Science short: Does climate change increase risk of conflict? Yes – says this metastudy

In 2014 a Stanford University research group reviewed 55 scientific studies to investigate wether climate change significantly increases the risk of intergroup conflict. There conclusion is that it does:

Climate change significantly increases risk of conflict, Stanford group finds
Climate change significantly increases risk of conflict, Stanford group finds. Image credit: ClimateCentral.org.

“Looking across 55 studies, we find that deviations from moderate temperatures and precipitation patterns systematically increase the risk of conflict, often substantially, with average effects that are highly statistically significant.”

Both temperature rise and precipitation changes can be linked to increased interpersonal and especially intergroup conflict – the researchers write:

“We find that contemporaneous temperature has the largest average effect by far, with each 1σ increase toward warmer temperatures increasing the frequency of contemporaneous interpersonal conflict by 2.4% and of intergroup conflict by 11.3%, but that the 2-period cumulative effect of rainfall on intergroup conflict is also substantial (3.5%/σ).

According to the Stanford group remaining challenges include identifying the precise mechanisms that link climate to conflict. They have published their findings in the journal the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In 2015 another research group found that the extreme 2006-2010 Syrian drought that preceded the conflict in that country is in line with the local climate change trend of declining precipitation and increasing temperatures. Across the Middle East and North Africa agricultural productivity might decline rapidly due to climate change, while the population is rapidly growing. Climate change might act as a driver to migration from these areas.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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