A new approach to assessing the climate-conflict relationship

Focusing in on both the agreement and the disagreement sheds new light on the linkages between climate and armed conflict.

In our recent analysis, published in the journal Nature last week, we conducted an expert assessment of the relationship between climate and conflict. Previous studies have both asserted and refuted linkages between climate variability and change and their potential consequences for the risk of violent conflict. Even synthesis studies have struggled to crystallize current understanding.

In short, we found strong agreement among experts that climate – in its variability and change – influences the risk of organized armed conflict within countries. But other factors, such as the capacity of the state or levels of socioeconomic development, play a much larger role. The jury is still out on the precise mechanisms at work across different contexts. Into the future, experts estimate intensifying climate change will drive up the risks.
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Heating up: mediation and climate change

Sharing the waters of the Jordan river (pictured) was a critical part of the success of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Jordan in 1994. Photo: Creative Commons.

Mediation – the process of helping groups in, or at risk of, armed conflict settle their differences peacefully – rarely gets the attention it deserves given how much bloodshed it has averted. In the twenty years following 1988, most of the world’s major armed conflicts were resolved by agreement, leading to a decline in both the number of wars being fought and the number of people killed in them.

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Climate Adaptation as a Pathway to Conflict Mitigation

CCAFS East African regional program selects six sites to test interventions that address risks related to climate change and variability. Featured here is the Lower Nyando. Photo: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Climate change has the potential to increase violent conflict risk. This suggests the need for a specified subfield of peacebuilding research and practice to address this issue. Environmental peacebuilding is growing in prominence among scholars and practitioners, even though the debate as to how much climate change increases conflict risk is not yet settled. This notion of peacebuilding in an environmental/climate context deserves attention in what seems to be an uncertain future where appropriate collective climate mitigation action can seem to be tenuous at the best of times. Future research should aim to highlight how conflict risk in a climate context, can be reduced. Below I discuss one potential area of research and practice.

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What can we learn about the environment in conflict areas, without going there physically?

Remote sensing can provide valuable insights into the environmental dimensions of armed conflicts.

Lashkargāh in Afghanistan. Remote sensing is allowing researchers to gain a better understanding of the influence of armed conflicts on land use than ever before. Credit: Google Earth.

Access to areas affected by armed conflicts is often limited, posing problems for research into environmental change. Because of this, remote sensing using satellite imagery is one of the tools that is increasingly used to monitor how armed conflicts interact with the environment. In this blog, Dr Lina Eklund provides an introduction into what we can discover through remote sensing using examples from Iraq, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and considers the limitations of these techniques.

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The Human Security of Migrants is Key to Sustainability for Growing Cities

The City of Los Angeles- Photo: Ron Reiring / Flickr /CC BY 2.0.

The Human Security Link

The sustainability of cities depends on the human security of new migrant populations. Human security, in this context, means the ability and real prospect of living a meaningful life. A shorthand for human security is ‘freedom from want and freedom from fear’. Many migrant populations globally face significant insecurity in their material wellbeing as well as social exclusion and exposure to crime, environmental hazards and other dimensions of precarity. Freedom from want and fear encapsulates, therefore, many of these aspects of the human security challenge in growing cities.

Our hypothesis that sustainability of cities is related to the human security of migrants is based on two principal observations. First, it is the population dynamics of migration that drives urbanization processes in rapidly growing cities. Second, migrant populations are critical because they are potential agents of change, even in circumstances where they are economically and politically marginalised.

Do cities grow because of migration? The large majority of people currently living in the most rapidly growing cities, ranging from Lagos to Dhaka to Manila, were not born there, but they moved there either as individuals or with their parents. These people are known as lifetime migrants: up to ninety percent of the population of some large metropolises are in effect in this category. Population estimates of growing mega-cities across Asia and Africa have very significant uncertainty. Estimates come from decadal censuses and nightlight estimates, but are notoriously unreliable. In effect this is because migrants move to cities at rates that are difficult to measure. For Dhaka in Bangladesh, for example, population growth rates suggest that perhaps 1000 extra people arrive in Dhaka every day that were not there the day before.

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Is Climate Change Denial the Biggest Problem with Trump’s New Panel?

President Trump the First Lady Visit Troops in Iraq. Official White House Photo: Shealah Craighead / Flickr /Public Domain.

It’s clear the Trump administration takes a skeptical stance toward human-induced climate change, but the recently proposed climate and security panel might pave the way for having their cake and eating it too.Read More

Climate Change and Conflict Generates Clicks, but What about Scientific Claims?

New Internally Displaced People who run away from Fanga and Taraba to settle down in Tawilla, near UNAMID compound. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Does global warming really increase armed conflict? Recently, a new study joined a wave of research (e.g., here and here) that seeks to illustrate the effects of climate change on political violence. The most recent study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change and conducted by Guy J. Abel and colleagues, demonstrates that climate change increases migration, purportedly by increasing the likelihood of conflict.

Mainstream media outlets picked up the findings, issuing news stories with startling headlines such as “Pentagon Fears Confirmed.” These stories surely generated clicks, given the public’s interest in climate change and climate change denial. However, the collective research findings of numerous scholars who have studied this topic suggest that such claims may be vastly overstated.
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International Water Cooperation Opens the Door to Peacemaking

Although water is an essential input for agriculture and industrial production, it is also scarce in many regions. When it crosses international borders via shared rivers, lakes and aquifers, it can become a source of conflict and contention. Yet while water can be a source of instability, especially in the face of climate change, it can also be a source or catalyst for cooperation and even peace.

The importance of addressing water and other environmental issues in post-conflict settings has long been recognized. Recently, a growing number of studies and reports have highlighted the potential of transnational water cooperation to create stronger ties between states. Water is especially suitable to facilitate cooperation as it is vital for livelihoods and economic growth, allows for win-win interactions, often crosses political boundaries, and requires long-term cooperation. Such cooperation, in turn, might positively influence interstate relations.

Tigris river. The Euphrates-Tigris Basin is shared between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, with Iran comprising parts of the Tigris basin. Since the 1960s there have been tensions between the co-riparian states. Photo: David Stanley.

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Climate Change Economics and the Climate-Conflict Nexus: Some Takeaways for Policy-Makers

On the occasion of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, which was awarded to William Nordhaus for his work on climate change economics (alongside Paul Romer for his contribution to macroeconomics), we highlight some essential findings of that research and then link them to research on climate change and human security (conflict). From this we derive some policy implications that can be drawn when linking results from integrated assessment models (climate change economics) with what we know from analyses of the climate-economy-conflict nexus.

A fishing boat in Bangladesh. Countries in the Global South, which are more reliant on climate dependent sectors such as fishing, will be harder hit economically by climate change. Photo: Jason Miklian / PRIO

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Achieving Sustainable Peace and the Climate Target of 1.5°C

Presently, the 24th Convention of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is occurring in Katowice, Poland and the negotiators are pressed to complete the negotiations on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. While fewer world leaders and substantially less fanfare is accompanying this meeting than the 2015 COP in Paris, success at this meeting is considered critical to setting a basis for the emission reductions needed to avoid the dangerous climate change. Underpinning these expectations is the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Special Report ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C’. Added during the final stages of the Paris Agreement, the parties agreed to hold ‘the increase of global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’. Importantly, this report suggests that attaining the the 1.5°C end-of-century temperature target will avert substantial damages for agricultural production, sea-level change, and catastrophic “tipping points” in the climate system. Further, while it will be challenging, there is still time – on the order of a decade – to set the world on a path to meet a 1.5°C temperature target.

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