policies can stimulate conflicts through, for
instance, the cultivation of biofuels or a rise of the price of fossil fuels (which can in turn increase
food prices) (Nordås/Gleditsch 2007). Examples of conflictive adaptation measures include
4 Usually, three factors are considered to cause migration as exemplified by Reuveny (2008: 2): “Push forces operate
in A and cause people to leave A. Pull forces operate in B and attract people to move to B. Network forces assist in
the move.“
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adaptation funds, which can be used as sources of financing by rebels or repressive regimes, and
an increase of upstream irrigation agriculture leading to conflicts with parties located downstream
at the same river (Tänzler/Maas/Carius 2010). To avoid these problems, concepts of conflict-
sensitive climate adaptation have been developed (Yanda/Bronkhorst 2011). However, since little
research has been conducted on these issues, well founded claims cannot be made yet.
3.2 Social Conflict
Proponents of the Social Conflict perspective argue that environmental change, natural resource
scarcity and climate change are not or only marginal sources of conflict. They suggest that the
evidence in favor of a climate-conflict-nexus is scientifically unfounded and rather speculative.
Social factors, such as democracy, economic growth or poverty, are the relevant drivers of
conflict onset. The Social Conflict perspective raises doubt about the theoretical plausibility of,
the methodology underlying and the empirical evidence supporting the climate-conflict thesis.
3.2.1 Theoretical Plausibility
Many authors criticize climate conflict and especially environmental conflict scholars for
underestimating or at least undertheorizing the role of social factors like institutions, culture or
regime type. According to them, these scholars suggest a too direct (or deterministic) link
between environmental change and conflict (Joe Barnett 2003; Gleditsch 1998; Salehyan 2008).
Especially remarkable is the lack of attention given to the local actor’s perceptions as well as to
local conflict regulation mechanisms and institutions governing the access to natural resources
(Hagmann 2009; Martin 2005; Timura 2001). From a political ecology perspective, Peluso/Watts
(2001) argue that (the perception of) resource scarcity is always produced by and embedded into
complex local and global relations of power, production, accumulation, commodification and
culture, which are hardly taken into account when environmental conflicts are analyzed.5
Barnett (2000) argues that Homer-Dixon (in accordance with the majority of studies concerning
the climate-conflict-nexus) only shows how environmental change leads to poverty and
underdevelopment, but fails to specify the mechanisms that cause such a situation, which is very
common in large parts of the world, to cross the threshold of violence. Another common
argument put forward against environmental conflicts is that they simply do not pay. Other
responses to resource scarcity (such as increased imports, more efficient irrigation systems or
desalination) are much more cost-efficient and less dangerous for participating individuals
(Goldstone 2001; Salehyan 2008; Simon 1989).
5 But notice that Pelluso/Watts have been accused of interpreting the findings of proponents of the Environmental
Conflict perspective as simpler than they actually are (Homer-Dixon 2003; Matthew 2002).
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3.2.2 Methodology
This line of argumentation contends that most studies confirming the Environmental/Climate
Conflict perspective are methodologically unsound and thus not very meaningful. Most of the
objections raised only hold true for the case studies which were the predominant research design
of the field in the 1990s. Gleditsch (1998) criticizes that the models developed by environmental
conflict scholars are overly complex, impossible to test (this point also applies to most models
concerning the climate-conflict-nexus, too) and often supported only by anecdotal evidence of
singular cases (but see Schwartz/Deligiannis/Homer-Dixon 2000 for a discussion of this
objection). According to de Soysa (2000), case studies rely on statements made by the conflict
actors themselves, who try to frame their actions in terms of grievance about resource scarcity
and environmental discrimination, even if they are motivated by voracity for power or wealth.
Other criticisms go beyond an exclusive focus on case studies and are therefore more
comprehensive. For instance, claims about the conflictivity of land degradation or food insecurity
often suffer from serious endogeneity problems since these conditions can also be the result of –
or indicators for – the existence of conflict, poverty or poor governance
(Bernauer/Kalbhenn/Koubi et al. 2010). In parts, the WBGU study fits Gleditsch’s (1998: 393)
imputation that environmental conflict scholars are “Using the Future as Evidence”. Matthew
and his colleagues (2002; Matthew/Gaulin/McDonald 2002) criticize scholars claiming an
environment-conflict-nexus for examining too short time periods, because resource-related
violence could only be an episode in a larger process of (positive) societal transformation (e.g.
