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Is climate change a major security threat? How has research on climate and conflict progressed in recent years? And where should it move forward? This brief essay reflects on some ways in which climatic changes could constitute a threat to peace and stability. Rather than assuming a direct causal link, the essay argues that climate change may exert an indirect and conditional effect on conflict risk, increasing the security gap between affluent societies well able to cope with climate change and societies already suffering from violence and instability, who are unlikely to achieve successful adaptation on their own. For this reason, peace building is quite possibly the most effective climate resilience policy in unstable corners of the world.
Peace Econ. Peace Sci. Pub. Pol. 2016; aop
Open Access
Halvard Buhaug*
Climate Change and Conflict: Taking Stock
DOI 10.1515/peps-2016-0034
Abstract: Is climate change a major security threat? How has research on climate
and conflict progressed in recent years? And where should it move forward? This
brief essay reflects on some ways in which climatic changes could constitute a
threat to peace and stability. Rather than assuming a direct causal link, the essay
argues that climate change may exert an indirect and conditional effect on con-
flict risk, increasing the security gap between affluent societies well able to cope
with climate change and societies already suffering from violence and instability,
who are unlikely to achieve successful adaptation on their own. For this reason,
peace building is quite possibly the most effective climate resilience policy in
unstable corners of the world.
Keywords: conflict, climate change, environment.
1 Introduction
After a remarkable and much-celebrated decline in armed conflict following the
collapse of the Cold War system (Gleditsch etal. 2002; Goldstein 2011; Pinker
2011), the trend now seems stabilized at around 35–40 active conflicts per year.
What is more, conflict casualties actually show a notable uptick in recent years,
with 2014 being the deadliest year since the late 1980s (Pettersson and Wallen-
steen 2015). With climate change and possible adverse knock-on consequences
for agricultural productivity, economic activity, and food security approaching,
fears are mounting that the future may see a reversal of the trend and bring more
conflict and instability (CNA 2014; US DoD 2015).
In this short essay I review recent progress in scientific research on climate and
conflict and, building on insights from that research, provide a few suggestions
for where the field should be moving in coming years. Before doing so, however,
a couple of clarifications are in order. First, while climate change may conceiv-
ably lead to a host of negative security outcomes, I will only consider the risk
*Corresponding author: Halvard Buhaug, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), P.O. Box 9229
Grønland, NO-0134 Oslo, Norway, E-mail:
©2016, Halvard Buhaug, published by De Gruyter.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.
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2     Halvard Buhaug
of armed conflict here. Intrastate conflict is the dominant and most researched
form of organized violence in the contemporary world, and while I am making no
claim about the representativeness of this form of conflict for the wider spectrum
of political violence, civil conflicts and wars are of particular concern as they
generate more casualties in a random year than all other forms of political vio-
lence combined. Second, while the policy debate on climate change and security
typically adopts a long-term perspective, much of the relevant empirical research
addresses how climate variability, or short-term variations in weather patterns,
affect conflict risk. This distinction is not trivial. Although the frequency and
amplitude of climate variability may shift with climate change, social responses
to short-term anomalies cannot be used to infer about future behavior in response
to a shift in normal conditions. Put differently, the fact that beer consumption
peaks during warm periods of the year (Uitenbroek 1996) need not imply that a
two-degrees warmer world will see lots of drunk people.
2 Climate change is bad
In case you have been absent-minded over the past decade or so, let me be clear:
climate change is bad. True, climate change and associated physical processes
will vary in their manifestation and severity across regions, but overall the doc-
umentation provided so comprehensively in the UN Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is unequivocal: (i)
the climate is changing at an unprecedented and accelerating rate, (ii) human
greenhouse gas emissions are a signification contributor to that change, and (iii)
the impacts of climate change “will amplify existing risks and create new risks
for natural and human systems” (IPCC 2014, 13). Among other things, warming,
shifting precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather events threaten to
undermine local and global food security by reducing renewable surface water
and groundwater resources in most dry and subtropical regions.
