Climatic Change

, Volume 117, Issue 3, pp 613–625 | Cite as

Is climate change a driver of armed conflict?

  • Ole Magnus TheisenEmail author
  • Nils Petter Gleditsch
  • Halvard Buhaug


The world is generally becoming less violent, but the debate on climate change raises the specter of a new source of instability and conflict. In this field, the policy debate is running well ahead of its academic foundation—and sometimes even contrary to the best evidence. Although comparative research on security implications of climate change is rapidly expanding, major gaps in knowledge still exist. Taken together, extant studies provide mostly inconclusive insights, with contradictory or weak demonstrated effects of climate variability and change on armed conflict. This article reviews the empirical literature on short-term climate/environmental change and intrastate conflict, with special attention to possible insecurity consequences of precipitation and temperature anomalies and weather-related natural disasters. Based on this assessment, it outlines priorities for future research in this area.


Climate Change Natural Disaster Communal Violence Armed Conflict Economic Shock 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This article builds on a paper prepared for the DoE/EPA workshop on Research on Climate Change Impacts and Associated Economic Damages, Washington, DC, 27–28 January 2011. It draws on work at the Centre for the Study of Civil War at PRIO, funded by the Research Council of Norway, including Buhaug (2010a), Buhaug et al. (2010), and Nordås and Gleditsch (2007a, b), as well as papers presented to a conference on Climate Change and Security in Trondheim, 21–24 June 2010 ( Selected papers from that conference have been published in Journal of Peace Research 49(1), January 2012. We thank colleagues at PRIO and participants at various conferences and workshops for valuable input on our work. We are also grateful to the Editor and three anonymous referees for constructive comments on earlier drafts of the article.

Supplementary material

10584_2012_649_MOESM1_ESM.doc (102 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 102 kb)


