Study investigates how much climate change affects the risk of armed conflict

Stanford-led study investigates how much climate change affects the risk of armed conflict
Climate-related hazards, such as droughts, can cause economic shocks to agricultural communities, which may heighten the risk of armed conflict, according to a new Stanford-led study. Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

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 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.

Climate change-driven extreme weather and related disasters can damage economies, lower farming and livestock production and intensify inequality among social groups. These factors, when combined with other drivers of conflict, may increase risks of violence.

"Knowing whether environmental or 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, , 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.

"Historically, levels of armed conflict over time have been heavily influenced by shocks to, and changes in, international relations among states and in their domestic political systems," said James Fearon, professor of and co-author on the study. "It is quite likely that over this century, unprecedented climate change is going to have significant impacts on both, but it is extremely hard to anticipate whether the political changes related to will have big effects on armed conflict in turn. So I think putting nontrivial weight on significant climate effects on conflict is reasonable."

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


Explore further

Why blaming conflicts in Africa on climate change is misguided

More information: Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict, Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1300-6 , https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1300-6
Journal information: Nature

Citation: Study investigates how much climate change affects the risk of armed conflict (2019, June 12) retrieved 19 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-06-climate-affects-armed-conflict.html
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Jun 12, 2019
humans adapt.

call me when the temperature exceeds Holocene Climate Optimum (which lasted 1000 years). you warmists are such maroons.

Jun 12, 2019
Ludicrous what some people get paid to "study." Certainly past warming stimulated conflict: both the medieval warming period and the even warmer Roman period saw increased mobility, trade and wars of conquest, the latter two obviously being concomitant on the first. Things are different now. Conflict may arise, even armed conflict, but it will not be caused by modest warming; it will be caused by existential political differences over the response or lack of it to "climate change" --- $10/gal fuel and its ramifications will devastate the poor and will drive Third World economies to the wall. Enjoy the triumph of the Malthusian death cult.


Jun 12, 2019
Communications, news and social media are present as they never were before.
The dispossessed by flooding, bushfires and desertification will know who to blame.
The folk who ARE to blame will become denialists to protect their wealth and war will ensue.

Jun 12, 2019
Study makes up anything climate alarm related to get funding. Fraud science.

Jun 12, 2019
humans adapt.

call me when the temperature exceeds Holocene Climate Optimum (which lasted 1000 years). you warmists are such maroons.
Good people ought to be armed as they will, with wits and Guns and THE TRUTH! #MAGA. Make America Wholesome Again

Jun 12, 2019
Ludicrous what some people get paid to "study."


If you don't believe in science, you have no good faith reason to comment here. Allow me to suggest: https://theflatea...ety.org/

And I certainly do hope that when (not if) the famines, plagues, and wars hit, you and yours will be freely volunteering to be first in line to starve, succumb to disease, or die in violence. Reap as you sow as you please, but let the rational and the compassionate carry forth the torch of human civilization and progress into the next era of life on this Earth, diminished as it will be by the collective madness you seem to shamelessly represent.


Jun 13, 2019
The more warfare that is being made, the greater amount of CO2 is being wasted by its generation as a polluting gas from vehicles and explosives. So the claim that climate heating causes war is the opposite and that in fact more wars cause worse risk of atmospheric heating and climatic disasters.

Jun 13, 2019
The more warfare that is being made, the greater amount of CO2 is being wasted by its generation as a polluting gas from vehicles and explosives. So the claim that climate heating causes war is the opposite and that in fact more wars cause worse risk of atmospheric heating and climatic disasters.


On the other hand, smoke and ash block the sun, craters expose new rock that absorbs CO2, and a big war would decimate the population and perhaps destroy civilization altogether --- you've got to admit, that would cut CO2 in the long run.

Jun 13, 2019
Reap as you sow as you please, but let the rational and the compassionate carry forth the torch of human civilization and progress


The rational and compassionate would never make plans to spend 10 trillion over things that won't make a difference in the future. You're irrational.

Jun 14, 2019
It's particularly important when you look at the countries most likely to be affected by climate change that also have nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, and China spring immediately to mind.

Jun 15, 2019
It's particularly important when you look at the countries most likely to be affected by climate change that also have nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, and China spring immediately to mind.


Russia would be the most affected by climate change, you make no sense.

Jun 15, 2019
It's particularly important when you look at the countries most likely to be affected by climate change that also have nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, and China spring immediately to mind.

Da Schitts for brains, says....

Jun 16, 2019
Russia would be the most affected by climate change, you make no sense.
Pooty thinks it will open up Siberia. Thought we'd already established that. Apparently you are immune to evidence.

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