Climate Not to Blame for African Civil Wars
Author: Halvad Buhaug
Size: 6 pages (315 kB)
Will global warming increase the severity and number of civil wars in Africa? This paper analyses the links and correlation between climate change, climate shocks and intrastate violence in Africa. It finds that, while environmental conditions may not be irrelevant to conflict risk, scientific claims about a robust correlation between climate change and the risk of civil war in Sub-Saharan Africa do not hold up. The primary causes of civil wars are political, not environmental. Environmental conditions may change with future warming, but general correlates of conflicts and wars are likely to prevail.
Vocal actors within policy and practice contend that climate-related shocks such as drought and prolonged heatwaves drive civil wars in Africa. A recent influential article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, appears to substantiate this claim. It concludes that adverse impacts in global warming will outweigh any likely positive effects of economic growth and decentralisation in the region. It predicts a 54 per cent increase in civil war incidence by 2030.
However, the study was limited to major civil wars and failed to take into account violence with less than 1000 annual casualties. This excludes a number of violent uprisings in the Sahel, a classic region of scarcity-induced violence. It focused on prevalence rather than outbreak of conflict, and included civil wars only up to 2002. This ignores the fact that warming and drying of the continent have persisted, while civil war has decreased in severity and incidence since 2002.
A more comprehensive evaluation by the Centre for the Study of Civil War, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) offers a number of improvements on earlier research:
PRIO's study concludes that climate variability is a poor predictor of armed conflict. Instead, African civil wars can be explained by generic structural and contextual conditions: prevalent ethno-political exclusion, poor national economy, and the collapse of the Cold War system. However, this does not mean that environmental conditions are irrelevant to conflict risk. Caveats are that:
Targeted climate adaptation initiatives such as National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs) can have significant impacts on social well-being and human security. They cannot replace traditional peacebuilding strategies, however.
Buhaug, H., 2010, 'Climate Not to Blame for African Civil Wars', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Author: Halvard Buhaug , halvardb[at]prio.no