Rainfall and temperature changes are linked to conflict in East Africa, but have less power to predict violence than links to political, economic and geographical factors. That’s according to one of the most detailed studies into climate-violence relationships yet, done by John O’Loughlin from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his team-mates. “Fears of climate wars across Africa are exaggerated,” John told me. “Any effect of climate change will likely be localized and subject to other conditions.”
One political argument made about our changing climate is that it will bring more violence, particularly in Africa. For example, in 2009, US President Barack Obama told the United Nations that a warming world represents an “urgent, serious, and growing threat” because “more frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict”. But, with a background of looking in detail at where violence happens and having studied African conflicts before the 1990s, John was concerned that the evidence didn’t back such statements. That’s even though other researchers have reported statistical links between climate and conflict. “I believe that previous studies were limited by data problems and also that the policy discussions were not connected to the research findings,” John explained.
John’s team described how they fixed this in a paper published in the research journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA on Monday. Previous attempts to study climate-violence have either lacked detail, looking at data per country, per year, or have been too narrowly focussed to allow generalisations, they wrote. John added that this type of work needs detailed data on both conflicts and all the factors that might predict it. Collecting the information needed on conflicts as well as political, health, location and other possibly predictive data was the biggest challenge in the work, he said.
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