Environmental Changes and Violent Conflict

Environmental Research Letters 7/015601: 1–8.

Posted: 8 Dec 2017 Last revised: 12 Dec 2017

See all articles by Thomas Bernauer

Thomas Bernauer

ETH Zurich

Tobias Boehmelt

ETH Zürich

Vally Koubi

University of Bern - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 17, 2012


This letter reviews the scientific literature on whether and how environmental changes affect the risk of violent conflict. The available evidence from qualitative case studies indicates that environmental stress can contribute to violent conflict in some specific cases. Results from quantitative large-N studies, however, strongly suggest that we should be careful in drawing general conclusions. Those large-N studies that we regard as the most sophisticated ones obtain results that are not robust to alternative model specifications and, thus, have been debated. This suggests that environmental changes may, under specific circumstances, increase the risk of violent conflict, but not necessarily in a systematic way and unconditionally. Hence there is, to date, no scientific consensus on the impact of environmental changes on violent conflict. This letter also highlights the most important challenges for further research on the subject. One of the key issues is that the effects of environmental changes on violent conflict are likely to be contingent on a set of economic and political conditions that determine adaptation capacity. In the authors' view, the most important indirect effects are likely to lead from environmental changes via economic performance and migration to violent conflict.

Suggested Citation

Bernauer, Thomas and Boehmelt, Tobias and Koubi, Vally, Environmental Changes and Violent Conflict (January 17, 2012). Environmental Research Letters 7/015601: 1–8., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3082386

Thomas Bernauer (Contact Author)

ETH Zurich ( email )

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Tobias Boehmelt

ETH Zürich ( email )

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8092 Zurich, CH-1015

Vally Koubi

University of Bern - Department of Economics ( email )

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Bern, CH-3001

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