Adapting to and, in the longer run, mitigating climate change will require
political will, human ingenuity, and material resources. Although attempts
to estimate the aggregate cost of mitigation are fraught with uncertainty and a
source of some controversy (Tol 2016), scenarios considered in AR5 indicate an
annual loss of economic growth in the range of 0.04–0.14 percentage points (from
a baseline estimated global growth of 1.6–3% per year) over the course of the 21st
century (IPCC 2014, 24).
Societies vary widely in their exposure to current and future natural hazards.
While temperature increase will be most pronounced at higher latitudes, it consti-
tutes a larger threat to ecosystems in warmer and dryer climates, where extreme
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Climate Change and Conflict: Taking Stock     3
events, such as prolonged droughts and heat waves, may approach or exceed the
tolerance limit of plants and animal species (Bita and Gerats 2013). Projections
are less certain regarding precipitation changes though the majority of simula-
tions indicate that wet regions will get wetter while semi-arid and dry regions
will become dryer (IPCC 2014). Sea-level rise is a global phenomenon that primar-
ily affects low-elevation coastal zones and small islands. Just as climate change
exposure varies across space, so do societies’ abilities to deal with the challenges
imposed by climate change. For this reason, various international bodies have
been created to foster and coordinate concerted international action (e.g. the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the annual Conference
of Parties, COP).
3 Climate change won’t cause armed conflict
Despite prophesies of “climate wars” (Dyer 2008; Welzer 2012), warnings that
climate change is “the mother of all risks” (TIME 2015), and assertions about how
“climate change is making our world more violent and less secure” (Levy 2014),
I dare say that climate change does not cause armed conflict. Societal actors, be
they state governments, military branches, political parties, civil society actors, or
communal groups, do not resort to force in an organized and coordinated fashion
only because temperature heats up or rainfall comes in unexpected ways. The
alternative would be a form of environmental determinism where societies are
tied to meteorological or ecological conditions in a mechanistic fashion. Indeed,
the empirical evidence base to support the notion of a direct and general climate-
conflict link is thin (Adger etal. 2014; Bernauer, Böhmelt, and Koubi 2012; Buhaug
etal. 2014; Salehyan 2014).
4 But impacts of climate change might
While shifts in climatic conditions do not cause armed conflict, climate vari-
ability and change may well influence the dynamics of interaction (including
violent contention) between societal actors. However, such an effect will occur
in conjunction and sometimes interaction with other prevalent conflict drivers
and always be shaped by the specific context. To give one example, the conflict
potential of drought depends on local land use (e.g. agricultural production, resi-
dential area, undeveloped rugged terrain), the affected population’s vulnerability
and coping capacity (e.g. access to ground water and irrigation systems, market
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4     Halvard Buhaug
forces, alternate modes of livelihood) and, of course, the response by the state
(relief aid, subsidies, price control, etc.).
The distinction between a general causal effect and an indirect and condi-
tional effect is more than mere semantics as it implicitly points to what must be
addressed in order to avoid or end conflict. Rather than discussing the risk of
“climate wars” – a term that should be avoided at all costs – scholars should
take the notion of climate change as a “threat multiplier” (CNA 2007) seriously
and investigate the conditions under which climatic changes may accentuate the
threat to societal stability and peace, and the mechanisms through which a desta-
bilizing effect might materialize.
The first wave of empirical climate-conflict studies relied almost exclusively
on simple meteorological indicators, such as temperature or rainfall anomalies, as
possible correlates of civil and intergroup conflict (e.g. Buhaug 2010; Burke etal.
2009; Couttenier and Soubeyran 2013; Fjelde and von Uexkull 2012; Hendrix and
Salehyan 2012; O’Loughlin etal. 2012; Raleigh and Kniveton 2012; Theisen 2012).
Although all of these analyses were limited to Africa or parts of the continent, by
design accounting for some contextual factors, few explicitly considered interac-
tive and conditional climate effects. As mentioned above, this body of work taken
together has failed to converge on a general and robust climate-conflict connection.
