Abstract: Climate change is one of the major challenges of the 21st century: doomsday scenarios of ‘climate wars over dwindling resources’ are not only drawn in the media but also in popular science and politics. In contrast, scientific research on possible linkages between climate change and armed conflict still has not converged on a robust relationship. While this may reflect a true non-connection, most earlier empirical studies are limited to Sub Saharan Africa so it is too early to conclude on the precise statistical relationship between climate and conflict. My thesis explicitly addresses this knowledge gap by focusing on Asia. Asia currently hosts about half of the world’s population, half of the world’s armed conflicts, and the continent is frequently claimed to be increasingly vulnerable to variability in climate patterns and higher frequency of extreme events such as heat waves and droughts. In general perception Asia seems better able to absorb climate induced shortcomings than large parts of Africa, simply because widespread access to irrigation might account for water shortages and Asian economies are not as dependent on primary commodities. However, Asia is not a very homogenous continent: access to irrigation is not equally distributed and large parts of the rural population are heavily dependent on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods. I argue that local features as well as large regional differences make certain areas more prone to climate-induced conflict than others.
I assess possible linkages between climate variability and onset of civil war, theoretically and empirically, with particular emphasis on the local conditions. Climate change is projected to act as a threat multiplier in regions that already suffer from several other ills. By identifying those regions within and across borders, I follow two of the common arguments within the climate-war debate. First, I approach the effect of climate variability on conflict onset in areas, home to politically marginalized ethnic groups and second, I test if climate shocks are possible triggers which can destabilize areas already suffering from a higher risk of conflict.
The empirical analysis uses 0.5 x 0.5 degree grid cells covering all terrestrial areas in Asia over the time period of 1950–2004 and includes several measures of economic and political characteristics, and disaggregated information on geographical and demographic aspects as well as information on landscape, irrigation and other environmental factors, never tested before in relation to outbreak of armed conflict in Asia.