democratization, decentralization). Finally, Benjaminsen (2008) raises a particularly interesting
point by claiming that many studies arguing in favor of a climate-conflict-nexus use out-dated or
inadequate environmental data. For instance, most of the large-N studies claiming a significant
correlation between land degradation and conflict (see part 3.2.3) use the Global Assessment of
Soil Degradation (GLASOD) (Oldeman 1992) to operationalize their independent variable. But
GLASOD is based solely on the view of around 250 different experts who do not use consistent
3.2.3 Empirical Evidence
The most important objection of the Social Conflict perspective, however, is that so far there is
no convincing empirical evidence confirming that environmental and climate change make
conflict outbreak more likely, which stands in sharp contrast to some well established social
factors rising the risk of conflict onset (Dixon 2009; Hegre/Sambanis 2006). As a contrast to the
bulk of case studies finding environmental degradation to be a relevant factor for conflict onset,
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there are also many cases in which resource scarcity and natural disasters were either
epiphenomenal to the conflict (Benjaminsen 2008; Bobrow-Strain 2001; Hagmann 2009; Turner
2004), did induce improved resource management and cooperation patterns (Juul 2005; Slettebak
2012) or did (as for example in North Korea or Malawi) simply not coincide with conflict (Joe
Barnett 2000; Salehyan 2008). In a similar fashion, Buhaug, Gleditsch and Theisen (2008: 5) make
us aware of the fact that
“the many processes associated with global warming, which have truly started to appear only
over the last fifteen years, have occurred during a time when we have witnessed a dramatic
reduction in the frequency and severity of armed conflict.”
Regarding climate-change induced migration, several authors doubt that it will be a source of
conflict. This is the case because, if at all, climate change (in contrast to civil war or state failure)
causes migration
- that is “typically internal and short term” (Raleigh/Jordan/Salehyan 2008: 4),
- of people that are not powerful enough to engage in systematic violence,
- of people without weapons, organizational structures and contact to rebel organizations
or warlords, and
- of people without conflictive political agendas or a motivation to influence conflicts in
their homelands (Gleditsch/Nordås/Salehyan 2007; Raleigh et al. 2008).
Finally, some of the objections formulated against the environmental conflict thesis by the
already mentioned cornucopian authors need to be mentioned. Lomborg (2001a, 2001b) and
Ausubel (1998) try to prove that essential resources are not getting scarce because agricultural
productivity is still increasing (compensating for production losses due to climate change, soil
erosion etc.) and water is abundant, too, if efficient use is assured and desalination technologies
are applied. Moreover, even if certain resources get scarce once, this will lead to technological
innovation, substitution, or increasing imports (Simon 1981, 1989). However, the cornucopian
perspective ignores that people may not always have the capacity to prevent or adapt to
conditions of resource scarcity, especially in indigent and poor-governed regions, which are most
prone to violence anyway (Homer-Dixon 1995; Kahl 2006: 16-18). Thus, cornucopian arguments
in general seem to be much weaker than other points raised by the Social Conflict perspective. It
remains true, however, that some regions and groups (especially in the global North) indeed have
well-developed adaptive capacities and a high social resilience, thus being less like to become
involved in climate-chance induced conflicts (e.g. Adger/Lorenzoni/O’Brien 2009).
3.3 Climate Conflict vs. Social Conflict: Assessing the Quantitative Evidence
As already suggested, the existing case studies provide no clear picture whether climate change
will lead to more conflict onsets or not. What about quantitative large-N studies?
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Some authors choose higher temperatures, reduced precipitation or increased rainfall variability
as the independent variable, which has the obvious advantage of being exogenous to local socio-
economic or cultural factors. But as shown in table 1, which contains all important large-N
studies on the climate-conflict-nexus covering more than one country, the various investigations
regarding these factors are unable to deliver a clear result. Table 1 further emphasizes that the
results for lower availability of freshwater, climate-related disasters and deforestation are similarly
inconclusive. The picture changes slightly in favor of the Social Conflict perspective if we take
out the studies against which major objections were put forward, namely those of Hauge and
Ellingsen (1998) and Burke et al. (2009) (Buhaug 2010; Theisen 2008).
Only the conflictivity of land degradation seems to be nearly consensual, since six out of eight
studies agree on that point. But one should be cautious about this finding, given the fact that all
of these studies except those of Biermann et al. (1998), Hendrix/Glaser (2007) and Rowhani et
al. (2011) use the methodologically questionable GLASOD data. Furthermore, Fearon (2010) and
Urdal (2005) find no correlation between cropland scarcity per capita and conflict. This may be a
more appropriate operationalization, because resource scarcity is the supposed mediating
mechanism between land degradation and conflict while even a high level of land degradation
may not lead to land scarcity if the affected area is sparsely populated. But on the other hand,
Biermann/Petschel-Held/Rohloff (1998) as well as Melander/Sundberg (2011) include an
interaction term between land degradation and population density and still find a positive
correlation with conflict onset.
