03 Dec 2009 | 16:28
As the Copenhagen climate change talks approach, it is perhaps pertinent to consider the links, if any, between climate change, development and conflict. Academics have long pondered so-called "resource wars"; the degree to which states and sub-state actors will resort to violence in order to secure access to resources, from those essential for human life (e.g. arable land and water), to those that generate lucrative "rents" (e.g. fossil fuels, diamonds). The linkages between climate change and conflict remain the subject of much academic discussion, however, with consensus settling only on the admission that the correlation is not necessarily direct or simple. These articles consider the current and future impacts of climate change for conflict:
Climate change and conflict
from the International Crisis Group, Aug 2008
This resource from ICG acknowledges the complexity of the relationship, if any, between climate change and conflict, noting that there are myriad intervening variables, such as the capacity of the society in question to adapt to environmental change and the standard of the country's governance. Different societies have different levels of exposure to climate change's potential effects, and their divergent "adaptive capacities" further complicate the link; clearly also, climate change's effects will not be uniform, and may come in the form of long-term degration (say, of food production capacites) or short-term shocks (an atypically severe typhoon) which could create different levels of risk of conflict. Ultimately, the report underlines the value of appropriate development programmes that reduce the risk of climate change-induced disaster or degredation or help societies adapt to inevitably changing environmental patterns.
Environmental degredation as a cause of conflict in Darfur
from the University of Peace, 2006
The conflict in Darfur is often cited as the archetypal example of a "resource war", and thus understanding the part environmental degredation played in the conflict's emergence from inter-communal conflict in the eighties potentially provides insights into how climate change may cause and/or drive conflicts. But caution needs to be used; clearly Darfur is a particular context that cannot be generalised, where inter-communal violence long existed, ethnic tensions were apparent and the central government privatised violence (using the Janjaweed militias) to subdue armed dissent. Nonetheless, this report concludes that extended drought, forcing nomadic tribes to settle in regions considered by others as their homeland, spurred conflict and violence in the region, and its implications could be important for other regions where long-term environmental degradation leads to population movements and communal conflict over ever-more scarce resources.
Warming increases risk of civil war
from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and University of California at Berkeley, Nov 2009
This new research studies the historical linkages between warmer years and the incidence of conflict, concluding that conflict has, in the past, proven statistically more likely in warm years. It uses quantitative analysis to reach this conclusion which, though compelling, inevitably suffers the weaknesses of this research method, including being somewhat reductionist. It can only ever incorporate good governance, for instance, into its equations in a very simplistic form, and remains unclear on exactly how hotter years equals a higher incidence of conflict (e.g. how are hotter years "felt"? Through declining agricultural yields/availability of water?). Still, it points toward the import of adaptation to climate change, mitigating its effects so that the paper's prediction of half a million additional "battle deaths" by 2030 is not realised.
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