A second and more promising wave of studies seeks to model climate-con-
flict relationships in a multi-stage fashion, considering the conflict impact of
adverse socioeconomic changes assumed to be affected by rapid climatic shifts
(e.g. Buhaug etal. 2015; Caruso, Petrarca, and Ricciuti 2016; Koubi etal. 2012;
Schleussner et al. 2016; Smith 2014; van Weezel 2015; Wischnath and Buhaug
2014). The literature is not short on proposed indirect links from climate change
to conflict – among which intermediate implications for food insecurity, pro-
duction shocks, and migration feature most prominently – but more research is
needed along these lines before we are ready to conclude about the nature and
strength of such connections.
A third possible pathway from climate change to conflict that has received
less attention is the possibility of adverse side effects of implemented mitigation
policies. For example, some research highlights how dam construction and hydro-
power production carries significant conflict potential (between countries as well
as within them) by altering seasonal river flow and downstream water availability
(Kuenzer etal. 2013). Likewise, reforestation programs and the establishment of
conservation parks can uproot or in other ways negatively affect the livelihoods
of the local population (Ghazoul etal. 2010). In the longer term, increasing cost of
air travel due to, e.g. environmental taxation may significantly alter international
tourism patterns, hurting the economies of destinations that become much cost-
lier to reach (Scott, Gössling and Hall 2012).
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Climate Change and Conflict: Taking Stock     5
5 What about the reverse relationship?
Based on the best available scientific evidence it is clear that climate vari-
ability and change at most exert indirect and conditional effects on conflict
risk, although we do not yet know the pervasiveness and significance of these
effects. However, climate impacts and conflict are endogenous to one-another
(Gartzke and Böhmelt 2015), where the reverse association, from armed conflict
to climate risks, is many times more powerful. We know that conflicts and wars
cause enormous human suffering, destroy material goods and infrastructure,
trigger capital flight and brain drain, and deter investment in future develop-
ment. For this reason, civil war is development in reverse (Collier etal. 2003).
Low level of economic development, poor growth, and political instability in
turn are major contributors to environmental vulnerability. In the words of the
IPCC, “conflict strongly influences vulnerability to climate change impacts”
(Adger etal. 2014, 12).
Taken together, these insights give a glimpse of what we might expect in
the future. Stable and wealthy societies possess the skills and resources and
presumably also the political will to address climate change-related challenges
and impacts in an appropriate and peaceful manner. Conflict-affected societies,
however, many of which struggle with endemic political chaos, corruption, and
poor economic growth, are unable to adapt to and cope with these challenges on
their own, thereby reinforcing the vicious cycle of instability and underdevelop-
ment. In this sense – and absent international assistance – the future is likely to
further solidify existing conflict patterns [though see Hegre etal. (2016) for a more
sophisticated approach to modeling future conflict scenarios].
6 Discussion
Several conclusions can be drawn from this summary of the field. First, schol-
ars should continue the recent trend toward theorizing and investigating indirect
pathways from climate variability and change to conflict. An important part of
this work should be to better specificy the conditions under which such effects
might play out (Seter 2016). Second, there is a notable lack of knowledge on pos-
sible insecurity implications of climate change mitigation. Again, a direct causal
link is not very likely but indirect effects via adverse economic or livelihood
impacts are not inconceivable. Third, scholars, commentators, and policy makers
alike should shy away from sensationalism and the tendency to see events exclu-
sively through the scarcity lens [see Sneyd, Legwegoh and Fraser (2013) for an
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6     Halvard Buhaug
insightful analysis]. However, the other extreme, explicitly refraining from
attempting to rank the relative importance of various conflict drivers is no better.
Werell and Femia (2015) are correct in observing that “climate change is not an
exogenous threat, hermetically sealed from other risks,” but it does not follow, as
they contend, that we should “move away from [..] ‘ranking’ threats to national
security.” Seeking to avoid mono-causal explanations is commendable, but the
unweighted all-inclusive approach is equally problematic as it implicitly suggests
that peace-building strategies must pay equal attention to all identified issues in
order to solve a conflict. Such advice is not particularly helpful to those develop-
ing or implementing policy, nor is it likely to be successful. Conversely, robust
scientific evidence indicates that peace building probably is the most effective
climate resilience strategy in war-torn regions. Without peace and stable, well-
functioning political institutions it is hard to see how societies can address exist-
ing and future security challenges affected by climate change.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Raul Caruso and the steering committee
of NEPS for inviting me to give the 2016 Annual NEPS Lecture in Milan, Italy. This
work is funded by the European Research Council through grant no. 648291.
