“Climate is unquestionably linked to armed conflict,” says Halvard Buhaug, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, in the latest Wilson Center podcast.
“If we produce a map of the world with locations of ongoing and recently entered armed conflicts, and we superimpose on that map different climate zones or climatic regions, we would very easily see a distinct clustering pattern of armed conflicts in warmer climates.”
Since 1950, countries that have experienced at least one civil conflict have been an average of 8 degrees Celsius warmer than countries that have remained peaceful, reports Buhaug. Furthermore, rates of conflict are 10 times higher in dry climate zones than in continental climate zones.
While these statistics show a clear correlation between climate and conflict, they do not prove that severe climates or changes in climate can cause conflict. Does such a causal connection exist? Maybe, says Buhaug: “There is emerging evidence that climate changes can affect the dynamics of conflict,” including duration, likelihood of a peaceful ending, and the severity of conflict. Extreme weather in particular “can make conflict resolution harder [and] can make it easier for rebel organizations to recruit soldiers.”
However, there is yet “no scientific consensus that climatic changes can cause the outbreak of new conflicts,” he says. To identify causal mechanisms, we need more research: We “need to study dogs that don’t bark: societies that regularly experience extreme weather events…but where we do not observe a violent outcome.”
Whether or not climate causes conflict, “adaptation and development can be very important in lessening the human costs of that conflict,” he says, especially because “conflict is an important cause of vulnerability to climatic changes.”
“Ending armed conflict is the most effective strategy to lower the human consequences of climate change and to create facilities compatible with sustained growth,” says Buhaug.