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8. Exploring the links between climate change and violent conflict


Overview, Malin Mobjörk

I. Exploring the climate–conflict link: the case of East Africa, Malin Mobjörk

II. Weather-related disasters and violent conflict, Michael Brzoska

The security challenges posed by climate change are multifaceted and affect human, community and state security. Climate change also has short-, medium- and long-term impacts, which makes the time perspective adopted key. In addition, the impacts of climate change on, for instance, food or water security are heavily dependent on socio-economic conditions, which means that the same impact might have diverse consequences depending on the context. Hence, climate change puts additional pressures on current vulnerabilities for humans and societies across the world, and has particularly adverse effects in already fragile contexts. 

One class of security challenge in relation to a changing climate is the increased risk of violent conflict. A large body of research in the past decade has examined the climate–conflict link and its influences on policymaking, most notably in foreign, defence and development policy. 

In East Africa, for example, four mechanisms linking climate change to violent conflict have been identified: worsening livelihood conditions; migration and changing pastoral mobility patterns; tactical considerations of armed groups; and exploitation of local grievances by the elite. While the first two mechanisms deal mainly with the causes of conflict, the latter two are about changing conflict dynamics. This difference illustrates that the mechanisms both interact with and complement each other. 

Mechanisms linking the impacts of climate change on peace and conflict can also be explored in the context of extreme weather events. Among the deadliest of the extreme weather events that occurred between 2000 and 2016 were tropical cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, the heatwaves in the northern hemisphere in 2010 and the tropical cyclones in the Philippines in 2013. Violent conflict was an outcome in some of these cases. By focusing on these events it is possible to identify not only the mechanisms that link extreme weather events to violent conflict, but also the mechanisms that enable pressures to be resolved peacefully. Four mechanisms were identified. The first two—competition over scarce resources and failure of conflict management institutions—are linked to increased risk of violent conflict. The third mechanism—social-coherence building—however, illustrates how extreme weather events in areas plagued by conflict sometimes facilitate social-coherence building and enable cooperation, rather than deepening ongoing conflicts. The fourth mechanism—acceleration of transformation—emphasizes the social dynamics following a disaster, which in the selected cases lack a clear direction in terms of increasing or reducing the risk of violent conflict after an extreme weather event. 

Among the policy implications are the importance of mitigating the negative effects of climate change on livelihoods and the need for adequate conflict resolution mechanisms. It is also important to note that climate change does not deterministically lead to violent conflict. Human agency permeates every link in the chain from climate change to violent conflict. This provides a foundation for investigating how peace can be maintained and shaped in the face of vast pressures, including those of climate change.