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... This, in turn, may further increase the duration of conflicts (Brzoska, 2018;Ghimire & Ferreira, 2016). A c c e p t e d M a n u s c r i p t At the end of this section it should be noted that several authors have criticized efforts aiming at establishing direct causal relationships between climate change and events that undermine peace, using large-N quantitative approaches, on the grounds that they are mechanistic and fail to consider the complex and multi-dimensional nature of the nexus (Buhaug, 2016;A. De Juan, 2015;Okpara, Stringer, & Dougill, 2016b). ...
... De Juan, 2015;Okpara, Stringer, & Dougill, 2016b). For instance, Buhaug (2016) argues that climate change does not cause armed conflicts as societal actors do not use force only because of unpredictable changes in temperature or rainfall. ...
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... Climate change affects human, national, and international security in ways that interact with trade and financial risks (Buhaug, 2016;Gilmore, 2017;Mach et al., 2019;Scheffran et al., 2019). Whilstfrom a human security standpoint -already-vulnerable countries will likely be most exposed to the direct effects of climate change (Busby, 2019;Ide et al., 2020;Detges, 2017), their exposure may have indirect effects on others' foreign policy objectives. ...
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As the impacts of climate change begin to take hold, increased attention is being paid to the consequences that might occur remotely from the location of the initial climatic impact, where impacts and responses are transmitted across one or more borders. As an economy that is highly connected to other regions and countries of the world, the European Union (EU) is potentially exposed to such cross-border impacts. Here, we undertake a macro-scale, risk-focused literature and data review to explore the potential impact transmission pathways between the EU and other world regions and countries. We do so across three distinct domains of interest - trade, human security and finance - which are part of complex socio-economic, political and cultural systems and may contribute to mediate or exacerbate risk exposure. Across these domains, we seek to understand the extent to which there has been prior consideration of aspects of climate-related risk exposure relevant to developing an understanding of cross-border impacts. We also provide quantitative evidence of the extent and strength of connectivity between the EU and other world regions. Our analysis reveals that - within this nascent area of research - there is uncertainty about the dynamics of cross-border impact that will affect whether the EU is in a relatively secure or vulnerable position in comparison with other regions. However, we reveal that risk is likely to be focused in particular ‘hotspots’; defined geographies, for example, that produce materials for EU consumption (e.g. Latin American soybean), hold financial investments (e.g. North America), or are the foci for EU external action (e.g. the Middle East and North Africa region). Importantly, these domains will also interact, and - via the application of a conceptual example of soybean production in Argentina based on a historical drought event - we illustrate that impact and response pathways linked to EU risk exposure may be complex, further heightening the challenge of developing effective policy responses within an uncertain climatic and socioeconomic future.
... Human-induced ecosystem degradation manifests in an overall and accelerating global warming of 1.1°C so far, rapid with glacial ice retreat and sea level rise, ocean acidification and more frequent/severe extreme weather events, land degradation and desertification, as well as the mass extinction of plants and animal species -the so-called 'sixth mass extinction' (IPCC 2018;WMO 2019;NASA 2018;UNCCD 2019;WAD 2018;Herring et al. 2018;IPBES 2019b;Ceballos et al. 2017). The interconnected human consequences of these phenomena are illness, starvation and death, economic and non-economic loss, as well as displacement and socio-political instability (DARA 2012;Mukerji 2019;WHO 2009;WMO 2019;Hsiang et al. 2017;Serdeczny et al. 2016;Warner et al. 2013;McAdam 2010;Warner et al. 2009;Buhaug 2016;Sellers et al. 2019;WMO 2020). These are not forecasts: they are happening already. ...
