Scarcity of renewable resources is frequently argued to be a main driver of violent conflict. The 2004 and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awards, as well as the international debate about the implications of climate change, show the salience of the topic as a security issue. Studies testing the link between renewable resource scarcity and armed conflict have reached diverging conclusions. One study, in particular, has found substantial support for eco-scarcity theory, while most others have found a limited association. This article starts with an attempt at replicating earlier findings on the link between population density, soil degradation, deforestation, water scarcity and civil war, but several results are not replicable. The final results lend little support to a purported link between resource scarcity and civil conflict, whereas it replicates earlier findings on the importance of poverty, instability and dependence of fuel exports. A high level of land degradation is the only factor that significantly increases the risk of civil conflict, although this result should be interpreted with caution. The general conclusion of this study is that scarcity of natural resources has limited explanatory power in terms of civil violence, whereas poverty and dysfunctional institutions are robustly related to conflict. Future studies on the link between resource scarcity and violent conflict should focus on local and less intense conflicts, pay more attention to a context of low economic development, look more thoroughly into the role of state actors in the escalatory phase of conflict and assess the importance of the distribution of resources relative to scarcity per se.
Read it at Sage (subscription required)