Climate wars’ claims disputed

The idea that climate change might be a trigger for social disorder, population migration and conflict has an impressive pedigree. The link was mooted in a 2003 report for the Pentagon on the national-security implications of climate change; by the Stern review on the economics of climate change, prepared for the UK government in 2006; and in the United Nations’ post-conflict environmental assessment of Sudan in 2007, which suggested that climate change was an aggravating factor in the Darfur conflict.

But is there real proof of a link between climate change and civil war?

No, says Halvard Buhaug, a political scientist with the Peace Research Institute Oslo. In research published this week, he finds almost no correlation between climate-change indicators, such as temperature and rainfall variability, and the frequency of civil wars over the past 50 years in sub-Saharan Africa — arguably the part of the world that is socially and environmentally most vulnerable to climate change. « The primary causes of civil war are political, not environmental, » says Buhaug.

Given the many causes of unrest, it is not surprising that a meaningful correlation with climate is hard to pin down, says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.