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This article discusses the role of culture in political ecology, with a focus on degrowth. Environmental scientists increasingly consider systemic societal changes such as degrowth as indispensable for the effective tackling of current climate and ecological crises, while governments and civil society remain skeptical of it. To tackle this challenge, this article argues for the strategic employment of cultural practices, values, narratives and identities within degrowth politics. The majority of existing degrowth scholarship considers cultural politics in terms of prefiguration – the act of performing degrowth futures in the present. Drawing on Stuart Hall's concept of politics as production, Chantal Mouffe's plea for a left populism, John Jordan's practice of artivism and Caroline Levine's notion of strategic formalism, this article advocates an extended understanding of cultural politics. It proposes a conceptual framework and research agenda that considers three dimensions of cultural politics: prefiguration, popularization and pressure. To illustrate these dimensions, it gives examples from contemporary activism and popular culture. The article's scientific goal is to conceptualize the functional and strategic role culture can play as instrument in the campaigning and activist uprising for degrowth. Its practical goal is to offer degrowth advocates and activists insights on how to mobilize various existing and emerging cultural forms towards their end.
There is a vivid scientific debate on how climate change affects stability, resilience, and conflict dynamics of human societies. Environmental security and collapse theory are theoretical approaches that claim severe negative impacts of climatic disasters on political stability, allegedly through the vector of food insecurity. Yet there is a disconnect between this work and the rich body of knowledge on food insecurity and society. The literature is fairly unanimous that (a) drought does not necessarily lead to famines, since (b) famines have a political context that is often more important than other factors; in addition, (c) famines and the distribution of suffering reflect social hierarchies within afflicted societies, and (d) even large-scale famines do not necessarily cause collapse of a polity’s functioning, as (e) food systems are highly interconnected and complex. As an illustrative case, the paper offers a longitudinal study of Malawi. By combining environmental history and analysis of Malawi’s idiosyncratic (post-)colonial politics, it discusses the possible connections between droughts, food insecurity, and political crises in the African country. The single-case study represents a puzzle for adherents of the “collapse” theory but highlights the complex political ecology of food crises in vulnerable societies. This has implications for a formulation of climate justice claims beyond catastrophism.
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The geological era of the Anthropocene is expected to trigger a paradigm shift across the natural and social sciences. Within International Relations (IR), the arrival of the planetary has generated various debates that range from questioning the very future of the discipline to proposals for how to fix IR. This article takes stock of different research perspectives from three disciplines, namely IR, Earth System Sciences and New Materialism/Posthumanism. With reference to these different perspectives, it examines the ways in which peace, conflict and security are related to the Anthropocene. This panoramic overview reveals also certain demarcations between the research approaches, disciplines and study fields, and aims to trigger future research on overcoming these boundaries of thought and push the research on Anthropocene thinking further.
The physical consequences of climate change that is projected for the coming years will affect and interact with a range of social processes in affected societies. The burden of climate change will not be shared equally among countries, and the already disadvantaged countries will likely be hardest hit. Along with increasing concern from policymakers and the international community that a changed climate might ignite more violent conflicts, scholars have sought to disentangle a potential relationship between climate change and armed conflict. Ranging from the early literature's direct assessments between the two phenomena to recent context-specific approaches, this chapter presents the evolution of the quantitative literature concerning the impact of climate change and climate anomalies on armed conflict. Divergent findings illustrate that there is not one all-encompassing influence of climate on armed conflict, but that in some contexts, particularly in agriculturally dependent areas, climate impacts have been found to increase the risk of violent conflict. Moving forward, further specifications of contextual and intermediary pathways will allow researchers to better disentangle the complex relationships across physical and social spheres, important for informing future mitigation and adaptation efforts.
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Water insecurity may precipitate interpersonal conflict, although no studies to date have rigorously examined these relationships. We examined relationships between household demographics, water insecurity, regional conflict, and interpersonal conflict over water. Using survey data from eight sub-Saharan African countries, we found that interpersonal conflict within and outside the home is associated with multiple domains of water insecurity, particularly accessibility. Furthermore, we found that higher levels of remote violence and protests are associated with greater within household conflict, whereas riots and violent armed conflict are associated with greater conflict between neighbors. Our findings expand upon the current literature by examining factors affecting interpersonal conflict over water, which may become increasingly important as precipitation patterns and land temperatures change in this region.
