Climate Change Link to War Remains Tenuous


6 February 2012

Climate Change Link to War Remains Tenuous
​Does climate change sow the seeds of war? Until recently, most answers to this political question have been based on speculation. A landmark issue of Journal of Peace Research published by SAGE on behalf of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) investigates a host of potential causes for conflict. Many other factors have a far greater influence than climate change on peace and stability, most of the studies conclude. Special Issue of Journal of Peace Research on Climate Change & Conflict. Guest editor: Nils Petter Gleditsch.
On balance, the authors featured in JPR only find limited support for an influence of climate change on armed conflict. But this does not eliminate the possibility that when climate issues are framed as a security problem, this may influence actor perception and contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the largest collection of peer-reviewed writings on the topic to date, the authors employ systematic climate data and climate projections. Most of the articles deal with civil war, a few with international war, and several studies go beyond state-based conflict to look at possible implications for communal conflict and other kinds of violence.

Several possible mechanisms between climate change and conflict, notably rainfall variations and an increased frequency of natural disasters. Several articles also examine the potential for international conflict in water resources shared by several countries.
An article based on data from the 2005-09 World Values Survey documents strong world-wide concern about global warming and suggests that this might eventually generate mass political participation and demand for political action. However, they find that variation across nations in wealth and CO2 emissions is not significantly related to the publics’ assessments of the problem. Paradoxically, people from countries commonly believed to be more severely affected by climate change are less, not more concerned about global warming. An article by Erik Gartzke points out that economic development drives peace as well as climate change. Thus, efforts to curb climate change in middle-income nations, if these limit income, may actually have a destabilizing effect in security terms.

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