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What Climate Conflict Looks Like: Recent Findings and Possible Responses

Climate change and conflict – what’s the relationship? In a recently completed set of field-based studies for USAID, the Foundation for Environmental Security and Sustainability set aside “yes-or-no” questions about whether climate change causes conflict and replaced them with pragmatic and politically informed questions about how climate change is consequential for conflict in specific fragile states.

From Niger’s arid zones and Burkina Faso’s central plateau to the low-lying slums of coastal West Africa and the water-stressed Peruvian Andes, a series of case studies conducted from 2011 to 2014 in seven countries found that broad assertions of a causal relationship between climate change and conflict are likely to be misleading. There are too many contingent factors potentially contributing to conflict to make a useful, direct connection.

Yet, our findings also suggest that minimizing or disregarding climate change’s impact on conflict is similarly misplaced and counterproductive.

As explained in our project summary, climate-related impacts are already directly and indirectly affecting the poorest, most vulnerable, and most aggrieved groups in each of these countries. Climate change has important implications for livelihoods and economic development, state-society dynamics, resource governance, institutional performance, and relations among privileged and disadvantaged identity groups. A large body of literature indicates that these factors are often important conflict variables.

As international assistance agencies and governments formulate responses to climate change, these case studies illustrate challenges they may encounter and suggest ways to prevent or mitigate the potential for conflict.

For the complete article, please see New Security Beat.