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Climate Variability and Civil War in Africa.

Climate Variability and Civil War in Africa.

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  • 1. Climate Wars?Climate Variability and Civil War in Africa
    Halvard Buhaug
    Summer School on Environmental Conflicts and Justice
    Autonomous University of Barcelona
    11 July 2011
  • 2. Motivation
    Recent trends in climate and conflict
    Causal framework
    Empirical evidence
    A future research agenda
    Plan of action
  • 3. Drammen anno 2006
  • 4. Drammen anno 2099?
  • 5. Note: Data on armed conflicts from UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Database (
    Armed conflict
    • At least two organized parties
    • 6. At least one state government
    • 7. At least 25 battle deaths per year
  • Casualties of armed conflict
    Note: Data on conflict casualties from PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v.3 (
  • 8. Demise of superpower rivalry
    Spread of democracy, human rights
    Poverty alleviation
    Increasing economic interdependence
    Increasing international activism
    Nuclear deterrence
    Explaining the decline of war
  • 9. Abrupt climate change may lead humanity into “constant battles for diminishing resources” (Schwartz & Randall, 2003)
    Climate change is an “all-encompassing threat” to human health, to global food supply, and to peace and security (Annan, 2006)
    Climate change “may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources”, resulting in “increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states” (Mjøs, 2007)
    “What makes wars start? Fights over water. Changing patterns of rainfall. Fights over food production, land use” (Beckett, 2007)
    “Climate change, if left unchecked, could result in violent conflict” (Obama, 2009)
     All refer to security in a classic, narrow sense
    Will climate change revert the trend?
  • 10. Note: Temperature statistics expressed as deviation from global mean, 1951–80. Data from NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), Columbia University (
    Global warming
  • 11. Note: Sea-level statistics with January 1946 as baseline. Data from Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) database, Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, UK (
    Sea level rise
  • 12. Frequency
    Note: Disaster data from the EM-DAT database, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster (CRED), Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels (
    Climatic natural disasters
  • 13. Paradox or disaster waiting to happen?
  • 14. Mapping contemporary civil wars
  • 15. Most agree that climate is unlikely to affect armed conflict directly
    But climate anomalies/change may affect motives and/or opportunity for violent conflict in certain contexts
    “Threat multiplier” and “ingenuity gap”: Increased conflict risk in societies unable to cope with/adapt to changing environments
    Some typical country characteristics:
    Poorly developed property rights
    Large marginalized populations
    Dependence on rain for income and food security
    History of violence
    Bad neighborhood
    How climate might affect armed conflict
  • 16. “Tracing the consequences of consequences…”
    Reduction in livelihood
    Security in a wide sense
    Security in a narrow sense
    Causal flow chart
  • 17. Most empirical research focuses on Africa
    1/3 of African people live in drought-prone regions
    Only 4% of arable land in SSA is irrigated
    Large agricultural sector, subsistence economies
    Home to almost half of all active armed conflicts
    Global warming is likely to lead to a drying of northern and southern Africa; East Africa might get more rain
    • General acceptance that Africa will be affected by future global warming first and most severely
  • Bruke et al. (PNAS 2009)
  • 18. Trends in climate and conflictsince 1960
  • 19. Sensitivity to time period
  • 20. Sensitivity to severity threshold
  • 21. Marginal impact of climate
  • 22. Buhaug (PNAS 2010)
  • 23. Comparative statistical work largely dismissive of a causal environment-conflict connection (e.g., Political Geography 2007; Journal of Peace Research 2012)
    Case-based environmental security literature in general more supportive but does not cover a random selection of cases
    Public debate dominated by policy actors, NGOs, and think-tanks; most reports motivated by idiographic evidence
     policy debate has run ahead of scientific evidence base
     social sciences less successful than the natural sciences in informing policy makers
    Empirical evidence: Summary
  • 24. Explore effect of climate on other forms of violent conflict/interaction
    Intercommunal disputes
    One-sided violence
    Urban riots
    Explore consequences of environmental change for conflict dynamics
    Get better data on (local) environmental vulnerability
    Obtain a better knowledge of drivers and patterns of migration
    Identify possible thresholds and non-linear effects
    Invest in research on long-term effects of environmental variability and change
    Research priorities
  • 25. Climate change is a major challenge
    Climate change is a security issue
    Little evidence that climate anomalies increase civil war risk
    Little systematic research on other forms of violence
    Little systematic research on long-term implications of climate anomalies and change
    Societal tipping-point behavior not well understood
     More research needed!
    Concluding remarks
  • 26. 26
    Thank you for your patience
    For more info, see:
  • 27. Reaction