Weather disasters can fuel war in volatile countries

Following the warmest two years on record and spikes in violence that fuelled a global refugee crisis, climate scientists recently reported that armed fighting is prone to follow droughts, heatwaves and other weather-related calamities in turbulent countries.

Nearly a quarter of deadly armed conflicts in the countries with the most diverse ethnic makeups from 1980 to 2010 were found to have occurred at around the same time as an extreme weather event.

“It’s significant that you can make that statement, that nearly 25 per cent of those conflicts coincided with some type of climate-related disaster,” said Jonathan Donges, a Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientist who helped lead the new study.

Donges and three other European researchers detected the pattern after analysing extreme weather events that inflicted heavy economic damages and outbreaks of fighting that left at least 25 dead in a year. The results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“What’s much more important is that this number is highly statistically significant and robust,” Donges said. “You cannot explain it by chance.”

The findings have ominous implications for prospects of peace on a warming planet. They’re the kinds of warnings that the Pentagon has been issuing for years, with climate change being linked to conditions that can fuel war and brutality.

Greenhouse gas pollution and rising temperatures are causing droughts, floods and other natural disasters to become more severe. Climate change can also influence the likelihood that such extreme weather events will happen at all.

The new research honed in on “ethnically fractionalized countries,” such as Liberia and Afghanistan, where violent clashes can be fueled by religion and culture—or by shortages of land, water, food and other resources needed for survival and prosperity. Such countries tend to be among the poorest.