Consequence of
climate change
conflictive6 non-conflictive
Burke et al. 2009 a
Hsiang/Meng/Cane 2011d
O´Loughlin et al. 2012c
Buhaug 2010a
Koubi et al. 2012
Wischnath/Buhaug 2012e
Hendrix/Glaser 2007b
Hendrix/Salehyan 2012a
Jensen/Gleditsch, 2009b
Levy et al. 2005
Miguel/Satyanath/Sergenti 2004b
Raleigh/Kniveton 2012c
Theisen/Brandsegg 2007b
Buhaug 2010a
Buhaug/Theisen 2012a
Brückner/Ciccone 2010b
Burke et al. 2009 a
Koubi et al. 2012
Nel/Righarts 2008
O´Loughlin et al. 2012c
Theisen/Holtermann/Buhaug 2011a
Wischnath/Buhaug 2012e
Increased rainfall
Hendrix/Salehyan 2012a
Raleigh/Kniveton 2012c
Koubi et al. 2012
Wischnath/Buhaug 2012e
Lower availability of
Gizelis/Wooden 2010
Hauge/Ellingsen 1998
Raleigh/Urdal 2007
Hendrix/Glaser 2007b
Levy et al. 2005
Melander/Sundberg 2011b
Theisen 2008
6 This means that the respective study found at least one link between respective environmental change and conflict
onset, even if the relationship is weak, indirect or dependent on scope conditions.
* Corresponding author:
Land degradation Biermann/Petschel-Held/Rohloff 1998
Esty et al. 1999
Hauge/Ellingsen 1998
Melander/Sundberg 2011b
Raleigh/Urdal 2007
Theisen 2008
Hendrix/Glaser 2007b
Rowhani et al. 2011c
natural disasters
Drury/Olson 1998
Hsiang/Meng/Cane 2011d
Nel/Righarts 20087
Bergholt/Lujala 2012
Slettebak 2012
Deforestation Esty et al. 1999
Hauge/Ellingsen 1998
Theisen 2008
italic Major objections are raised against this study.
a Focuses only on Africa.
b Focuses only on Sub-Saharan Africa.
c Focuses only on parts of East Africa.
d Focuses only on countries affected by ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation).
e Focuses only on Asia.
Table 1: Overview about large-N studies concerning climate change-induced conflicts
There are no quantitative studies about the climate-migration-conflict-nexus, presumably because
of inadequate or incomplete data (Reuveny 2008). There are furthermore some studies which
investigate the link between climate change and conflict over long historical periods (e.g.
Tol/Wagner 2010; D. D. Zhang/Lee/Wang et al. 2011; Z.-H. Zhang/Tian/Cazelles et al. 2010)
and find a relationship between colder temperatures, natural disasters/agricultural crisis and large
scale violence. But these studies all focus on wars in the pre-industrial and pre-globalization area
and are therefore only of limited relevance for the research on intrastate, small-scale conflicts in
the present and future.
Explanations for the mixed empirical evidence provided by large-N studies point to important
methodological deficits, such as the lack of adequate data (e.g. on low level conflicts) or a missing
theoretical framework addressing the challenging questions of feedback loops, causality chains
and the endogeneity of factors (Kahl 2006: 58-60; Scheffran/Brzoska/Kominek et al. 2012a,
2012b; Simons/Zanker 2012).
3.4 Environmental Peace
The Environmental Peace perspective suggests that environmental problems are – under certain
circumstances – not sources of conflict, but chances and even catalysts for cooperation between
groups. The underlying assumption is that even hostile parties may work together if they face a
common threat of resource scarcity, hydro-meteorological disasters or environmental degradation
affecting the well-being of each party. This cooperation can prevent the outbreak of hostilities
7 Similar results are provided by Bhavnani (2006) and for earthquakes by Brancati (2007). Although earthquakes are
no climate-related disasters, Brancati considers resource scarcity as the crucial mechanism connecting natural
disasters to conflict.
* Corresponding author:
and – in the best case – increase mutual trust, thus eventually transforming the (adverse)
identities of the groups involved. Environmental problems own some attributes that eminently
suit them as platforms for cooperation: They are, for instance, long-term, cross political borders
and constitute a common threat to several groups (Harari/Roseman 2008). Alternatively, climate
change may just reduce the incentives for violence.
There are some hints in the quantitative literature that environmental degradation and natural
disasters are indeed positively correlated with peace (see table 2). However, caution is necessary
because of the limits of quantitative work (see above) and since there has been no explicit test of
the premises of the Environmental Peace perspective in large-N studies so far.
Buhaug 2010a The incidence of major civil wars (at least 1000 battle-related deaths per year)
is higher in years following an unusually wet period.
de Soysa 2002a, b Land scarcity shows stronger correlations with the existence of peace than
with the existence of civil war.
Esty et al, 1999 Soil degradation that is neither severe nor occurs at a rapid rate lowers the risk
of (violent) state failure events.
Hendrix/Glaser 2007b A low availability of freshwater per capita reduces the risk of civil war onset
Rowhani et al. 2011c Higher ecosystem productivity correlates with more violent conflicts.
Slettebak 2012 The number of climate-related natural disasters and especially of droughts is
negatively related to the onset of civil war.
Urdal 2005 Land scarcity tends to reduce the risk of civil war onset.
a Only valid for Africa.
b Only valid for Sub-Saharan Africa.
c Focuses only on parts of East Africa.
