Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Armed Conflict

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Raleigh, Clionadh; & Henrik Urdal (2007) Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Armed Conflict, Political Geography 26(6): 674–694.

Climate change is expected to bring about major change in freshwater availability, the productive capacity of soils, and in patterns of human settlement. However, considerable uncertainties exist withregard to the extent and geographical distribution of these changes. Predicting scenarios for how climate-related environmental change may influence human societies and political systems necessarily involves an even higher degree of uncertainty. The direst predictions about the impacts of global warming warn about greatly increased risks of violent conflict over increasingly scarce resources such as freshwater and arable land. We argue that our best guess about the future has to be based on our knowledge about the relationship between demography, environment and violent conflict in the past. Previous rigorous studies in the field have mostly focused on national-level aggregates. This article represents a new approach to assess the impact of environment on internal armed conflict by using geo-referenced (GIS) data and small geographical, rather than political, units of analysis. It addresses some of the most important factors assumed to be strongly influenced by global warming: land degradation, freshwater availability, and population density and change. While population growth and density are associated with increased risks, the effects of land degradation and water scarcity are weak, negligible or insignificant. The results indicate that the effects of political and economic factors far outweigh those between local level demographic/environmental factors and conflict.

Authors

Clionadh Raleigh

Clionadh Raleigh

Professor of Human Geography, University of Sussex

Henrik Urdal

Henrik Urdal

Research Professor; Editor, Journal of Peace Research

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