Study looks at how much climate change will affect armed conflict

Posted Jun 13, 2019 by Karen Graham
Intensifying climate change will increase the future risk of violent armed conflict within countries, according to a study published today in the journal Nature.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan and improvised explosive devic...
Civilians have borne the brunt of the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan and improvised explosive devices, such as remotely detonated or pressure-plate bombs, are one of the main causes of casualties
In the last few months of his presidency in 2016, Barack Obama released a memorandum titled “Climate Change and National Security.”
The memo was a federal mandate to consider the impacts of climate change in the development of national security-related doctrine, policies, and plans.
Obama's memo warned that the impacts from climate change could lead to “population migration within and across international borders, spur crises, and amplify or accelerate conflict in countries or regions already facing instability and fragility.”
However, research findings on the relationship between climate change and its role in conflicts are very diverse and quite often conflicted. A new study led by researchers at Stanford University in California that included a number of international partners set out to find just how big a role climate change did play in civil unrest and all-out conflict.
Years of conflict have left Afghanistan strewn with landmines  unexploded mortars  rockets and homem...
Years of conflict have left Afghanistan strewn with landmines, unexploded mortars, rockets and homemade bombs
Finding consensus
In the study published June 13 in the journal Nature, researchers found that climate has affected organized armed conflict in recent decades. However, they make clear there are other factors, such as low socioeconomic development, the strength of government, inequalities in societies, and a recent history of violent conflict that have a much heavier impact on conflict within countries.
"Appreciating the role of climate change and its security impacts is important not only for understanding the social costs of our continuing heat-trapping emissions but for prioritizing responses, which could include aid and cooperation," said Katharine Mach, director of the Stanford Environment Assessment Facility and the study's lead author.
Basically, the team of researchers doesn't really understand how climate affects conflict and under what circumstances. This is because we can't rely on historical climate disruptions to apply to what is happening today. Today, society will be forced to grapple with unprecedented conditions that go beyond known experience - and we really don't know what we are capable of withstanding.
"Historically, levels of armed conflict over time have been heavily influenced by shocks to, and changes in, international relations among states and in their domestic political systems,” said James Fearon, professor of political science and co-author on the study.
“It is quite likely that over this century, unprecedented climate change is going to have significant impacts on both, but it is extremely hard to anticipate whether the political changes related to climate change will have big effects on armed conflict in turn. So I think putting nontrivial weight on significant climate effects on conflict is reasonable.”
The conflict has also heavily disrupted agriculture  sparking a major food crisis. In 2017 South Sud...
The conflict has also heavily disrupted agriculture, sparking a major food crisis. In 2017 South Sudan endured four months of famine, which affected around 100,000 people. Here, women are shown carrying food aid on their heads
Planning ahead
The study suggests that a good approach would be to plan ahead for the impacts of a changing climate, like adopting strategies such as having crop and flood insurance. The study also mentions having post-harvest storage, training services and other measures that can increase food security and diversify economic opportunities.
And like President Obama's memo in 2016 warned, climate change impacts will need to be incorporated into any peacekeeping, conflict and post-conflict strategies. And even with all the preparedness, we will still need to be alert for adverse side effects to any risk reduction protocols.
“Understanding the multifaceted ways that climate may interact with known drivers of conflict is really critical for putting investments in the right place,“ Mach said.