Table 2: Large-N study findings supporting the Environmental Peace perspective
If these arguments hold true, climate change can promote more cooperative relations through
growing environmental problems that increase the likelihood for cooperation. Three different
research traditions can be distinguished within the Environmental Peace perspective:
environmental peacebuilding, disaster diplomacy and local level resource abundance/positive
effects of migration.
3.4.1 Environmental peacebuilding
Since the authors cited here have, at least to some extent, very different understandings of their
subject-matter, a rather wide definition will be used in this article: Environmental peacebuilding
encompasses all forms of cooperation on environmental issues which simultaneously aims at or
de facto achieves the transformation of relations between hostile parties towards peaceful conflict
resolution. The conceptualization of the process of environmental peacebuilding itself remains
disputed in the literature, but there seems to be some implicit convergence towards a three-stage
model (Lejano 2006; UNEP 2009):
* Corresponding author:
a) Cooperation about environmental issues: This form of cooperation is usually quite
rational for all parties since they are ecologically interdependent and can profit from
improving their common environment. The joint management of a shared water
resource, for example, helps to avoid its depletion, especially during dry summer months
(FoEME 2007: 35-49).
b) Spill-Over: Once cooperation is established, two kinds of spill-over effects can occur:
Either the cooperation creates stronger interdependence, which makes further
cooperation desirable (rationalist/functionalist perspective), or cooperation creates
mutual trust and understanding, motivating the parties to deepen or broaden their
cooperation (culturalist perspective) (Ali 2007; Carius 2006; Harari/Roseman 2008).
c) Transformation of values, perceptions, identities: In the last (more ideal-typic) stage,
environmental peacebuilding and subsequent cooperation improve the strategic climate
between parties or even stimulate “post-Westphalian” relations. While indicators for an
improved strategic climate include higher levels of trust and mutual understanding, “post
Westphalian” relations are expressed by various societal linkages and the (partial)
development of a common identity (Conca 2002).
It should be noted, however, that the process of environmental peacebuilding can also fail at the
initial or before entering the second respectively third stage, with the potential to frustrate and
alienate hostile groups even further. The literature on environmental peacebuilding has also
identified various factors supporting (or complicating) environmental peacebuilding, such as the
existence of NGOs working on the respective environmental issue or a sufficient supply of
financial and human resources (see Carius 2006, Feil/ Klein/Westerkamp 2009 and Wolf et al.
2005 for more comprehensive discussions).
So far, the literature on environmental peacebuilding focused mainly on interstate relations and
carefully designed ecological peace initiatives. But first, if (interstate) environmental peacebuilding
improves the living conditions of local populations (Carius 2006; Conca 2002), grievances decline
and opportunity costs for engaging in violence rise, therefore making intrastate conflict onset
more unlikely, too. Second, there are numerous examples of environmental peacebuilding
occurring both spontaneous and/or on an intrastate level (e.g. Bichsel 2009; Dama 2009). A
document of the UNDP (2004: 73) reports, for instance:
“In Colombia, violently opposed local communities in the Department of Meta have worked
together to mitigate the impact of floods as a means not only of protecting livelihoods, but also
of building trust and reconciliation”.
3.4.2 Disaster diplomacy
* Corresponding author:
Disaster diplomacy8 is quite similar to environmental peacebuilding, but considered as a separate
field of research in the literature9. Its central question of research is, according to Kelman (2006:
215): “Can disaster-related activities induce cooperation amongst enemy countries?” So far, the
various works on this puzzle have produced four major findings (Kelman 2006, 2012; Le
Billon/Waizenegger 2007; Renner/Chafe 2007):
a) Disasters can catalyze or support already existing diplomacy between conflicting parties,
but do not create completely new cooperation. The impacts of the Indian Ocean
Tsunami 2004 in Aceh, for example, were prompted by increased international attention
as well as instances of solidarity and even cooperation between combatants and
supporters of the rebelling Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government. It thus
supported the already ongoing peace negotiations (Gaillard/Clavé/Kelman 2008).
b) Disasters are relevant catalysts for diplomacy and negotiations more in the short term
(several weeks till months), while in the long term, other factors (level of trust, conflictive
memories etc.) are far more important.
c) Disasters might have no relevant impact on relations or can even increase tensions
between groups. For instance, the same Tsunami that catalyzed cooperation in Aceh had
an escalating effect on the civil war in Sri Lanka because tensions about the distribution
of aid erupted and both parties perceived the other side as weakened (so there seemed to
be a window of opportunity for military offensives). Similar conflicts on disaster aid were
observed in South Asia and Central America (WBGU 2008: 103-116).
d) The peace-stimulating effect of disasters depends on several scope conditions, such as the
existence of informal networks (of NGOs, scientists etc.) between both parties (see
Kelman 2006, 2012 and Renner/Chafe for a more focused discussion).
