The Correlation of Climate Change and Conflict

In a milestone study in 2015, researchers analysed a total of 55 studies and discovered that changes in temperature and rain patterns heighten the risk of conflict. The results published stated that a rise in temperature by just a mere degree celsius increases conflict between individuals by 2.4 per cent and conflict between groups by 11.3 per cent. As we all know, correlation does not directly imply causation – yet there is abundant proof to show that climate change amplifies conflict.

A further analysis by the University of Notre Dame, which identified 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change, indicated that these countries were all dealing with armed conflict. This appears to be agriculture-related, as dwindling rainfall forces communities to migrate to keep up with agricultural demands. This migration, often unwelcomed by neighbours who have already staked claim to a particular land area, then escalates from just a dispute into a potential armed conflict.

Conflicting Countries that are less Well-off Struggle to Cope with Climate Change

The crux of the issue is a negative feedback loop resulting from climate change amplifying the risks of conflict, which then sets communities on a circular path in coping with climate change. Based on the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiation (ND-Gain) Index, which examines a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges, countries such as Yemen, Mali, and Somalia all rank in the bottom 10th percentile. This implies that such countries lack the resilience to counteract global challenges and do not possess adequate agency to break themselves out of this vicious cycle.

For example, a country like Yemen, suffering from the worst consequences of climate change, such as water scarcity, rising sea levels, and extreme flooding, is also currently dealing with ever-growing violence due to civil war. With all resources channelled towards gaining political and domestic stability, concepts such as sustainability and environmental security are ignored. Ultimately, Yemen serves as a textbook case of a negative feedback loop between climate change and conflict – a sobering lesson that spectators worldwide should pay close attention to.

This double whammy of conflict and climate change has resulted in millions of citizens in Yemen going hungry or without proper food. This is further exacerbated by issues such as failing crops and flooding. Faced with life-threatening challenges and constantly worrying about where their next meal might come from, one could be forgiven for prioritising survival over being a responsible global citizen working towards environmental protection.

What Conflict can further do to the Environment and, in the Process, create a Vicious Cycle

Collateral damage from armed conflict inflicted on the environment also threatens climate change. As countries build up towards facing off against each other, vast quantities of natural resources are consumed to build and sustain military forces. In the process of manufacturing equipment, non-renewable energy is heavily consumed, and this, in turn, leads to carbon emissions skyrocketing. In a study conducted in 2019, researchers from Lancaster University found that the U.S military consumes more hydrocarbons than most other developed countries. In addition, occupying territory during conflict takes up precious land that can be devoted to developing sustainable agriculture or clean, renewable energy. Military land bases are believed to cover between one to six per cent of global land surface areas sorely needed by communities to counteract the effects of climate change.

As countries attempt to rebuild and regain control, post-conflict leads to deforestation and intensive mining, as resources are needed for rebuilding. The rate at which these natural resources are consumed often outpaces the rate at which they can replenish. While there are indeed ideologies about how the environment should be protected during armed conflict, as prescribed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, more must be done to negate the unintended environmental damage caused by global conflict.

This article was published in with the title “The Correlation of Climate Change and Conflict”.




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