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Social and political tensions keep on fueling armed conflicts around the world. Although each conflict is the result of an individual context-specific mixture of interconnected factors, ethnicity appears to play a prominent and almost ubiquitous role in many of them. This overall state of affairs is likely to be exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change and in particular climate-related natural disasters. Ethnic divides might serve as predetermined conflict lines in case of rapidly emerging societal tensions arising from disruptive events like natural disasters. Here, we hypothesize that climate-related disaster occurrence enhances armed-conflict outbreak risk in ethnically fractionalized countries. Using event coincidence analysis, we test this hypothesis based on data on armed-conflict outbreaks and climate-related natural disasters for the period 1980-2010. Globally, we find a coincidence rate of 9% regarding armed-conflict outbreak and disaster occurrence such as heat waves or droughts. Our analysis also reveals that, during the period in question, about 23% of conflict outbreaks in ethnically highly fractionalized countries robustly coincide with climatic calamities. Although we do not report evidence that climate-related disasters act as direct triggers of armed conflicts, the disruptive nature of these events seems to play out in ethnically fractionalized societies in a particularly tragic way. This observation has important implications for future security policies as several of the world's most conflict-prone regions, including North and Central Africa as well as Central Asia, are both exceptionally vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change and characterized by deep ethnic divides.
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Climate change and armed civil conflict are both linked to socioeconomic development, although conditions that facilitate peace may not necessarily facilitate mitigation and adaptation to climate change. While economic growth lowers the risk of conflict, it is generally associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions and costs of climate mitigation policies. This study investigates the links between growth, climate change, and conflict by simulating future civil conflict using new scenario data for five alternative socioeconomic pathways with different mitigation and adaptation assumptions, known as the shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs). We develop a statistical model of the historical effect of key socioeconomic variables on country-specific conflict incidence, 1960–2013. We then forecast the annual incidence of conflict, 2014–2100, along the five SSPs. We find that SSPs with high investments in broad societal development are associated with the largest reduction in conflict risk. This is most pronounced for the least developed countries—poverty alleviation and human capital investments in poor countries are much more effective instruments to attain global peace and stability than further improvements to wealthier economies. Moreover, the SSP that describes a sustainability pathway, which poses the lowest climate change challenges, is as conducive to global peace as the conventional development pathway.
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Earlier research that reports a correlational pattern between climate anomalies and violent conflict routinely refers to drought-induced agricultural shocks and adverse economic spillover effects as a key causal mechanism linking the two phenomena. Comparing half a century of statistics on climate variability, food production, and political violence across Sub-Saharan Africa, this study offers the most precise and theoretically consistent empirical assessment to date of the purported indirect relationship. The analysis reveals a robust link between weather patterns and food production where more rainfall generally is associated with higher yields. However, the second step in the causal model is not supported; agricultural output and violent conflict are only weakly and inconsistently connected, even in the specific contexts where production shocks are believed to have particularly devastating social consequences. Although this null result could, in theory, be fully compatible with recent reports of food price-related riots, it suggests that the wider socioeconomic and political context is much more important than drought and crop failures in explaining violent conflict in contemporary Africa.