Although most studies deal with diplomatic processes between states, several successful instances
of disaster diplomacy within states or even at the local level are reported, with the end of the civil
war in Aceh being clearly the best-documented case (Gaillard et al. 2008; Le Billon/Waizenegger
All in all, the existing empirical evidence – a couple of case studies (mostly conducted at the
international level) and some incidental statistical findings – is far too small to make general
claims about links between environmental problems or natural disasters and cooperation,
especially vis-à-vis the findings presented by the Climate Conflict perspective. Despite their
8 See for an overview.
9 There is no clear distinction between environmental peacebuilding and disaster diplomacy. Disaster diplomacy is
usually more concerned with high-level political (respectively diplomatic) interactions after a comparatively fast and
large-scale environmental change, while environmental peacebuilding focuses on broader interactions and relations
between parties to avoid or respond to (the danger of) slow-onset or long-term environmental change. However,
with regard to the concrete scholarly work, the border between these two fields seems to be blurred or non-existent.
* Corresponding author:
relevance, environmental peacebuilding and disaster diplomacy are under-investigated fields of
research, so not much well-founded knowledge is available yet. In addition, many of the
supportive authors themselves argue that environmental peacebuilding and disaster diplomacy are
only likely to happen under specific circumstances. Finally, common environmental (or disaster-
related) projects can also be quite conflictive if they ignore the needs of local inhabitants or are
merely a framework for common resource exploitation by elites (Lejano 2006;
Mason/Hagmann/Bichsel et al. 2009; Swatuk 2002). In sum, the evaluation of the research field
by Conca (2002: 4) still holds true:
„It remains unclear whether and exactly how environmental cooperation can reduce the
likelihood, scope, or severity of environmentally induced violence, or of violence and insecurity
more generally.“
3.4.3 Local level resource abundance and the positive effects of migration
The classical resource abundance argument as put forward by Collier/Hoeffler (2004) says that
abundant natural resources provide incentives and also financial opportunities for rebels and
warlords to wage war. But the large majority of studies (e.g. Lujala 2010; Ross 2004; Welsch
2008) confirms this link only with regard to non-renewable resources, such as oil or diamonds,
which are hardly influenced by climate change. However, while these studies focus mostly on the
national level and always on large-scale violent conflicts, Witsenburg/Adano (2009) gained
interesting insights by examining violent raids10 between pastoralist communities in Kenya. They
indeed found that violent raids are more likely to happen in times of sufficient rain rather than in
times of drought. Adano et al. (2012: 71) explain this finding by a combination of motivation-
and opportunity-arguments:
“The animals are stronger and fatter then, and the vegetation and surface water are more
readily available, which is necessary during a long trek away from the area where the raid
took place. The vegetation is also thicker, which makes it easier to hide after an attack […]
rain washes away tracks, which increases the change of escaping.”
Furthermore, during times of drought, much workforce is needed to keep the stocks alive, so
there are not enough men left to participate in the raids. Finally, but certainly not less important,
there are some culturally inscribed rules within pastoralist societies to cooperate in harsh times of
drought. These arguments are supported by other authors with regard to Kenya (e.g. Schilling et
al.2011); Theisen 2012; but see Eriksen/Lindt 2009 for a dissenting opinion), but also concerning
other African countries (e.g. Suliman 1999).
Even if common resource management fails and migration is chosen as an adaptation strategy in
case of drought (or other negative consequences of climate change), the receiving area can
benefit economically and culturally from the immigrants (Gleditsch et al. 2007; Raleigh et al.
10 Raiding means the stealing of cattle from another group.
* Corresponding author:
2008). Furthermore, Scheffran/Marmer/Sow (2012) recognize that migration enables the transfer
of knowledge, technology and remittances, thus increasing the stability and/or welfare of the
outsending region in the middle- to long-term.
To sum up: If resource scarcity lowers incentives and opportunities for violent behavior, activates
cultural patterns of cooperation and leads to migration benefiting the outsending and receiving
region, then we should consider the abundance rather than the scarcity of renewable natural
resources as a source of conflict. As a consequence, by causing resource shortages, climate
change promotes peaceful strategies to deal with intergroup tensions. This should not be read,
however, as a praise of climate change. First, climate change is expected to lead to more instead
of less precipitation in some regions, including parts of eastern Africa (IPCC 2007: 47, 49).
Second, if natural resources become scarcer (as well as disasters more intense and regular), this
will cause tremendous losses of human security and welfare in the affected regions (IPCC 2007:
48-54). Third, the idea that climate change may prevent conflict outbreak is far from being
consensual yet.
5 Conclusions
This paper developed a comprehensive new typology of the various arguments regarding the
climate-conflict-nexus by reviewing the state-of-the-art as well as the classical literature. For the
first time, so far often ignored arguments which support a climate-cooperation-nexus have been
synthesized into a single account. According to the three perspectives identified, climate change
- will increase the risk of conflict onset (Climate Conflict).
- is mostly unrelated to the outbreak of conflict (Social Conflict).
