Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Weather Disasters Can Fuel War in Volatile Countries

July 25, 2016

Following the warmest two years on record and spikes in violence that fueled a global refugee crisis, climate scientists on Monday reported that armed fighting is prone to follow droughts, heatwaves and other weather-related calamities in turbulent countries.

Nearly a quarter of deadly armed conflicts in the countries with the most diverse ethnic makeups from 1980 to 2010 were found to have occurred at around the same time as an extreme weather event.


Donges and three other European researchers detected the pattern after analyzing extreme weather events that inflicted heavy economic damages, and outbreaks of fighting that left at least 25 dead in a year. The results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“What’s much more important is that this number is highly statistically significant and robust,” Donges said. “You cannot explain it by chance.”

The findings have ominous implications for prospects of peace on a warming planet. They’re the kinds of warnings that the Pentagon has been issuing for years, with climate change being linked to conditions that can fuel war and brutality.


Greenhouse gas pollution and rising temperatures are causing droughts, floods and other natural disasters to become more severe. Climate change can also influence the likelihood that such extreme weather events will happen at all.

The new research honed in on “ethnically fractionalized countries,” such as Liberia and Afghanistan, where violent clashes can be fueled by religion and culture — or by shortages of land, water, food and other resources needed for survival and prosperity. Such countries tend to be among the poorest.

“The countries in this group, they’re countries that are very conflict prone,” Donges said.


“Many of the factors that increase the risk of civil war and other armed conflicts are sensitive to climate change,” the group wrote. As an example, they mentioned “economic shocks” caused by extreme weather events, “which may become more intense due to climate change.”

It was these links — between economic shocks caused by extreme weather and armed conflicts — that were probed by Monday’s study.


Monday’s findings were “consistent” with the idea that “weather events and climate change don’t cause violent conflicts,” said Robert McLeman, a geographer at Wilfrid Laurier University who studies environmental change. He wasn’t involved with Monday’s study. “But, in places where conditions are ripe for violence to occur, climate events increase the chances of it actually happening.”


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