Climate change could boost incidence of civil war in Africa

Climate change could increase the likelihood of civil war in sub-Saharan Africa by over 50 percent within the next two decades, according to a new study led by a team of researchers at University of California, Berkeley, and published in today's online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study, conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley as well as at Stanford University, New York University and Harvard University, provides the first quantitative evidence linking climate change and the risk of civil conflict. It concludes by urging accelerated support by African governments and foreign aid donors for new and/or expanded policies to assist with African adaptation to climate change.

"Despite recent high-level statements suggesting that climate change could worsen the risk of civil conflict, until now we had little quantitative evidence linking the two," said Marshall Burke, the study's lead author and a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. "Unfortunately, our study finds that climate change could increase the risk of African civil by over 50 percent in 2030 relative to 1990, with huge potential costs to human livelihoods."

"We were definitely surprised that the linkages between temperature and recent conflict were so strong," said Edward Miguel, professor of economics at UC Berkeley and faculty director of UC Berkeley's Center for Evaluation for Global Action. "But the result makes sense. The large majority of the poor in most African countries depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and their crops are quite sensitive to small changes in temperature. So when temperatures rise, the livelihoods of many in suffer greatly, and the disadvantaged become more likely to take up arms."

Understanding the causes and consequences of civil strife in much of the African continent has been a major focus of the social sciences for decades, said Miguel, as monumental suffering has resulted from it. In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo's, the International Rescue Committee estimates that at least 5.4 million people have died from fighting, hunger and disease during that country's ongoing civil unrest over the past 10 years.

In the study, the researchers first combined historical data on civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa with rainfall and temperature records across the continent. They found that between 1980 and 2002, civil wars were significantly more likely in warmer-than-average years, with a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature in a given year raising the incidence of conflict across the continent by nearly 50 percent.

Building on this historical relationship between temperature and conflict, the researchers then used projections of future temperature and precipitation change to quantify future changes in the likelihood of African civil war. Based on climate projections from 20 global climate models, the researchers found that the incidence of African civil war could increase 55 percent by 2030, resulting in an additional 390,000 battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent ones.

All climate models project rising temperatures in coming decades, said David Lobell, study co-author and an assistant professor of environmental earth systems science at Stanford.

"On average, the models suggest that temperatures over the African continent will increase by a little over 1 degree Celsius by 2030," he added. "Given the strong historical relationship between temperature rise and conflict, this expected future rise in temperature is enough to cause big increases in the likelihood of conflict."

To confirm that this projection was not the result of large effects in just a few countries or due to overreliance on a particular climate model, the researchers recalculated future conflict projections using alternate data. "No matter what we tried - different historical climate data, different climate model projections, different subsets of the conflict data - we still found the same basic result," said Lobell.

It's easy to think of climate change as a long way off, said the researchers, but their study shows how sensitive many human systems are to small increases in temperature, and how fast the negative impacts of climate change could be felt.

"Our findings provide strong impetus to ramp up investments in African adaptation to climate change by such steps as developing crop varieties less sensitive to extreme heat and promoting insurance plans to help protect farmers from adverse effects of the hotter climate," said Burke.

Applying findings from this study could prove useful to policy makers at the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations in December in determining both the speed and magnitude of response to , the authors said.

"If the sub-Saharan climate continues to warm and little is done to help its countries better adapt to high temperatures, the human costs are likely to be staggering," said Burke.

Source: University of California - Berkeley (news : web)

Explore further

Impoverished areas of Africa and Asia face severe crop losses from climate change in 20 years

Citation: Climate change could boost incidence of civil war in Africa (2009, November 23) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Nov 23, 2009
They found that between 1980 and 2002...

Wow, is AGW desperate or what?! Look at this carefully controlled, arbitrary data set. What about the previous 10,000 years of Africa's social history? What about the early 1900s even? There should be perfectly good data there, and I guarantee there is, it just doesn't back what they want to present. This type of thing makes me feel like my brains going to explode. Infuriating that this is allowed to be published.

This is the most disgusting type of scientific dishonesty, and so blatant. I can't fathom even an AGW proponent stomaching this rigged, soft-science crap. Give it up AGW, desperation does not become you.

What else happened in the 80s? Oh yes, apartheid was ending and the hugely divisive Tricameral Parliament was instituted.

Nov 23, 2009
AGW is a scam pure and simple. Today, wars, starvation, in Africa is caused by corruption, dictators, and those that support the dictators, are the same group that is supporting the AGW scam.

Nov 23, 2009
Kind of a stretch linking global warming to genocide.

Nov 24, 2009
Perhaps you haven't seen the news.. Google climate change, emails, and fraud and see what you get.

AT least the constant ridiculous stories should now begin to abate. The harm done to the scientific community will be hard to overcome.

Time for scientists to become scientists again, not political soldiers.

Nov 24, 2009
If we pay scientists and sociologists to write crap studies, they will write crap studies. Follow the money. How is this any different from the supposed Exxon funding of a few researchers? BTW, that funding disparity is about 3000:1 in favor of AGW.

Nov 24, 2009
Its pretty simple- if your crops underproduce or don't produce at all, you don't have enough food. Solution? Take it from your neighbor. If your closest neighbor that has food to take is 200 miles away, then you go 200 miles, and take everything you can find to eat and drink along the way, unless you are killed or starved first. Is there enough for everyone when you get there? Maybe not- keep moving.
This isn't a new concept, and not really misunderstood or even really questionable. It is essentially mechanical and common sense. These are probably the same factors that drove human evolution in the past, and probably drove human expansion into the rest of the world in a complex of interactions between positive and negative feedback loops of human migration due to environmental change. Does anyone remember the Dust Bowl? The so-called "Little Ice Age"? These are recent examples of climate-change induced population shifts.
This is a real and observable priciple.

Nov 24, 2009

Except for today. If the country you are in is free of corruption and not ruled by a dictator, you trade what you have for food, or you get aid from countries who have food.

AGW has nothing to do with wars and never will. This belief that AGW will cause wars is premised on two flawed ideas. One that there is AGW, and two that today wars are caused by food shortages.

Nov 27, 2009
" Does anyone remember the Dust Bowl? The so-called "Little Ice Age"? "

I don't remember either one starting a war. Any time a "study" has the word "could" in the title, get ready to hold your nose.

Nov 29, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 29, 2009
I wish physorg would stop publishing this moonshine. It's really getting embarassing to see this sort of pure speculation alongside proper research results.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more