- provides opportunities for peaceful cooperation and reduces the incentives and
opportunities for violence (Environmental Peace).
Up to date, there is no convincing evidence to claim supremacy of one perspective over all
others, although the Environmental/Climate and Social Conflict perspectives have gained more
attention from the scientific community. The realization of the forecasts of each perspective
depends on a host of scope conditions and intervening variables which are not fully understood
yet. Therefore, this paper concludes that climate change is neither a source of conflict nor a
promoter of cooperation per se. The impacts of climate change will be different in various regions,
depending on the political, social, economic, cultural, historical and environmental circumstances
characterizing the specific area. Therefore, research on the climate-conflict-nexus would benefit
from climbing down the ladder of abstraction, not asking whether climate change will cause more
conflict (or cooperation), but under what conditions the claims of the three perspectives identified
above hold true.
* Corresponding author:
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... EPB concerns mostly cooperation over resources that are threatened 11 or the tackling of common threats concerning those resources or the environment 12 . Ide and Scheffran (2013) distinguish between 3 main perspectives: 1) the climate conflict perspective 13 , claiming that CC increases the risk for violent conflict, 2) the social conflict perspective, stating that CC is mostly unrelated to violent conflict outbreak and 3) the environmental peace perspective, suggesting that environmental challenges such as resource scarcity, 11 Because they are non-renewable or consumption exceeds replenishment. 12 The latter refers to the schools of thought concerning the climate change-conflict and peace nexus. ...
... 12 The latter refers to the schools of thought concerning the climate change-conflict and peace nexus. 13 Ide et al. (2013) also provide an overview large-N-Studies on the possible climate-conflict-link (Ide et al., 2013;Ide et al., 2014) natural disasters etc. offer the chance for cooperation (Ide et al., 2013:1). EPB clearly is located in the third strain of the debate. ...
... 12 The latter refers to the schools of thought concerning the climate change-conflict and peace nexus. 13 Ide et al. (2013) also provide an overview large-N-Studies on the possible climate-conflict-link (Ide et al., 2013;Ide et al., 2014) natural disasters etc. offer the chance for cooperation (Ide et al., 2013:1). EPB clearly is located in the third strain of the debate. ...
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... A central premise of environmental peacebuilding is that trans-boundary environmental issues represent an opportunity to move from rivalry to partnership by switching from administrative, politico-territorial borders to ecosystem borders (Boutros-Ghali, 1992; Conca and Dabelko, 2002; Ide and Scheffran, 2013). Environmental cooperation is expected to derive mutual gains and promote reconciliation by stimulating trans-boundary dialogue and trust between state and non-state actors (Carius, 2006; Conca and Dabelko, 2002;Maas et al., 2013). ...
... In sum, despite the increasing focus on environmental cooperation as a peacebuilding tool, incorporating such diverse factors increases the challenge of fully envisaging how this environment-peace nexus might unfold in practice (Carius, 2006;Ide and Scheffran, 2013;Kramer et al., 2013). Environmental peacebuilding encompasses a broad range of initiatives, but remains largely dominated by rational choice and neoliberal conceptions of the biophysical environment and peacebuilding, on the premise that parties will prefer to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation rather than zero-sum conflict based on a cost-benefit calculation (Conca and Dabelko, 2002). ...
Trotz ihrer zunehmenden wissenschaftlichen und praktischen Bedeutung sind die Zusammenhänge zwischen Umwelt und Friedenskonsolidierung (engl. peacebuilding) noch wenig erforscht. Während in der Forschungsliteratur mehrere Möglichkeiten identifiziert werden, wie gemeinsam genutzte natürliche Ressourcen als Katalysatoren für den Frieden zwischen Konfliktparteien fungieren können, gibt es kaum empirische Belege für eine direkte Verbindung zwischen Umweltkooperation und nachhaltigem Frieden. Diese Dissertation untersucht umweltbezogene Friedenskonsolidierung (engl. environmental peacebuilding) und vertieft das theoretische Verständnis des Phänomens durch eine systematische Übersicht des Forschungsstands sowie zwei empirische Fallstudien. Auf diese Weise trägt die vorliegende Arbeit zur dringend benötigten konzeptionellen Schärfung und gleichzeitig zu einem empirisch fundierten Verständnis von Environmental Peacebuilding bei. Die Dissertation ist kumulativ aufgebaut und besteht aus drei Forschungsarbeiten. Das erste Paper befasst sich mit den Bausteinen des Environmental Peacebuilding und nimmt eine Bestandsaufnahme des Phänomens vor. Es schlägt Wege und Möglichkeiten vor, wie der Fokus von Umweltkonflikten auf Umweltkooperation und Frieden verlagert werden kann. Die beiden Fallstudien basieren auf qualitativen Methoden und untersuchen, wie Environmental Peacebuilding in zwei unterschiedlichen Kontexten, dem Nahen Osten und Westafrika, abläuft. Mit diesen beiden Arbeiten leistet die Dissertation einen empirischen Beitrag zur Environmental-Peacebuilding-Forschung und schließt eklatante Forschungslücken insbesondere hinsichtlich der Rolle von lokalen Gemeinschaften und privaten Akteuren im Environmental Peacebuilding.
