Ten Miles Square


February 03, 2012 5:19 PM Is Climate Change Likely to Increase Conflict?

By Henry Farrell

Likely not, according to Nils Petter Gledditsch, in the introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Peace Research on this topic. Research to date shows little evidence for systematic relationship between increased global warming, water shortages etc and violent conflict.

Climate change is the world’s first truly global manmade environmental problem and a firm warning that human activities can influence our physical environment on a global scale. The range of possible consequences of climate change is so wide, even for the limited temperature changes foreseen in the IPCC scenarios, that it is difficult to sort out the main priorities. Obviously, if a reversal of the trend towards a more peaceful world was one of these consequences, it should have a prominent place on the policy agenda. Based on the research reported here, such a pessimistic view may not be warranted in the short to medium run.

In other words – there are a large number of unhappy consequences that may flow from continued global warming. But what evidence we have to date (which is admittedly based either on spotty data, or studies over the shorter term) gives us no very strong reason to argue that an increase in violent conflict is among them.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.


  • CDW on February 04, 2012 7:16 PM:

    Water and water rights were a source of conflict in the American west. Why wouldn't it become a [dry] bone of contention on a larger scale?

  • Jack G on February 05, 2012 7:45 AM:

    I just skimmed through that article by Gledditsch. It fails to take into consideration the magnitude and unparalleled nature of what is occurring. Characterizing the IPCC temperature change forecast as "limited" indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the havoc a 3 degree increase will bring, let alone a 6 degree increase.

  • SteveT on February 05, 2012 10:00 AM:

    The fight over water rights is going to be much nastier than the fight over oil, or even over land.

    Consider that two of the most important sources for water in Asia are the Sinai and the Kashmir region.

  • lou on February 06, 2012 9:00 AM:

    Doesn't require much imagination to think that this conclusion smacks the face of the obvious.