by Judith Curry
Overall, the research reported here offers only limited support for viewing climate change as an important influence on armed conflict. However, framing the climate issue as a security problem could possibly influence the perceptions of the actors and contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Journal of Peace Research has a special issue Climate Change and Conflict. All articles are available online for the month of February. See this link for the table of contents that provides links to the individual papers.
The guest editor of the special issue Nils Petter Gleditsch provides an overview article Whither the weather? Climate Change and Conflict . Some excerpts:
Violence is on the wane in human affairs, even if slowly and irregularly. In recent years, however, pundits and politicians, along with a few scholars, have raised the specter that this encouraging trend towards peace might be reversed by environmental change generally and by climate change specifically.
Virtually all the articles in this special issue try to disentangle the causal chains between climate change and conflict.
Climate change is the world’s first truly global man-made environmental problem13and a firm warning that human activities can influence our physical environment on a global scale. The range of possible consequences of climate change is so wide, even for the limited temperature changes foreseen in the IPCC scenarios, that it is difficult to sort out the main priorities. Obviously, if a reversal of the trend towards a more peaceful world was one of these consequences, it should have a prominent place on the policy agenda. Based on the research reported here, such a pessimistic view may not be warranted in the short to medium run. However, framing climate change as a security issue may influence the perceptions of the actors in local and regional conflict and lead to militarized responses and thus perhaps contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The study of the relationship between climate change and conflict has advanced noticeably in the past five years. With regard to how changes in precipitation may influence internal conflict, the one area where we now have a fair number of studies, the dominant view seems to be that rainfall abundance is associated with greater risks than drought and that in any case other conflict-generating factors are more important. Studies of how climate change may promote interstate conflict over water resources also seem to point in the direction of a weak or a null relationship. On the whole, however, it seems fair to say that so far there is not yet much evidence for climate change as an important driver of conflict. In recent reviews of this literature, conclude that although environmental change may under certain circumstances increase the risk of violent conflict, the existing evidence indicates that this is not generally the case.
While we primarily hope that the studies presented here will have an impact on scholarly research in this area, they could also have an influence on policymaking. The IPCC is currently working on its Fifth Assessment Report, scheduled for release in 2013. For the first time, this report will have a chapter on the consequences of climate change for human security, including armed conflict . We hope that the studies reported here will contribute to a balanced assessment by the IPCC, built on the best peer-reviewed evidence.
I read most of the abstracts and a few of the articles. Here are some excerpts from a few of the abstracts (I didn’t select the regional articles, but the broader ones):
Berit Kvaloy, Henning Finseraas, and Ola Listhaug: The publics’ concern for global warming: A cross-national study of 47 countries
The data show that a large majority of the public in all countries are concerned about the problem of global warming and that this assessment is part of a broader concern for global environmental issues. The widespread concern implies that global warming has the potential to generate mass political participation and demand for political action. Variation across nations in wealth and CO2 emissions is not significantly related to the publics’ assessments of the problem, and, somewhat counterintuitively, people from countries relatively more exposed to climate-related natural disasters are less concerned about global warming.
Vally Koubi, Thomas Bernauer, Anna Kalbhenn, Gabrielle Spilker: Climate Variability, economic growth, and civil conflict
In this article we revisit the climate–conflict hypothesis along two lines. First, we concentrate on indirect effects of climatic conditions on conflict, whereas most of the existing literature focuses on direct effects. Specifically, we examine the causal pathway linking climatic conditions to economic growth and to armed conflict, and argue that the growth–conflict part of this pathway is contingent on the political system. Second, we employ a measure of climatic variability that has advantages over those used in the existing literature because it can presumably take into account the adaptation of production to persistent climatic changes. Our empirical analysis does not produce evidence for the claim that climate variability affects economic growth. However, we find some, albeit weak, support for the hypothesis that non-democratic countries are more likely to experience civil conflict when economic conditions deteriorate.
Drago Bergholt and Paivi Lujala: Climate-related natural disasters, economic growth, and armed civil conflict
This article uses econometric methods to study the consequences of climate-induced natural disasters on economic growth, and how these disasters are linked to the onset of armed civil conflict either directly or via their impact on economic growth. The results show that climate-related natural disasters have a negative effect on growth and that the impact is considerable. The analysis of conflict onset shows that climate-related natural disasters do not increase the risk of armed conflict. This is also true when we instrument the change in GDP growth by climatic disasters. These findings have two major implications: if climate change increases the frequency or makes weather-related natural disasters more severe, it is an economic concern for countries susceptible to these types of hazards. However, our results suggest that more frequent and severe climate-related disasters will not lead to more armed conflicts through their effects on GDP growth.
This study focuses on how climate-related natural disasters such as storms, floods, and droughts have affected the risk of civil war in the past. The frequency of such disasters has risen sharply over the last decades, and the increase is expected to continue due to both climate change and demographic changes. Countries that are affected by climate-related natural disasters face a lower risk of civil war. One worrying facet of the claims that environmental factors cause conflict is that they may contribute to directing attention away from more important conflict-promoting factors, such as poor governance and poverty. There is a serious risk of misguided policy to prevent civil conflict if the assumption that disasters have a significant effect on war is allowed to overshadow more important causes.
Erik Gartzke: Could climate change precipitate peace?
This article examines the effects of climate change on international conflict subsequent to the onset of European industrialization. Surprisingly, analysis at the system level suggests that global warming is associated with a reduction in interstate conflict. This naive relationship is suspect, however, as the increased consumption of carbon-based fuels is itself associated with changing patterns of politics and prosperity. In particular, economic development has been viewed as a cause of both climate change and interstate peace. Incorporating measures of development, democracy, cross-border trade, and international institutions reveals that systemic trends toward peace are actually best accounted for by the increase in average international income. The results imply that climate change, which poses a number of critical challenges for citizens and policymakers, need not be characterized as fundamentally a security issue, though climate change may have important security implications on the periphery of world politics. The analysis here also suggests that efforts to curb climate change should pay particular attention to encouraging clean development among middle-income states, as these countries are the most conflict prone. Ironically, stagnating economic development in middle-income states caused by efforts to combat climate change could actually realize fears of climate-induced warfare.
JC comments: For background, previous threads on this topic include
- Climate change and security
- New report on climate change and security
- New research on the links between climate change and conflicts
- Climate refugees