Social and political tensions keep on fueling armed conflicts around the world. Although each conflict is the result of an individual context-specific mixture of interconnected factors, ethnicity appears to play a prominent and almost ubiquitous role in many of them. This overall state of affairs is likely to be exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change and in particular climate-related natural disasters. Ethnic divides might serve as predetermined conflict lines in case of rapidly emerging societal tensions arising from disruptive events like natural disasters. Here, we hypothesise that climate-related disaster occurrence enhances armed-conflict outbreak risk in ethnically fractionalised countries.
Using event coincidence analysis, we test this hypothesis based on data on armed-conflict outbreaks and climate-related natural disasters for the period 1980–2010. Globally, we find a coincidence rate of 9% regarding armed-conflict outbreak and disaster occurrence such as heat waves or droughts. Our analysis also reveals that, during the period in question, about 23% of conflict outbreaks in ethnically highly fractionalised countries robustly coincide with climatic calamities. Although we do not report evidence that climate-related disasters act as direct triggers of armed conflicts, the disruptive nature of these events seems to play out in ethnically fractionalised societies in a particularly tragic way.
This observation has important implications for future security policies as several of the world’s most conflict-prone regions, including North and Central Africa as well as Central Asia, are both exceptionally vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change and characterised by deep ethnic divides.
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