... Due to its rich biodiversity and contribution to the socio-economics of coastal communities, the marine area close to the border has been recognized by several international bodies, including the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) as an area of significance, deserving special conservation attention (Eastern African Marine Ecoregion (EAME), 2004). These, as well as other efforts, can be seen as a form of Environmental Peacebuilding, i.e., "cooperation on environmental issues which simultaneously conceptually aims at or de facto achieves the transformation of relations between hostile parties toward peaceful conflict resolution" (Ide and Scheffran, 2013;Ide, 2017). In this context, peace is a continuum or a spectrum of decreased hostility and violence, rather than a one defined state (Ide, 2017). ...
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By definition, marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) address spatial aspects of the ecological processes and marine features. Such a requirement is especially challenging in areas where there is no clearly defined jurisdiction. However, in these areas, assigning sovereignty and rights can be achieved through bilateral or multilateral agreements, or with the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) tools such as mediation and arbitration. In some cases, states may engage in transboundary marine conservation initiatives to provide an entry point to enable wider collaboration. These processes can also evolve into a form of ‘environmental peacebuilding’ while ideally maintaining ecosystem functioning and resilience as a core goal. Conversely, MPAs and OECMs can also be used to assert maritime sovereignty rights over disputed waters, under the pretext of conserving marine habitats. This paper identifies emerging issues of conflict resolution and their interaction with transboundary marine conservation. While ADR focuses on negotiations and facilitated processes between state representatives (“track one diplomacy”), we also discuss other forms and levels of marine environmental peacebuilding and dispute resolution, particularly those between civil society organizations (“track two diplomacy”). The six case studies presented highlight areas of recent maritime conflict or border disputes in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the West Indian Ocean, the Korean West Sea and the South China Sea. In all cases, high ecological value, vulnerable ecosystems, and the need to conserve ecosystem services provide a shared interest for cooperation despite on-going diplomatic difficulties. The strategies used in these cases are analyzed to determine what lessons might be learned from cross-border collaborative marine initiatives in situations of territorial dispute. The use of ADR tools and their ability to support joint marine initiatives are examined, as well as how such initiatives contribute to formal border negotiations. Other forms of inter-state dialogue and cooperation between local or civil organizations, circumventing formal treaties and negotiations between state leaders (‘track two’) are also investigated. Finally, other influencing factors, including third-party involvement, stakeholder interests, power dynamics, economic context, and socio-cultural aspects, are considered.
The perception of the natural environment in terms of resources to meet anthropogenic ‘needs’ may stimulate competition among actors, which could eventually lead to conflict, especially in times of scarcity. Based on this core assumption, a great number of studies have investigated the human-environment nexus from a conflict and security perspective. Later on, many researchers have critically questioned the relevance of this literature and alternatively envisioned the environment as an incentive for cooperation rather than for violence. Accordingly, the concept of ‘environmental peacebuilding’ has been developed to investigate the evolution of environmental cooperation into a conflict transformation tool. Against such a background, this work aims at reviewing and discussing the relevance of both research trends with a focus on their ability to appropriately approach the human-environment nexus and to provide a useful theoretical and policy-making framework. Regarding the literature on environmental conflict, the analysis shows that its core assumptions remain questionable and its empirical and theoretical conclusions are contested. In respect to environmental peacebuilding, despite its attractiveness, more systematic research is still needed to make it a robust framework. Therefore, the analysis suggests the coviability of social-ecological systems as an alternative to properly perceive the human-environment nexus. This is based on the belief that the viability of human societies depends intimately on the living components of natural and managed systems, and that the coviability approach has the potential to adjust our perception with regard to the position of humans in the biosphere. A position which should be mainly oriented towards ensuring solidarity between humans to maintain viable ecosystems instead of conflict or limited, pragmatic cooperation driven schemes. This may raise hopes that future targets can be achievable and that human societies and ecosystems are sufficiently resilient and better prepared for a world of universal ecological change.
The linkages between climate change and conflict are complex. Despite deep-reaching fears, increasingly severe environmental impacts might not necessarily lead to more conflicts and violence. The livelihoods of vulnerable communities are being challenged but individuals can employ a range of coping strategies which may or may not include resorting to violence. The evidence connecting climate change to large-scale armed conflicts is very limited but the potential of climate change to act as a threat multiplier is generally recognized, especially in the case of small-scale conflicts such as those taking places between farmers and herders. In all conflict constellations, non-environmental factors, including political ones, play a fundamental role. Both the theoretical demonstration and the case study have proved that political factors can reduce climate-change-induced or -aggravated conflicts. Policies or institutional reforms that could reduce conflicts and violence include comprehensive integration policies, equitable distribution of land rights, and opportunities for participating in conflict management and policy-making. A limited set of variables was tested qualitatively for the case of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana from 1960 to 2000. Expanding the analysis to more variables, more countries and more population groups and to a longer time frame, as well as integrating a quantitative analysis, would reinforce the findings and support a theoretical generalization.