  1. Adano WR, Witsenburg K, Dietz T, Zaal F (2012) Climate change, violent conflict and local institutions in Kenya’s drylands. J Peace Res 49(1):65–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson CA (2001) Heat and violence. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 10(1):33–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett J, Adger WN (2007) Climate change, human security and violent conflict. Polit Geogr 26(6):639–655CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrios S, Bertinelli L, Strobl E (2010) Trends in rainfall and economic growth in Africa: a neglected cause of the African growth tragedy. Rev Econ Stat 92(2):350–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barron P, Kaiser K, Pradhan M (2009) Understanding variations in local conflict: evidence and implications from Indonesia. World Dev 37(3):698–713CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benjaminsen TA, Alinon K, Buhaug H, Buseth JT (2012) Does climate change drive land-use conflicts in the Sahel? J Peace Res 49(1):97–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bergholt D, Lujala P (2012) Climate-related natural disasters, economic growth, and armed civil conflict. J Peace Res 49(1):147–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernauer T, Böhmelt T, Koubi V (2012) Environmental changes and violent conflict. Environ Res Lett 7(1): article no. 015601Google Scholar
  9. Besley T, Persson T (2011) The logic of political violence. Q J Econ 126(3):1411–1445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bohlken AT, Sergenti EJ (2010) Economic growth and ethnic violence: an empirical investigation of Hindu-Muslim riots in India. J Peace Res 47(5):589–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brancati D (2007) Political aftershocks: the impact of earthquakes on intrastate conflict. J Confl Resolut 51(5):715–743CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown I (2010) Assessing eco-scarcity as a cause of the outbreak of conflict in Darfur: a remote sensing approach. Int J Remote Sens 31(10):2513–2520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buhaug H (2010a) Climate not to blame for African civil wars. PNAS 107(38):16477–16482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Buhaug H (2010b) Reply to Burke et al.: Bias and climate war research. PNAS 107(51):E186–E187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Buhaug H, Gleditsch NP, Theisen OM (2010) Implications of climate change for armed conflict. Ch. 3. In: Mearns R, Norton A (eds) Social dimensions of climate change: Equity and vulnerability. New frontiers of social policy. World Bank, Washington, DC, pp 75–101Google Scholar
  16. Burke MB, Miguel E, Satyanath S, Dykema JA, Lobell DB (2009) Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa. PNAS 106(49):20670–20674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Burke MB, Miguel E, Satyanath S, Dykema JA, Lobell DB (2010) Climate robustly linked to African civil war. PNAS 107(51):E185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Butler CK, Gates S (2012) African range wars: climate, conflict, and property rights. J Peace Res 49(1):23–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ciccone A (2011) Economic shocks and civil conflict: a comment. Am Econ J Appl Econ 3(4):215–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Drury AC, Olson RS (1998) Disasters and political unrest: an empirical investigation. J Conting Crisis Manag 6(3):153–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eaton D (2008) The business of peace: raiding and peace work along the Kenya-Uganda border (part I). Afr Aff 107(427):89–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Esty DC, Goldstone JA, Gurr TR, Harff B, Levy M, Dabelko GD, Surko P, Unger AN (1998) State failure task force report: Phase II findings. Science Applications International, McLean, VAGoogle Scholar
  23. Fjelde H, von Uexkull N (2012) Climate triggers: Rainfall anomalies, vulnerability and communal conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. Polit Geogr 31(7):444–453Google Scholar
  24. Foresight (2011) Migration and Global Environmental Change (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.
  25. Gizelis TI, Wooden AE (2010) Water resources, institutions, and intrastate conflict. Polit Geogr 29(8):444–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gleditsch NP (2008) The liberal moment fifteen years on. Presidential Address, International Studies Association. Int Stud Q 52(4):691–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gleditsch NP (2012) Whither the weather? Climate change and conflict. J Peace Res 49(1):3–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gleditsch NP, Wallensteen P, Eriksson M, Sollenberg M, Strand H (2002) Armed conflict 1946–2001: a new dataset. J Peace Res 39(5):615–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gleditsch NP, Nordås R, Salehyan I (2007) Climate change and conflict: The migration link. Coping with Crisis Working Paper Series. New York: International Peace Academy,
  30. Goldstein JS (2011) Winning the war on war: The decline of armed conflict worldwide. Dutton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Goldstone JA, Bates RH, Epstein DL, Gurr TR, Lustik MB, Marshall MG, Ulfelder J, Woodward M (2010) A global model for forecasting political instability. Am J Polit Sci 54(1):190–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Grinsted A, Moore JC, Jevrejeva S (2009) Reconstructing sea level from paleo and projected temperatures 200 to 2100 ad. Clim Dyn 34(4):461–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Guha-Sapir D, Vos F, Below R, Ponserre S (2011) Annual disaster statistical review 2010: The numbers and trends. Brussels: Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), Université catholique de Louvain,
  34. Hegre H, Sambanis N (2006) Sensitivity analysis of empirical results on civil war onset. J Confl Resolut 50(4):508–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hegre H, Karlsen J, Nygård HM, Urdal H, Strand H (2013) Predicting armed conflict, 2011–2050. Int Stud Q 55(2):1–21Google Scholar
  36. Hendrix CS, Glaser SM (2007) Trends and triggers: climate, climate change and civil conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. Polit Geogr 26(6):695–715CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hendrix CS, Salehyan I (2012) Climate change, rainfall, and social conflict in Africa. J Peace Res 49(1):35–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hendrix C, Haggard S (2012) International food prices, regime type, and protest in the developing world. Under journal review. Accessed at (171212)
  39. Hidalgo FD, Naidu S, Nichter S, Richardson N (2010) Economic determinants of land invasions. Rev Econ Stat 92(3):505–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Homer-Dixon TF (1999) Environment, scarcity and violence. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  41. Hsiang SM, Meng KC, Cane MA (2011) Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate. Nature 476:438–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. HSRP (2010) Human Security Report 2009/2010. The causes of peace and the shrinking costs of war. Vancouver, BC: Human Security Report Project, Simon Fraser UniversityGoogle Scholar
