CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate change and conflict – it’s complicated

by Philippa Garson

NEW YORK, 20 October 2015 (IRIN) – Scientists may not see Mad Max-style “water wars” ahead, but they nevertheless see strong relationships between conflict and climate change.

Whether dramatic changes in weather patterns drive conflict has long been the subject of great debate. Did a series of droughts precipitate the collapse of the Khmer Empire in the early 15th century, for example? Or was the Little Ice Age in the mid-17th century a leading cause of the rampant warfare in Europe, China and the Ottoman Empire?

But the complex forces shaping the world today rule out simple parallels or assumptions – let alone predictions of the future. Many scientists caution that a much hotter earth or catastrophic weather event could tip the balance in unforeseen ways. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report says there is “justifiable common concern” that climate change will increase the risk of armed conflict in some situations, even “if the strength of the effect is uncertain”.

Most studies currently describe climate change as a “threat multiplier” rather than a direct cause, just one of a host of interconnected factors – like poverty, exclusion of ethnic groups, government mismanagement, political instability and societal breakdown – that drive conflict…

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