Climate Change and Conflict

During 2007-2009, a series of well-publicized studies appeared that projected the likelihood of strong linkages between climate change and an increase in conflict in vulnerable areas of the developing world.

Many of the projected scenarios were alarming in their implications. The findings of the Center for a New American Security were typical of many other studies:

"…the United States can expect that climate change will exacerbate already existing North-South tensions, dramatically increase global migration both inside and between nations, lead to increasingly serious public health problems, heighten interstate tension and possibly conflict over resources, collapse agricultural markets and global fisheries, challenge the institutions of global governance, cause potentially destabilizing domestic political and social repercussions, and spur unpredictable shifts in the global balance of power."

USAID/CMM asked FESS to review the state of knowledge about this issue-area. In its paper on "Climate Change, Adaptation, and Conflict," published by USAID/CMM in October 2009, FESS found that upon closer examination, "the analysis and discussion of the climate-conflict relationship to date is very largely, conceptual, schematic, and deductive," and warned of the potential for "costly initiatives" that "run ahead of firm evidence that they are meeting their stated goals." Noting the multidimensional origins of conflict, the paper recommended "more granularity in the understanding of the climate-conflict relationship in specific countries or regions."

USAID/CMM subsequently asked FESS to produce case studies on climate change and conflict in selected countries, with a view to producing findings relevant to Agency and Mission interests. The first of the case studies was Uganda, focusing on the so-called Cattle Corridor and the area of Karamoja. The second was the case of Ethiopia, focusing on the relationship between climate change and conflict among pastoralists and agropastoralists in Oromia, Somali, and Afar National Regional States. Those studies confirmed the importance of both political and historical context and social and institutional responses in understanding the origins and potential trajectory of climate-related conflict.

The third case is Peru, which examines potential links between climate change and conflict in the central and southern highlands of Peru, focusing in particular on selected areas of the regions of Ancash and Arequipa, respectively. In the highland areas of both regions, the effects of glacier loss and other climate change impacts have contributed to existing problems of water scarcity, and in some instances, added new threats to water quality, with important implications for human health and agricultural production.