Environmental Changes and Violent Conflict
Environmental Research Letters 7/015601: 1–8.
Posted: 8 Dec 2017 Last revised: 12 Dec 2017
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.
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