The International Institute for Strategic Studies has published the 2015 Armed Conflict Survey. As it costs more than $100, I will content myself with the free material written about it on their website.
With 15 of the warmest 16 years in the historical record occurring during the 21st Century, it is time to look at the impact global warming has had on conflict. Several papers and numerous pundits have put forward the proposition that global warming increases conflict.
According to the IISS 2015 Armed Conflict Survey, “Perhaps the most telling graphic in the entire Armed Conflict Survey is the one showing that in 2008 there were 63 armed conflicts taking place around the world giving rise to a total of 56,000 fatalities, whereas in 2014 there were only 42 armed conflicts producing a total of 180,000 fatalities. The number of armed conflicts around the world has been progressively declining since the Armed Conflict Database was launched and this is obviously something to be welcomed. But the decline in the number of conflicts has been more than compensated for by an inexorable rise in the intensity of violence associated with them.”
That’s a perfect statistic for the climate conversation, as climate activists can point to the rising intensity of conflict while those on the other side can point to the reduced number of conflicts. The material about the survey doesn’t mention climate change at all, so we must infer what we can from the freebie stuff.
But perhaps further details can shed light on it. What the IISS writes is, “If we look at the Chart of Conflict we see a swathe across the middle of the globe, running from Central America through Northern, Central and East Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, that is affected by different forms of armed conflict. This should perhaps not surprise us: these are areas that are both populous – and conflict happens where people are – but also in the main characterised by poor levels of economic development and weak institutions of governance. The drivers of conflict are a complex mix of the local, national and transnational. Ideology plays a significant role but so too does organised criminality either as a cause or as a significant by-product of conflict. And while the drivers for the majority of the conflicts covered are internal, some are a function of a wider regional geo-political contention. And now with the crisis in Ukraine the threat of state-on-state conflict is re-emerging.”
Although they don’t mention climate change, it is interesting that the areas they highlight as experiencing the most conflict are the areas that have experienced the least climate change in terms of temperature. East Africa has, however, experienced an unusual number of droughts and Syria had perhaps the most famous drought in terms of conflict discussions.
Perhaps a longer view would be useful here:
We should not ignore all the caveats associated with this type of overview. Battle deaths are certainly lower than in the past, but conflict kills people far away from the battlefield and creates refugees, as we are seeing all to clearly. And refugees have skyrocketed to 60 million, as we saw yesterday. Although conflicts in Afghanistan and Myanmar are probably not connected in any way to climatic conditions, we cannot be so sure regarding conflicts in Sudan. Although enough has been written about the drought in Syria prior to their civil war to convince me that the drought could only have had a marginal influence on events, I haven’t seen anyone argue that it helped matters.
Turning away from civil and other war, crime in the streets is also projected by some to worsen with climate change. We have had 30 years now when temperatures were higher than the average. How has this impacted crime?
For most of the areas for which we have data, this period of global warming has coincided with lower crime, not higher.
Because of the many factors involved in both war and crime, ranging from good governance and economic conditions to levels of lead and consumption of drugs, it would be foolish to give credit to a warming world for lower conflict and crime.
But recent history at least should cause those who had foreseen increases in both to re-evaluate their positions.