Sunday, 28 August 2011

Is there a link between climate patterns and conflict?

Peru's civil war erupted during an El Nino year
Ok, so this summer holidays I had planned to try and link various topics to development but, so far, I havent got very far down my lists of ideas and, as we go back to college fairly soon, I thought I had better start! Here goes for one of my first, the link between climate and civil conflict which, of course has/had a knock-on impact on development.......

A recent study has made the first link between global climate patterns, specifically ENSO, to the onset of civil conflict and, perhaps most interestingly, a factor that is being placed on a par with poverty. Researchers at Princton University have been looking at conflicts that have occured between 1950 and 2004 that killed more than 25 people a year and then compared those years with whether or not we were in a El Nino or La Nina. The analysis included 175 countries and 234 conflicts, with more than half being responsible for 1000 deaths, and concluded that the risk of conflict in tropical countries rose by 3% during La Nina to 6% during El Nino; with this affect being absent in those countries who only experienced a small impact thanks to the climate cycles (essentially countries with a temperate climate). This study has shown that 1/5 of the conflicts that have erupted since 1950 are a result of the cyclical changes in climate which have, primarily, triggered reductions in food production.

Although ENSO has wide and varied effects, I think it is quite unsettling to think that cyclical short term variations in climate can seem to have such an impact when the predicted changes as a result of global climate change are likely to be much more extreme and long lasting - so just how are we going to adapt to those???
Is it just coincidence that cyclical climatic changes have occured
just before the eruption of civil conflict in many developing
Anyway, this doubling of the risk of conflict is quite large, and the study seems to suggest that the imapct of El Nino is immediate, with the onset of conflict erupting within months of the start of an El Nino event - a correlation independent of other local weather events which are also capable of generating tension. The study related outbreaks of violence in countries from southern Sudan to Indonesia and Peru to the cuts in food production triggered by El Nino. Using southern Sudan as an example, warfare broke out during 1963 (an El Nino year) and then again in 1976 (again an El Nino year) and then in 1983 (a very intense El Nino year), with the conflict lasting for more than 20 years and leaving more that 2 million people dead and millions displaced. In contrast, Australia, whose climate is also controlled to some extent by ENSO has had no civil conflicts which suggests that less developed countries lack the resourcse to adapt to the varability generated by these cyclical climate changes and so are more vulnerable to its impacts - a fact that suggests that climate still hinders the development of countries today.....

Hopefully provides a general idea of the varying
impacts of El Nino on the climates of many
So, what is it about El Nino that increases the risk of conflict? Well, the study is yet to explain this and doing so is going to be hard due to the global variability in the impacts of El Nino. Best guesses, at present, seem to point towards increased temperatures in some regions leading to droughts, thus reducing crop yields which, in turn, would provoke a hike in global food prices - something that, thanks to the international market, would spread the climate signal around the world. Although most believe it is the impact on food production that triggers the violene, other ideas include a rise in unemployment and an increase in natural disasters.

This seems to be the first clear link between civil conflict and climatic cycles and I think it only reinforces the idea of our dependency on climate and the dictatorial role it has played and, perhaps, continues to play in terms of development (post on this idea hopefully on its way soon!). I must admit that it does concern me that if ENSO, an example of a short term cyclical climatic change which we are forever understanding and predicting better, can have such an impact on social unrest; how is mankind going to cope with the sea-level rises, droughts, famines, more natural disasters etc. that are predicted to accompany global climate change - a change in climate whose impacts are going to be much further reaching...........

No comments:

Post a Comment