Climate, Crop, and Conflict: a matter of space?

Anthropogenic climate change poses unprecedented threats to socio-ecological systems, affecting the lives of millions of people around the world. Among others, global warming has resulted in an increased frequency, intensity and duration of extremes, such as heatwaves, droughts and heavy precipitations. Climate-related impacts include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, increased morbidity and mortality, and potential implications for mental health and human well-being.

Figure 1″Refugees from South Sudan in El Daein, East Darfur” by UNAMID Photo.

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The World Food Program won the Nobel Peace Prize. Does food aid boost peace?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee named this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, recognizing the World Food Program (WFP) for “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

Photo: heb@Wikimedia Commons

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COVID-19, Food Access, and Social Upheaval

According to the World Food Program’s (WFP) latest report, the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to an 82 percent increase in global food insecurity, affecting around 270 million people by the end of the year. On June 29, the organization announced it is undertaking its largest humanitarian effort to assist an increasing number of food-insecure low- and middle-income countries. In a statement about the plan, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said that “until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos. Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict, and widespread under-nutrition among populations that were previously immune from hunger.”

Why is the pandemic leading to more food insecurity? And why is David Beasley talking about social unrest and protest in connection with food?

Disaster relief in Haiti due to Hurricane Matthew. Photo courtesy of The 621st Contingency Response Wing.

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Development aid increases local resilience to drought

The recently concluded UN Millennium Development Goals framework documented significant progress (although not complete success) in halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015, compared to 1990. However, in the most recent years, the global rate of undernourishment has again been on the rise. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the main cause of this retrogression is escalating violence in war-affected areas. Making matters worse, the human cost of war is sometimes compounded by climate shocks, most notably drought.

Water from the Massaca Water Reservoir in Mozambique is used to irrigate local agriculture. Photo: John Hogg/World Bank/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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Big Data Applications for Climate-Conflict Research

‘Big data’ analytics – the collection and analysis of large amounts of data – is having a transformative impact on scientific research across disciplines. Although there is no single and consistent definition, there are three commonly agreed upon indicators of big data, the three ‘V’s: volume, velocity and variety. Volume refers to the massive amounts of data, velocity to the constant production and stream of data and variety to its unstructured nature. Machine learning (ML; initially teaching computers to learn and process information to ultimately perform tasks without out the need for further instruction) is a popular tool used, making connections and findings faster than humans.

How cell-phone data can be used to map population movement. This example illustrates population flows after the 2013 Cyclone Mahasen in Bangladesh. Image courtesy of Shreya Shah (Yale University), published in PNAS.


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Common climate impact assessments underestimate future vulnerability

Climate-related disasters are a major source of human and material losses. Poverty and low level of economic development are important determinants of environmental vulnerability. Achieving stable and sustainable development thus represents an important strategy to reduce adverse impacts of climate change. However, present efforts to evaluate possible consequences of climate change in the future suffer from too optimistic assumptions about economic growth in poor countries, as we document in a new article just published in the journal Global Environmental Politics.

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How conflict leads to biased development aid

With two special reports (here and here) released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just after the summer, the awareness of the consequences of climate change and the measures needed to limit these impacts is higher than ever before. Regrettably, there is not a one-to-one relationship between responsibility and consequences, and the burden will be much larger for the already disadvantaged Global South.

Damaged coastal community in Iloilio province in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan hit the area in November 2013. Photo: Mans Unides/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Advancing United Nations Responses to Climate-Related Security Risks

The security implications of climate change have increasingly been debated in the United Nations Security Council. Yet, there is a growing concern by many UN member states about the lack of adequate responses to the risks that climate change poses to peace and security. In recent years, some modest but notable changes at the UN have taken place, of which the creation of the Climate Security Mechanism is the primary example.

This blog post, which first appeared as a SIPRI Policy Brief last week, summarizes the recent evolution of the climate security debate in the UN and highlights three priority areas for future action: (a) supporting and establishing climate security action in the field, (b) nurturing knowledge provision and (c) building sustainable sources of financing for climate security action. All these steps will require committed actors, innovation and long-term investment.

Escalating climate impacts make the mitigation of climate-related security risks by the UN and its member states not only demanded but urgent. Recent institutional progress demonstrates that committed and cooperative actors can drive institutional change. This progress must be bolstered and action delivered in the field.

United Nations flag. Photo: sanjitbakshi / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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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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