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Will climate cause conflict?

Today I went to a talk on climate change and armed conflict by Professor Jon Barnett at the University of Melbourne. Professor Barnett participated in the IPCC Assessment Report 5 chapter 12 on climate change and armed conflict.

Is your climate conflict rash breaking out?

Hang on a moment.

Professor Barnett introduced the subject by noting that scholars who study conflict do not find environmental factors among their smorgasbord of reasons for conflict. He also noted that serious study of conflicts from tension right through the conflict period was rarely done.

The debate is polarised, he said. On the one hand, there are earth system scientists. They find “overwhelming support for a causal association between climatological outcomes and conflict outcomes… remarkable convergence I findings”. On the other are the political scientists. They find the evidence “inconclusive”.

So what did they do in IPCC AR5?

After exhaustive analysis of peer reviewed literature, the team found there is simply not enough agreement to say climate is causative of conflict. What the team could say more definitively is that climate effects can contribute to known causative factors such as economic contraction and also that armed conflict increases vulnerability to climate change.

While I could still feel myself rooting for a stronger link between climate and conflict, I had to nod thoughtfully as Professor Barnett sagely suggested that any climate stress could be partially or wholly avoided through adaptive measures. Further, conflict and violence are social processes not within the control of the climate or the physical environment. Do we have any idea what will happen in 80 years time?

No.

I wonder what will happen?

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