Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Disentangling the Climate-Conflict Nexus: Empirical and Theoretical Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Pathways

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Disentangling the Climate-Conflict Nexus: Empirical and Theoretical Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Pathways

Article excerpt

Abstract

Recent research has provided new insights into the relationship between climate change and violent conflict. In this review we compare the results, methodologies, and data applied in the peer-reviewed literature to recap the current state of the debate. While long-term historical studies suggest a coincidence between climate variability and armed conflict, empirical findings are less conclusive for recent periods. Disentangling the climate-conflict nexus, we discuss causal pathways such as precipitation changes, freshwater scarcity, food insecurity, weather extremes, and environmental migration. A geographic differentiation indicates that countries with low human development are particularly vulnerable to the double exposure of natural disasters and armed conflict. Thus, effective institutional frameworks and governance mechanisms are important to prevent climate-induced conflicts and to strengthen cooperation. Applying an integrative framework connecting climate change, natural resources, human security, and societal stability, we pinpoint future research needs.

Keywords: climate change, human security, integrative framework, societal stability, violent conflict, vulnerability

1. Introduction

While recent research has provided new insights into the relationship between climate change and violent conflict (Gleditsch, 2012, Scheffran et al., 2012a) there is no consensus yet in the literature about its nature and extent. Those who claim a strong causal connection are facing serious doubts by scholars who find no or only weak empirical evidence for such claims. In this literature review we summarize the current state of the debate by addressing the following research questions: Do peer-reviewed studies find significant linkages between climate change and violent conflict? Which factors are found to be of particular importance? What methodologies and data are used in the studies? What conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of the studies? What future paths of research on the linkages between climate change and violent conflict appear to be particularly promising?

While long-term historical studies suggest a coincidence between climate variability and armed conflict, empirical findings are less conclusive for recent periods. Understanding the different views provides a foundation for the prediction of future impacts on violent conflict. However, it is argued here that more comprehensive approaches are needed to disentangle the complex climate-conflict nexus. We briefly discuss the key intervening variables and causal pathways between precipitation changes, freshwater scarcity, and food insecurity as well as weather extremes and environmental migration. Pathways may differ in their relevance for distinguishable types of violence and regional contexts. Theoretical insights suggest that low-level violence is more likely to be linked to the effects of climate change than full scale wars. Empirical findings indicate that climate-conflict linkages vary significantly between the world's regions. For illustration, we provide a broad-brush geographic differentiation by countries to show that countries with low human development are particularly vulnerable to the double exposure of natural disasters and armed conflict.

This highlights the point that climate change is not the only important parameter of future violence. Other factors such as human development, effective institutions, and governance also affect the likelihood of violent conflict. Economic, political, and social factors on local, regional and global levels are interlinked with broader effects of climate change. As a promising basis for future research, we suggest an integrative framework of the pathways between climate change and violent conflict that can be applied to model and empirically calibrate linkages between climate change, natural resources, human security, and societal stability.

This review summarizes key lessons from the scientific literature, identifies research needs, and draws conclusions for future research and policy. …

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