Climate change as a contributor to human conflict

Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

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University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia.

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To our knowledge, no one in the field of climate research has suggested that climate change could be the “sole cause” of war, violence, unrest or migration (see Nature 554, 275–276; 2018). We argue that viewing climate change instead as a risk multiplier, influencer or co-factor can help to inform rather than inflame this important discussion.

In this way of thinking, environmental and ecological factors interact with social determinants, including those that are economic, demographic and political, to produce phenomena such as migration, conflict and famine (D. C. Bowles et al. J. R. Soc. Med. 108, 390–395; 2015). An example you cite found that drought across sub-Saharan Africa in 1990–2011 contributed to an increased risk of rioting because it affected the region’s rain-fed agriculture (C. Almer et al. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 86, 193–209; 2017). This type of agriculture was thus a contributory factor to the likelihood of rioting — a risk that was then magnified by drought.

Including such environmental factors and multipliers will improve understanding of the causes of conflict. Without these, models for studying conflict could become an oversimplified form of social determinism.

Nature 555, 587 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-03795-0

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