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Climate War in the Middle East? Drought, the Syrian Civil War and the State of Climate-Conflict Research

Abstract

Purpose of Review

This article reviews existing evidence for a climate-conflict link in Syria and examines how the respective debate reproduces three important shortcomings of climate-conflict research.

Recent Findings

The potential climate-conflict link for Syria can be conceived of as a four-stage process, with various levels of scientific evidence and consensus existing for each stage: (1) climate change inducing the heavy 2006–2009 drought (plausible, but not proven); (2) massive loss of agricultural livelihoods, significantly attributable to the drought (supported by a majority of studies, but contested); (3) massive rural-to-urban migration triggered by livelihood loss in combination with other factors (supported by a majority of studies, but contested); and (4) migration intensifying existing grievances and facilitating the onset of protests and the subsequent civil war (possible, but little knowledge exists).

Summary

The debate about the Syrian case reproduces three important shortcomings of climate-conflict research: limited dialogue between different methods, an overstatement of differences, and a lack of theoretical engagement. These shortcomings also have adverse impacts in terms of policy advice.

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Ide, T. Climate War in the Middle East? Drought, the Syrian Civil War and the State of Climate-Conflict Research. Curr Clim Change Rep 4, 347–354 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40641-018-0115-0

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Conflict
  • Civil war
  • Syria
  • Middle East
  • Migration