Climate crisis will increase risk of armed conflict ‘substantially’

13 Jun 2019

Image: © Gorodenkoff/

An investigation by Stanford University has found that as global temperatures rise, so too will the risk of armed conflict.

A study from Stanford University published in Nature has found that the ongoing climate crisis will increase the risk of violent armed conflict within countries.

In a scenario with a rise of four degrees Celsius in global heating, which is the path humanity is set to be on by the end of the century unless serious course correction takes place, the influence of climate on conflicts would increase more than five times, equivalent to a 26pc chance of a substantial increase in conflict risk.

In the event of a rise of global temperatures of two degrees Celsius, which is the stated goal of the Paris Agreement, the influence of climate on conflict would more than double, increasing to a 13pc chance.

“Appreciating the role of climate change and its security impacts is important not only for understanding the social costs of our continuing heat-trapping emissions, but for prioritising responses, which could include aid and cooperation,” said Katharine Mach, director of the Stanford Environment Assessment Facility and the study’s lead author.

Other co-authors on the study include researchers from the University of Exeter, the Peace Research Institute Oslo, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the National Bureau of Economic Research and more.

Factors that increase violence

Extreme weather and related disasters driven by the climate emergency could damage economies, intensify inequality among social groups, and lower farming and livestock production, all of which can increase risk of violence when combined with other drivers of conflict.

The report acknowledges that researchers disagree wildly as to whether climate contributes to civil unrest and other armed conflicts. In order to understand the potential impact, Stanford’s researchers consulted experts in the areas of political science, environmental science, economics and other fields, all of whom have reached differing conclusions on climate in the past.

The experts, who co-authored the study, agreed in this instance that climate has affected organised armed conflict recently. However, they maintain that other determining factors, such as low socioeconomic development and inequality, have a much heavier impact on conflict.

Forward planning

The study concludes that adaptation strategies such as crop insurance, post-harvest storage and other measures could increase food security and diversify economies, which could reduce the link between climate and conflict.

“Understanding the multifaceted ways that climate may interact with known drivers of conflict is really critical for putting investments in the right place,” Mach said.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic