Climate conflict

Climate conflict is a term used in military and sociology and diplomacy to discuss human conflicts aggravated by inequitable impacts of climate change. In particular, heightened conflicts between those who are able to control reliable stable and undisrupted food and resource supplies, and those whose food and livelihood have been disrupted by climate effects. This may include ethnic or national conflicts aggravated or brought to a tipping point by climate effects.

The term climate conflict may most directly apply where those who are able to directly profit from climatic effects aggravate the misery of others by continuing directly climate harming activities such as tar sand extraction or deforestation, and where the persons affected retaliate or threaten retaliation by military or other violent means. While formal climate-related warnings and threats between nation-states are rare, diplomatic language has becoming increasingly strained, most notably at the 2007 UN Bali conference, where representatives of Bangaladesh clearly stated that they would have only limited tolerance for further delays and broken commitments by richer nations.

Likely effects

"Climate change will most probably have many effects, and different effect in different areas. It could be a slow changing process, or potentially lead to abrupt changes as we cross a certain threshold. Sea-level rise is the most talked about scenario, potentially leading to population displacements, but other effects can be drought or flooding, soil degradation, heat waves, spread of diseases... Climate change has so many potential consequences for the physical environment that we could expect a large number of potential paths to conflict. " [ Climate Conflict: Common Sense or Nonsense?, 2005, Nordas, Gleditsch] . Such conflict could include genocide, insurgency, terrorism, war and aggravated relations between already-alienated groups with inequitable control of food or other resources.

Sea level rise

Mohan Munasinghe, vice-chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, delivered [ a talk in 2008 at Cambridge University in which he noted "unrestrained market forces" as potentially an aggravator of conflicts as previously-free or -cheap resources became expensive or scarce. These comments followed on food riots and protests worldwide in spring 2008 after sharp increases in the prices of grain and rice. The IPCC had previously warned that as many as 3.5 billion people could be directly and adversely affected by climate change, especially in low-lying countries such as Bangaladesh. Thomas Homer-Dixon and Wangari Maathai (and the Nobel Peace Prize committees that granted both her and the IPCC that prize) emphasize the role of environmental degradation in aggravating poverty and sparking genocidal conflicts such as in Darfur.

Food prices and inputs to agriculture

Peter Brecke, [ in a study published November 19, 2007 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)] , reported historical evidence that "long-term climate change may ultimately lead to wars and population decline." He and colleagues found "a possible connection between temperature change and wars because changes in climate affect water supplies, growing seasons and land fertility, prompting food shortages. These shortages could lead to conflict – local uprisings, government destabilization and invasions from neighboring regions – and population decline due to bloodshed during the wars and starvation." Historical evidence from China and Europe suggested that "when grain prices reached a certain level, wars erupted.

Brecke suggested that "ecological stress on agricultural production triggered by climate change did in fact induce population shrinkages". In [ their 2005 paper] , Ragnhild Nordås and Nils Petter Gleditsch described "human-induced climate change" as "one of the most drastic neo-Malthusian scenarios", including "one of the more widely-described scenarios," that "from global warming to sea-level rise to extensive migration to conflict".

Other scenarios: parasites and food chain disruption

Since that time, other scenarios involving parasite increase and food chain disruption have become more documented. In their 2005 paper Nordas and Gleditsch note that "fish reserves are among the most important economic resources in many countries, and environmental impacts could affect the catch volume and thereby national economies. Fish stocks are trans-boundary resources."

Many converging impacts: British Columbia

They continue: "In the case of the Pacific salmon, problems that have arisen in the agreement between the US and Canada are attributable in part to the effects of large-scale climate fluctuations (IPCC, 2001, Working Group II: 370)." In May 2008, the population of Pacific salmon stocks declined so close to zero that both the US and Canada agreed to effectively close the commercial fishery entirely. Since recreational and native fisheries were largely exempted, conflict with those in the commercial industry was aggravated. The decline in stocks was at that time being attributed almost entirely to a rising water temperature, one degree Celsius being sufficient to cause declines in the krill on which the salmon fed. Meanwhile, the mountain pine beetle, a parasite formerly held in check by long periods of cold in the British Columbia interior that killed it off, had devastated the forestry sector. Forest fires, also, had become more frequent in the region.

These events suggest that even mountainous regions with rugged seacoasts largely invulnerable to sea level rise could suffer extremely negative economic impacts from climate change and could come into minor conflicts even with close and peaceful neighbours.

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