2 April, 2020

Multi-method evidence for when and how climate-related disasters contribute to armed conflict risk


Tobias Ide, Michael Brzoska, Jonathan F. Donges, Carl-Friedrich Schleussner

Climate-related disasters are among the most societally disruptive impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Their potential impact on the risk of armed conflict is heavily debated in the context of the security implications of climate change.

Yet, evidence for such climate-conflict-disaster links remains limited and contested. One reason for this is that existing studies do not triangulate insights from different methods and pay little attention to relevant context factors and especially causal pathways.

By combining statistical approaches with systematic evidence from QCA and qualitative case studies in an innovative multi-method research design, we show that climate-related disasters increase the risk of armed conflict onset. This link is highly context-dependent and we find that countries with large populations, political exclusion of ethnic groups, and a low level of human development are particularly vulnerable.

For such countries, almost one third of all conflict onsets over the 1980-2016 period have been preceded by a disaster within 7 days. The robustness of the effect is reduced for longer time spans. Case study evidence points to improved opportunity structures for armed groups rather than aggravated grievances as the main mechanism connecting disasters and conflict onset.