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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Stretched Thin: When Fragile States Face Climate Hazards

With its population of more than 190 million, Nigeria’s fate is central to the success of West Africa. Armed opposition groups like Boko Haram have plagued the north of the country for years — spilling over and destabilizing neighboring countries — and violence involving Fulani militias in the Middle Belt reached an all-time high this year. Nigeria’s government has struggled to contain these conflicts and address the needs of its population.

At the same time, the country faces extensive climate-related pressures, from chronic aridity and flooding in the north to rainfall anomalies in the middle of the country to heavy flooding and wildfires in the densely populated south.

Photo: Oxfam East Africa

Nigeria is just one of many states facing the double burden of state fragility and climate exposure, which is the subject of our new report for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). State fragility reflects poor state capacity and poor state-society relationships, both of which can contribute to instability. Climate exposure reflects the risks to a state’s people and land stemming from climate hazards like cyclones, floods, droughts, coastal inundation, and wildfires.Read More

Drought displacement and implications for conflict

Human migration driven by weather variability and environmental change (see, e.g., here, here, and here) has been identified as a possible link between global warming and violent conflict (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Despite academic and public policy discussions about these and similar topics, the relationship between climate change and regional migration within developing countries remains understudied in relation to the risk of violent conflict (although there are notable exceptions).

In addition to tensions among communities related to cultural or religious traditions – in their own right a potential source of hostilities – plausible sources of animosity between host and arrival communities include housing and job market pressures, changing electoral demographics, and access to public goods (e.g. primary schools and other services).

Share of drought-displaced respondents in Kenya who reported host-migrant hostilities. SOURCE: Linke et al. (2018)

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Will climate adaptation move us toward peace?

Climate adaptation has been praised for its potential for contributing to peace. It is highlighted for the potential to remake systems and equip the world to better cope with the impacts of climate change. However, these remain hopeful claims until rigorous research is done on how this might take place and what type of peace we might expect to result from the implementation of climate adaptation.

Policymakers and practitioners are increasingly integrating the environment and climate change in peacebuilding work. For example, the UN Environment Programme has stressed the need to put the environment at the center of prevention and resolution of natural resource conflicts. Researchers too have begun to link climate action with peace. Some researchers have gone as far to suggest that failure to account for climate in peace activities could make them not only short-term, but even harmful.

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From climate to conflict? Old question, new insights from experts

The scholarly debate on the security implications of climate change has been highly animated over the past ten years. Although most agree that a powerful and general direct relationship is not likely, an overarching consensus on more subtle connections has not yet been reached. However, recent research directions suggest that scholars are now moving towards a more comprehensive understanding of potential indirect pathways linking climate variability and conflict risk.

During the last week of September, I attended a two-day workshop on climate change and security at Uppsala University to discuss current and emerging trends in climate conflict research. The workshop, co-hosted by the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University and PRIO, involved a group of seventeen international academics and experts from various academic disciplines, such as political science, economics, human geography, and hydrology, who presented their ongoing projects and discussed the state of knowledge and promising ways forward. The workshop program also included a public lecture by Professor W. Neil Adger on sustainable urbanisation and migration processes.

The workshop benefited significantly from the diversity of backgrounds and experiences, creating incentives for brain-storming and foundations for cooperation among new constellations of researchers

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Climate change and violence: The case for mechanisms

Bookshelves are getting heavy from dire portrayals of a hotter future with more conflict. Two of today’s most high-profile conflict cases – Darfur and the war theatre in Syria – have been strongly connected to environmental change, at least judging from media sources and pundits. While over a dozen studies have conducted statistical analyses on the relationship between environmental change and the onset of new civil wars, reviews have found little signs of convergence for civil conflict onset.

The outbreak of civil wars – rebels fighting the government forces of a state – is not only of academic interest. Constituting today’s most lethal form of conflict, policymakers and the humanitarian community are eager to learn about the potential for climate change to trigger new conflicts, not least since civil wars are argued to be ‘development in reverse’ and therefore very likely to further increase vulnerability to environmental change. What, then, are plausible reasons for this lack of convergence, and what should be the prioritizations for future research?

PHOTO: Ian Turnell from Pexels

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Food Insecurity and Unrest

A protestor watching a burning vehicle in Caracas, Venezuela. PHOTO: Andrés Gerlotti on Unsplash (CC)

Food price fluctuations over the last decade and the corresponding unrest in several countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East have led to a renewed interest in the link between food and unrest. A recent policy brief highlights some of the main findings in the field and suggests avenues for future research related to conceptual clarity of both food insecurity and unrest, the link between suggested theoretical mechanisms and empirical tests, and reversed causation.

During the latest food price spikes in 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 unrest occurred in several countries, where the reactions to the increasing prices ranged from peaceful demonstrations to widespread violence. These events have put the question of whether food insecurity is a driver of unrest at the forefront of the academic debate, and there is an emerging consensus in the literature that food prices increase the likelihood of unrest, especially in urban areas. Building on a substantial case-based literature, the literature has produced several strong and nuanced findings within the field. However, there are still unresolved issues and room for further conceptual and empirical clarity within the field.

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Does hunger cause conflict?

One of the consequences of war is disrupted food provision. The connection between conflict and hunger is indisputable when we look at today’s locations of the major global hunger emergencies: Rakhine in Myanmar, the Kasai Region in DR Congo, north-eastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It is estimated that 80 percent of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) resources are deployed in conflict-affected areas. But what about the opposite relationship: does hunger cause violent conflicts?

PHOTO: Share the World’s Resources

The many protests after global food prices rose sharply in 2008, and the outbreak of the Arab Spring uprisings in the aftermath of a second peak in food prices at the beginning of 2011, are often cited as evidence that many of today’s conflicts are fundamentally about scarcities of resources and food shortages. A common assumption is that reduced food security leads to hunger and desperation, which in turn trigger protests, violence, and increased risks of radicalization. The growing concerns about the social consequences of climate change are helping boost this view of the world.

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