"Civil war conflict is a core development issue. The existence of civil war can dramatically slow a country's development process, especially in low-income countries which are more vulnerable to civil war conflict. Conversely, development can impede civil war. When development succeeds, countries become safer―when development fails, they experience a greater risk of being caught in a conflict trap. Ultimately, civil war is a failure of development. "'Breaking the Conflict Trap' identifies the dire consequences that civil war has on the development process and offers three main findings. First, civil war has adverse ripple effects that are often not taken into account by those who determine whether wars start or end. Second, some countries are more likely than others to experience civil war conflict and thus, the risks of civil war differ considerably according to a country's characteristics including its economic stability. Finally, Breaking the Conflict Trap explores viable international measures that can be taken to reduce the global incidence of civil war and proposes a practical agenda for action. "This book should serve as a wake up call to anyone in the international community who still thinks that development and conflict are distinct issues." Source: Amazon --
We explore the relationship between drought and civil war. We show that the link between rainfall, temperature and civil war found in the literature may be driven by aggregate shocks (such as global climate) that were not accounted for. A standard differences-in-differences specification relying only on within country variation reveals a much weaker and insignificant link between weather variables and civil war. To increase statistical power, we propose a country-specific measure of drought that describes social exposure to water stress in a more efficient way than rainfall and temperature. We use the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) which combines rainfall, temperature (and soil texture) and takes important aspects that were missing from previous studies into account: nonlinearities - the effect of contemporaneous rainfall and temperatures depends on the climate history -, interaction effects - e.g. low rainfall is more important in hot years -, and threshold effects due to the limited capacity of the soil - e.g. rainfall water will run off when the soil layers are full. We continue to find a weak positive link between drought and civil war.
Quantitative research on climate variability and conflict is frequently criticized for being theoretically underdeveloped. In this article I discuss the most plausible suggested mechanisms connecting climate variability to conflict explicitly in reference to empirical testing. This approach could help solve the puzzle of how climate variability and conflict are related by highlighting how researchers can establish the key elements in the causal argument before moving on to testing it empirically. More specifically, I emphasize four key elements when evaluating each individual mechanism: first, who are the most relevant actors, second, what are the actors reacting toward (what type of climate variability), third, what conflict type is the most likely outcome, and fourth, what is the most appropriate temporal and spatial scale for each individual mechanism. Although empirical studies have moved toward more focus on theory and explicit tests of hypotheses derived from theoretical frameworks, an overview of how mechanisms are likely to manifest themselves and a discussion on how researchers can model them in analyses are missing in the research field. Adding technical fixes or new datasets to empirical testing does not automatically improve our understanding of the relationship between climate variability and conflict if the choices are not anchored in theoretical expectations.
I assessed five statements in the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of Working Group II (WG2) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s assessment of the impacts of climate change on agriculture all but ignores human agency and human ingenuity. The statement in the SPM on violent conflict is much stronger than in the chapter and indeed the literature. AR5 ignores the literature on the impacts of climate change on cold-related mortality and morbidity. On poverty traps, WG2 reaches a conclusion that is not supported by the cited papers. The total impacts of climate change were assessed in four subsequent IPCC reports. Although there are no statistically significant differences between the assessment periods in the underlying literature, the subsequent SPMs reach very different conclusions. In sum, the IPCC has yet to reach the quality that one would expect from a gold standard.
This article contributes to the literature on the nexus between climate change and violence by focusing on Indonesia over the period 1993–2003. Rice is the staple food in Indonesia and we investigate whether its scarcity can be blamed for fueling violence. Following insights from the natural science literature, which claims that increases in minimum temperature reduce rice yields, we maintain that increases in minimum temperature reduce food availability in many provinces, which in turn raises the emergence of actual violence. We adopt an instrumental variable approach and select the instruments taking into account the rice growing calendar. Results show that an increase of the minimum temperature during the core month of the rice growing season, that is, December, determines an increase in violence stimulated by the reduction in future rice production per capita. Results are robust across a number of different functional specifications and estimation methods. From a methodological point of view, we claim that the inconclusive results obtained in this literature may be caused by an overlook of the correct bundle crop/temperature. Studies concentrating on several countries with different crops and using variations of average temperature as a measure of climate change missed the biological mechanism behind the relationship between climate change and violence.
Researchers have increasingly sought to identify the social repercussions of an evolving climate. Several influential studies claim that climate change is responsible for increases in conflict, while other research finds no such evidence. Relating human-caused changes in the climate to conflict poses a basic endogeneity problem, though: accepting that industrial activity is responsible for altering the climate implies that human agency is indirectly involved in the impact of the climate on conflict. Specifically, industrial activity is closely tied to climate change and to rising economic development, the latter generally being accepted as a determinant of reductions in conflict. In this letter, we discuss this endogeneity problem, outline possible shortcomings for empirical research if this problem is not addressed, and propose a research strategy that might eventually help to overcome it effectively.