Does climate change increase the risk of violent armed conflict? A new paper published last week on 12 June in Nature suggests intensified global warming could indeed increase the future risk of armed conflict (1).
The risk will increase more than five times on the current warming trajectory, which is set to increase by 4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to the study, and the future conflict risk could potentially increase by up to 26 per cent. Even 2 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels could more than double the impact of climate on conflict.
To further understand a possible link, the authors performed a “comprehensive and balanced” assessment of the relationship between climate and conflict; more specifically on organised armed conflict within countries, including state-based armed conflict, non-state armed conflict, and one-sided violence against civilians.
The assessment was based on 6–8-hour individual interviews with experts in the fields of political science, environmental science, and economics, including 11 climate and conflict experts (co-authors on the study). The interviews were followed by 2-day group debates. And the experts seem to agree that climate has affected armed conflict within countries — although, the mechanism behind these important interactions remains uncertain.
The researchers also believe the potential implications of climate change may be a lot different compared to historical climate disruptions. Therefore, future societies will likely be forced to deal with unprecedented climate conditions not yet been experienced that could prove much more difficult to adapt to.
According to the study, the role of climate may be small compared to other drivers of conflict, such as socioeconomic factors, government, societal inequalities, and whether there is a recent history of violent conflict. However, the authors also note that given the pervasive detrimental human, economic, and environmental consequences of armed conflict, understanding of the climate-conflict relationship is important.
Moreover, the results could help inform new ways of reducing the likelihood of future armed conflict and lead to more well-informed decisions on how aggressively to implement future climate change mitigation strategies.
Previous studies indicate that global warming will most likely increase global inequality among social groups. Extreme weather events driven by climate change can damage economies by reducing crop yields and livestock production. Clearly, mitigating climate change and reducing the risk of armed conflict is a win-win approach. The authors suggest that ensuring crop resilience and post-harvest storage to increase food security and diversify economic opportunities could reduce potential climate-conflict linkages.
Therefore, peacekeeping, conflict mediation, and post-conflict aid operations should incorporate climate mitigation tactics in their risk analyses by considering how climatic shocks could potentially worsen violent conflicts.
Furthermore, it is incredibly important to understand the way in which climate can interact with known drivers of armed conflict. For example, food export bans following poor crop yields can increase instability in agriculture-dependent countries.
(1) Mach, K.J. et al. Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict. Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1300-6