The Correlation of Climate Change and Conflict

In a milestone study in 2015, researchers analysed a grand total of 55 studies and discovered that changes in temperature and rain patterns heighten the risk of conflict. The results published stated that a rise in temperature by just a mere degree celsius increases conflict between individuals by 2.4 percent and conflict between groups by 11.3 percent. As we all know, correlation does not directly imply causation – yet there is an abundance of proof to show that climate change amplifies conflict.

A further analysis made by the University of Notre Dame, which identified 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change, also indicated that these respective countries were all in the midst of dealing with armed conflict. The reason behind all of this appears to be agriculture related, as dwindling rainfall forces communities to migrate in order to keep up with agricultural demands. This migration, often unwelcomed by neighbours who have already staked claim to a particular area of land, then escalates from just a dispute into a potential armed conflict.

Conflicting Countries that are less Well-off Struggle to Cope with Climate Change

The crux of the issue is a negative feedback loop resulting from climate change amplifying the risks of conflict, which then sets communities on a circular path in coping with climate change. Based on the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiation (ND-Gain) Index, which examines a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges, countries such as Yemen, Mali, and Somalia all rank in the bottom 10th percentile. This implies that such countries lack the resilience to counteract global challenges and do not possess adequate agency to break themselves out of this vicious cycle.

For example, a country like Yemen, suffering from the worst consequences of climate change such as water scarcity, sea levels rising, and extreme flooding is also currently dealing with an ever growing violence due to civil war. With all resources channeled towards gaining political and domestic stability, concepts such as sustainability and environmental security are ignored. Ultimately, Yemen serves as a textbook case of what a negative feedback loop between climate change and conflict looks like – a sobering lesson that spectators around the world should pay close attention to.

This double whammy of conflict and climate change has resulted in millions of citizens in Yemen going hungry or without proper food, this is further exacerbated with issues such as failing crops and flooding. Faced with life-threatening challenges and constantly worrying about where their next meal might come from, one could be forgiven for prioritising survival over being a responsible global citizen working towards environmental protection.

What Conflict can further do to the Environment and in the Process create a Vicious Cycle

Collateral damage from armed conflict inflicted on the environment also poses a threat to climate change. As countries build up towards facing off against each other, vast quantities of natural resources are consumed to build and sustain military forces. In the process of manufacturing equipment, non-renewable energy is heavily consumed and this in turn leads to carbon emissions skyrocketing. In a study conducted in 2019, researchers from Lancaster University found that the U.S military consumes more hydrocarbons than most other developed countries. In addition, occupying territory during conflict takes up precious land that can be devoted to developing sustainable agriculture or clean renewable energy. Military land bases are believed to cover between one to six percent of global land surface, areas that are sorely needed by communities to counteract the effects of climate change.

Post-conflict, as countries attempt to rebuild and regain control leads to deforestation and intensive mining, as resources are needed for rebuilding. The rate at which these natural resources are consumed often outpace the rate at which they can replenish it. While there are indeed ideologies as to how the environment should be protected during armed conflict, as prescribed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, more must be done to negate the unintended environmental damage caused by global conflict.