The Intersection of Climate and Conflict
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March 7, 2023
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The Intersection of Climate and Conflict

Our latest blog post explores the complex relationship between climate change and conflict. Visit our page to learn more.

It is quite intuitive to believe that climate change will trigger conflict in regions that are already vulnerable due to a lack of resources, infrastructure, and economic development. As resources become scarce, it seems that people get more aggressive and competitive in the pursuit of these resources, a combination which can easily end up in conflict.

We’ve already seen glimpses of this in Africa and middle east where droughts and high temperatures have caused the outbreak of violence amongst different ethnic groups who compete for them. We also know the violence which can arise when climate-related disasters trigger mass migration. The movement and displacement of people from one country to another, often from one continent to another, rarely goes smoothly. We see this with the hate crimes and various neo-nazi groups in Europe who are ready to violently oppose migrants moving into their country. A new piece of research seems to empirically tie together with data this link between climate change and conflict risk.

The research finds a link between climate change, especially rising temperatures and increased chance of social conflict. The research analysed global data during peace and conflict and examined the effect that climatic anomalies caused. Conflicts in this case could be material, in the case of protests and verbal, in the form of an ultimatum or threat which doesn’t necessarily lead to physical violence.
Researchers found that abnormally high temperatures brought an increased risk of conflict.

This is the one of the first and only studies which has managed to quantify a link which has previously only been supported from anecdotal evidence.

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Social fabric at risk

Mukherjee, who co-wrote the study published in the journal Environmetrics explains the importance that this link carries on our understanding and fight against climate change:
“International cooperation on climate change-mitigation efforts have been premised on the notion that harmful social and economic activities in one region can spill over into other regions through greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and the aftereffects of extreme climate events. We saw this recently with the farmer protests in India. The farmers felt that they weren’t getting enough in government subsidies, so they were demanding more...
Such conflicts aren’t uncommon, but they are likely to reverberate regionally, because everyone depends on agriculture and mineral resources.”

Whilst the study itself is far from shocking, it helps provide empirical support to a factor of climate change which isn’t dealt with enough, that is, climate change will affect the fabric and social organisation of our societies by putting stress in our resources and making our current way of life, impossible. This suggests that as climate change keeps getting worse and climate anomalies become more frequent, so will conflict.

This can easily form a self-perpetuating cycle since a society riddled with conflict will be unable to deal with the effects of climate change which will on turn make conflict worse. It is important to understand that climate change doesn’t simply exist on a technical level.

It is not a mere logistics issue to be solved by someone who will have the right idea. Climate change is a process which has the power to demolish our social fabric as well, by putting our material resources under stress and scarcity