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Does Climate Change Lead to Conflicts in the Sahel?

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The End of Desertification?

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Abstract

A dominant narrative in international politics and media presentations holds that there is a close connection between climate change and conflicts, especially conflicts involving pastoralists in the Sahel. The narrative consists of two elements: (1) Global climate change leads to drought and desertification, which in turn lead to resource scarcity; (2) This scarcity leads to migration and the emergence of new conflicts, or it triggers existing, latent conflicts. This chapter is a critical assessment of these claims based on two case studies from Mali and a review of international research. The narrative is attractive to politicians and bureaucrats, in particular, and is championed by some influential scholars. In both case studies, the drought in the 1980s only played a minor role in explaining the conflict, while the root causes were political and historical. In addition, there does not seem to be any clear link between resource scarcity in the Sahel in the 1980s and global climate change. An association between scarcity and increased conflict levels cannot, however, be dismissed, even if empirical results from international research question the validity of such a correlation. The causes of conflicts in the Sahel are in general associated with state policies, which result in the marginalization of pastoralists. In areas where pastoralism and farming overlap as the main forms of land use, there are continuous conflicts of varying scale and intensity. These conflicts are primarily caused by politics, not climate change.

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Benjaminsen, T.A. (2016). Does Climate Change Lead to Conflicts in the Sahel?. In: Behnke, R., Mortimore, M. (eds) The End of Desertification? . Springer Earth System Sciences. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-16014-1_4

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