How much does climate change affects the risk of armed conflict

Intensifying climate change will increase the future risk of violent armed conflict within countries, according to a study published today in the journal Nature. Synthesizing views across experts, the study estimates climate has influenced between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk over the last century and that the influence will likely increase dramatically.


In a scenario with 4 degrees Celsius of warming (approximately the path we re on if societies do not substantially reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases), the influence of climate on conflicts would increase more than five times, leaping to a 26% chance of a substantial increase in conflict risk, according to the study. Even in a scenario of 2 degrees Celsius of warming beyond preindustrial levels -- the stated goal of the Paris Climate Agreement¬ -- the influence of climate on conflicts would more than double, rising to a 13% chance.

"Appreciating the role of climate change and its security impacts is important not only for understanding the social costs of our continuing heat-trapping emissions, but for prioritizing responses, which could include aid and cooperation," said Katharine Mach, director of the Stanford Environment Assessment Facility and the study s lead author.

"Knowing whether environmental or climatic changes are important for explaining conflict has implications for what we can do to reduce the likelihood of future conflict, as well as for how to make well-informed decisions about how aggressively we should mitigate future climate change," said Marshall Burke, assistant professor of Earth system science and a co-author on the study.

Finding consensus

Researchers disagree intensely as to whether climate plays a role in triggering civil wars and other armed conflicts. To better understand the impact of climate, the analysis involved interviews with and debates among experts in political science, environmental science, economics and other fields who have come to different conclusions on climate s influence on conflict in the past.

The experts, who also served as co-authors on the study, agree that climate has affected organized armed conflict in recent decades. However, they make clear that other factors, such as low socioeconomic development, the strength of government, inequalities in societies, and a recent history of violent conflict have a much heavier impact on conflict within countries.

The researchers don t fully understand how climate affects conflict and under what conditions. The consequences of future climate change will likely be different from historical climate disruptions because societies will be forced to grapple with unprecedented conditions that go beyond known experience and what they may be capable of adapting to.

Planning ahead

Reducing conflict risk and preparing for a changing climate can be a win-win approach. The study explains that adaptation strategies, such as crop insurance, post-harvest storage, training services and other measures, can increase food security and diversify economic opportunities, thereby reducing potential climate-conflict linkages. Peacekeeping, conflict mediation and post-conflict aid operations could incorporate climate into their risk reduction strategies by looking at ways climatic hazards may exacerbate violent conflict in the future.

However, the researchers make clear there is a need to increase understanding of these strategies effectiveness and potential for adverse side effects. For example, food export bans following crop failures can increase instability elsewhere.

"Understanding the multifaceted ways that climate may interact with known drivers of conflict is really critical for putting investments in the right place," Mach said.


Materials provided by Stanford University . Original written by Devon Ryan. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Stanford University. "How much does climate change affects the risk of armed conflict: As global temperatures climb, the risk of armed conflict is expected to increase substantially." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 June 2019. .

Stanford University. "How much does climate change affects the risk of armed conflict: As global temperatures climb, the risk of armed conflict is expected to increase substantially." ScienceDaily. (accessed June 12, 2019).
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