There are many approaches to the causal linkages between environmental change and conflict. This chapter reviews the different schools of thought (including both theoretical considerations and supporting studies). The chapter begins by introducing one of the best-known approaches, inspired by Malthusianism, which stipulates that environmental change and population growth will lead to environmental scarcity and induce conflicts motivated by the need to control the remaining environmental resources. Critiques and alternative perspectives are then presented. They highlight, among other issues, that the role of environmental drivers should not be overestimated. Current research and available evidence does not allow clear-cut conclusions on the potential of climate change to provoke conflicts. However, there are indications that climate change can be a threat multiplier that destabilizes communities and induces or aggravates small-scale conflicts over natural resources. In combination with a range of socio-economic and political factors, climate change impacts such as scarcity (drought, resource degradation), volatile precipitations and reduced economic growth can fuel conflict potential. Nevertheless, non-violent outcomes are possible.
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The concept of environmental peacebuilding is becoming increasingly prominent among peacebuilding scholars and practitioners. This study provides a brief overview about the various discussions contributing to our understanding of environmental peacebuilding and concludes that questions of space have hardly been explicitly considered in these debates. Drawing on discourse-analytic spatial theory, I discuss how the social construction of scale, place and boundaries are relevant for environmental peacebuilding processes and outcomes. This theoretical approach is then applied to the Good Water Neighbours project, which aims at improving the regional water situation and at building peace between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. The results suggest that discursive constructions of space are important in facilitating, impeding or shaping environmental peacebuilding practices. Analyses of environmental peacebuilding, but also of peacebuilding more general, are therefore encouraged to draw more strongly on the findings of spatial theory.
Conference Paper
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Global warming has significant potential implications for security and conflict. Various studies suggest that climate change aggravates environmental degradation and resource scarcity which may contribute to violent conflict in a number of ways, including resource captures, mass migrations, and conflicts over the distribution of risks and costs between countries. On the other hand, more cooperation may emerge as a way to address the problems and risks. This contribution analyses climate-induced human insecurity and conflicts within a conceptual framework of conflict and cooperation, utilizing key indicators to asses the link between environmental factors, human security and societal instability. To enhance the ability to understand and deal with future threats to human security posed by climate change, a macro-level analysis of regional impacts of climate change will be combined with a micro-level analysis of potential environmental conflicts, with a focus on regional cases.
Environmental security (ES) is a complex concept with many connotations. It is a central part of the even broader concept of human security (UNDP 1994) and is inherently linked to sustainable development (Brundtland 1987). All these terms emerged at a time when the threat of large-scale nuclear war was no longer perceived as credible, and policymakers and military actors alike saw the need for a wider application of the security term.
How can environmental cooperation be used to bolster regional peace? A large body of research suggests that environmental degradation may catalyze violent conflict. Environmental cooperation, in contrast, has gone almost unexplored as a means of peacemaking, even though it opens several effective channels: enhancing trust, establishing habits of cooperation, lengthening the time horizons of decision makers, forging cooperative trans-societal linkages, and creating shared regional norms and identities. This edited volume examines the case for environmental peacemaking by comparing progress, prospects, and problems related to environmental initiatives in six regions--South Asia, Central Asia, the Baltic, Southern Africa, the Caucasus, and the U.S.-Mexico border. Among the volume's key findings are these: that substantial potential for environmental peacemaking exists in most regions; that significant tensions can emerge between narrower efforts to improve the strategic climate among mistrustful governments and broader trans-societal efforts to build environmental peace; and that the effects of environmental peacemaking initiatives are highly sensitive to the ways they are institutionalized.
This chapter tries to understand climate change, resource competition, and conflict amongst pastoral communities, and argues that violent conflict involving pastoralists is associated with resource competition which is, among other factors such as interstate and intercommunal tensions and political instabilities, aggravated by climate change. Conflicts among the pastoral communities have become very common and increasingly relentless in the northern region of Kenya. Specifically, the chapter documents the evidence of climate change in the pastoral areas in Kenya, determines the effects of climate change on pastoralist livelihoods in Kenya, and discusses the effects of climate change on resource-based conflicts among the pastoral communities of Kenya. Primary data was obtained from a total of 45 primary pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, and key informants. Four focus group discussions with ten participants each were conducted in Matuu. The interviews were conducted in order to find out how climate has changed and how this has affected pastoralism. Secondary data was utilized in literature analysis. These resources were obtained from Kenyatta University Library, University of Nairobi, and from the Internet. Primary data was qualitatively analysed. The main findings are that resource competition among the pastoralists is indeed exacerbating resource competition and consequential conflict.