  43. IPCC (2001) Third assessment report. Climate change 2001. Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available online at
  44. IPCC (2007) Fourth assessment report. Climate change 2007. Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available online at
  45. IPCC (2011) IPCC Special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation—Summary for policymakers. International Panel on Climate ChangeGoogle Scholar
  46. IPCC (2012) Agreed reference material for the IPCC Fifth assessment report,
  47. Jensen PS, Gleditsch KS (2009) Rain, growth, and civil war: the importance of location. Def Peace Econ 20(5):359–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Jones BF, Ohlken BA (2010) Climate shocks and exports. Am Econ Rev 100(2):454–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kevane M, Gray L (2008) Darfur: rainfall and conflict. Environ Res Lett 3(3):1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Koubi V, Bernauer T, Kalbhenn A, Spilker G (2012) Climate variability, economic growth, and civil conflict. J Peace Res 49(1):113–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lacina B, Gleditsch NP (2005) Monitoring trends in global combat: a new dataset of battle deaths. Eur J Popul 21(2–3):145–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lacina B, Gleditsch NP, Russett B (2006) The declining risk of death in battle. Int Stud Q 50(3):673–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lecoutere E, D’Exelle B, Van Campenhout B (2010) Who engages in water scarcity conflicts? A field experiment with irrigators in semi-arid Africa. MICROCON Research Working Papers 31. Accessed at
  54. Mehlum H, Miguel E, Torvik R (2006) Poverty and crime in 19th century Germany. J Urban Econ 59:370–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Meier P, Bond D, Bond J (2007) Environmental influences on pastoral conflict in the Horn of Africa. Polit Geogr 26(6):716–735CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Miguel E (2005) Poverty and witch killing. Rev Econ Stud 72(4):1153–1172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Miguel E, Satyanath S (2011) Re-examining economic shocks and civil conflict. Am Econ J Appl Econ 3(4):228–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Miguel E, Satyanath S, Sergenti E (2004) Economic shocks and civil conflict: an instrumental variables approach. J Polit Econ 112(4):725–753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mjøs OD (2007) Award ceremony speech by the Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for the IPCC and Al Gore, Oslo, 10 December,
  60. Mortimore M (1998) Roots in the African dust: Sustaining the Sub-Saharan drylands. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nel P, Righarts M (2008) Natural disasters and the risk of violent civil conflict. Int Stud Q 52(1):159–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nicholls RJ, Small C (2002) Improved estimates of coastal population and exposure to hazards. Eos. Trans Am Geophys Union 83(28):301–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nicholls RJ, Tol RSJ (2006) Impacts and responses to sea-level rise: a global analysis of the SRES scenarios over the 21st century. Phil Trans R Soc Lond A 361(1841):1073–1095Google Scholar
  64. Nordås R, Gleditsch NP (eds) (2007a) Climate change and conflict. Special issue of Political Geography 26(6), AugustGoogle Scholar
  65. Nordås R, Gleditsch NP (2007b) Climate change and conflict. Polit Geogr 26(6):627–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Obama BH (2009) Remarks by the president at United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s climate change summit 22 September. New York: United Nations,
  67. O'Loughlin J, Witmer FDW, Linke AM, Laing A, Gettelman, A Dudhia J (2012) Climate variability and conflict risk in East Africa, 1990-2009. PNAS 109(45):18344–18349Google Scholar
  68. Omelicheva MY (2011) Natural disasters: triggers of political instability? Int Interact 37(4):441–465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Perch-Nielsen S, Bättig M, Imboden D (2008) Exploring the link between climate change and migration. Clim Chang 91(3–4):375–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Pinker S (2011) The better angels of our nature. Viking, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  71. Raleigh C, Kniveton D (2012) Come rain or shine: an analysis of conflict and climate variability in East Africa. J Peace Res 49(1):51–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Raleigh C, Urdal H (2007) Climate change, environmental degradation and armed conflict. Polit Geogr 26(6):674–694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Reuveny R (2007) Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict. Polit Geogr 26(6):656–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rowhani P, Degomme O, Guha-Sapir D, Lambin EF (2011) Malnutrition and conflict in East Africa: the impact of resource variability on human security. Clim Chang 105(1–2):207–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Salehyan I (2008) From climate change to conflict? No consensus yet. J Peace Res 45(3):315–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Scheffran J, Brzoska M, Kominek J, Link PM, Schilling J (2012) Climate change and violent conflict. Science 336(6083):869–871CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schneider G, Gleditsch NP, Carey S (eds) (2010) Exploring the past, anticipating the future: a symposium. Int Stud Rev 12(1):1–7Google Scholar
  78. Slettebak RT (2012) Don’t blame the weather! Climate-related natural disasters and civil conflict. J Peace Res 49(1):163–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Theisen OM (2012) Climate clashes? Weather variability, land pressure, and organized violence in Kenya 1989–2004. J Peace Res 49(1):81–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Theisen OM, Holtermann H, Buhaug H (2011/2012) Climate wars? Assessing the claim that drought breeds conflict. Int Secur 36(3):79–106Google Scholar
  81. Themnér L, Wallensteen P (2011) Armed conflict, 1946–2010. J Peace Res 48(4):525–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. UN (2007) Security Council holds first-ever debate on impact of climate change, 5663rd Meeting. New York: United Nations, Department of Public Information,
  83. Van Aalst MK (2006) The impacts of climate change on the risk of natural disasters. Disasters 30(1):5–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Witsenburg KM, Adano WR (2009) On rain and raids: violent livestock raiding in Northern Kenya. Civ Wars 11(4):514–538CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ole Magnus Theisen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Nils Petter Gleditsch
    • 1
    • 2
  • Halvard Buhaug
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Political ScienceNorwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)TrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW)Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)OsloNorway

Personalised recommendations