New Study Asserts Climate Change Will Increase Conflicts in Africa

Posted December 7, 2009

Darfur just may be the tip of the melting iceberg. A new study suggests that if world leaders fail to reach a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen to curb climate change, Africa will be ravaged by more wars and corpses in the coming decades.

“If the sub-Saharan climate continues to warm and little is done to help its countries better adapt to high temperatures, the human costs are likely to be staggering,” said UC-Berkeley’s Marshall Burke, the study’s lead author.

The study, “Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa,” published online last week by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), states that there are “strong historical linkages between civil war and temperature in Africa, with warmer years leading to significant increases in the likelihood of war.” Using climate model projections it estimates a “roughly 54% increase in armed conflict incidence by 2030, or an additional 393,000 battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent wars.” The study, which uses data between 1981-2002, shows that a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature “represents a remarkable 49% increase in the incidence of civil war.”

“We were definitely surprised that the linkages between temperature and recent conflict were so strong,” said co-author Edward Miguel, professor of economics at UC-Berkeley and faculty director of UC -Berkeley’s Center for Evaluation for Global Action. “But the result makes sense. The large majority of the poor in most African countries depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and their crops are quite sensitive to small changes in temperature. So when temperatures rise, the livelihoods of many in Africa suffer greatly, and the disadvantaged become more likely to take up arms.”

The study comes on the heels of statements by scientists from the Global Carbon Project that if we don’t drastically reduce our carbon emissions the world is on course for a 6 degrees Celsius increase in temperature by the end of the century. Of course if this doomsday scenario comes to fruition we won’t have to worry about wars in Africa—the human race, along with all other forms of life, will be nearly wiped off the face of the earth.

While the study focused solely on temperature change, experts have argued that other climate change factors, such as changes in precipitation levels, water scarcity, lack of arable land and migration are also contributing to conflicts. The Los Angeles Times published an article on Friday appropriately asking “Have the climate wars of Africa begun?.” The article examines recent tribal fighting in Kenya over water and pastures, which the UN believes is responsible for at least 400 deaths this year. Libya, another war torn country, is dealing with longer rainy seasons, rising sea levels and increases in flooding. Climate change is also believed to be a contributing factor in the escalation of violence in Darfur. Writing in The Washington Post, Ban Ki Moon, secretary general of the United Nations, noted that “Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”

Another recent study conducted by a group of military experts contracted by the Institute for Environmental Security in The Hague supports the US researchers claims linking climate change to war.

“Failure to recognise the conflict and instability implications of climate change and to invest in a range of preventive and adaptive actions will be very costly in terms of destabilising nations, causing human suffering, retarding development and providing the required military response,” retired Indian air marshal AK Singh, who chairs the institute’s military council, told South Africas Mail & Guardian Online.

Nana Poku, Professor of African Studies at the UK’s Bradford University, told the BBC that the US-based study makes the case for “climate debt“, an idea growing in popularity around the world “that rich countries should pay reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis.”

“I think it strengthens the argument for ensuring we compensate the developing world for climate change, especially Africa, and to begin looking at how we link environmental issues to governance,” said Poku . “If the argument is that the trend towards rising temperatures will increase conflict, then yes we need to do something around climate change, but more fundamentally we need to resolve the conflicts in the first place.”

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at, an online magazine covering politics and activism in Latin America. He also serves on the board of the Canary Institute.

This article was originally published at


One response to “New Study Asserts Climate Change Will Increase Conflicts in Africa”

  1. Isaac Avatar

    Thanks for writing this. It’s important to link the variety of social costs/impacts of climate change to the ecological ones – one of the most densely and politically important parts of the globe in the coming century, the Indian subcontinent, also looks to suffer greatly from the potential desertification of agricultural areas that support nearly a billion people. Two hundred million people in Bangladesh could be underwater- literally.

    Meanwhile, a leaked document at Copenhagen reveals that, as expected, a cabal of the dominant imperialist countries seek to nullify the Kyoto protocols that recognize the industrial “Global North” got the world into this situation and therefore, reparations are owed:

    Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after ‘Danish text’ leak

    The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

    The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

    The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as “the circle of commitment” – but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark – has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalised this week.

    The agreement, leaked to the Guardian, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol’s principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act. The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.

    The document was described last night by one senior diplomat as “a very dangerous document for developing countries. It is a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations. It is to be superimposed without discussion on the talks”.

    A confidential analysis of the text by developing countries also seen by the Guardian shows deep unease over details of the text. In particular, it is understood to:

    • Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;

    • Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called “the most vulnerable”;

    • Weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance;

    • Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.

    Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.

    “It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process,” said one diplomat, who asked to remain nameless.

    Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said: “This is only a draft but it highlights the risk that when the big countries come together, the small ones get hurting. On every count the emission cuts need to be scaled up. It allows too many loopholes and does not suggest anything like the 40% cuts that science is saying is needed.”

    Hill continued: “It proposes a green fund to be run by a board but the big risk is that it will run by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility [a partnership of 10 agencies including the World Bank and the UN Environment Programme] and not the UN. That would be a step backwards, and it tries to put constraints on developing countries when none were negotiated in earlier UN climate talks.”

    The text was intended by Denmark and rich countries to be a working framework, which would be adapted by countries over the next week. It is particularly inflammatory because it sidelines the UN negotiating process and suggests that rich countries are desperate for world leaders to have a text to work from when they arrive next week.

    Few numbers or figures are included in the text because these would be filled in later by world leaders. However, it seeks to hold temperature rises to 2C and mentions the sum of $10bn a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change from 2012-15. (from the Guardian, here)