The negative effects of higher temperatures on agricultural output have the potential to create and exacerbate human development issues surrounding food, water and health security. IRIN’s (2012) analysis shares O’Loughlin’s findings that “very hot temperatures were shown to increase the risk of conflict” (para.5). As Johnstone & Mazo (2011) suggest, those nations less dependent on their own production are by necessity more dependent on global food systems and thus the combined impact of climate change can become a “threat multiplier” in the presence of other security stresses. Johnstone & Mazo (2011) argue that food-price inflation caused by the poor wheat, soybean and maize crops leading up to the Arab Spring may have been an aggravating factor. It is important to note, however, that food prices are affected by a great number of political, economic and social policy factors including land use, population growth, nutritional changes, transport costs, trade agreements and national/local rationing systems. Sufficient national and local infrastructure to absorb fluctuations is thus essential to creating adaptive capacities, perhaps more so than the prevention or understanding of climate change itself. This thinking is reflected by social scientist, Corinne Schoch: “focusing on climate change as a security threat alone risks devolving humanitarian responsibilities to the military, ignoring key challenges and losing sight of those climate-vulnerable communities that stand most in need of protection” (IRIN, 2012, para. 15).
As much of Sub-Saharan Africa depends on subsistence farming and a high percentage of family incomes are directed to food security, this region has the potential to suffer greatly from climate change. If crops are down, the subsequent deleterious impact on an individual’s economic capacity has spiraling effects for personal health, access to education, land distribution/use and thus community relations. Due to these linkages, Burke, Miguel, Satyanath, Dykema & Lobell (2009) argue that warmer years lead to an increase in the probability of civil war in Africa. Burke, et al. (2009) also conclude that strong economic (national) growth and democratization are not likely to eliminate the negative impact of higher temperatures on the likelihood of conflict.
There are important ways in which regions susceptible to the impact of climate change can create structures to mitigate the agricultural stresses caused by shifts in temperature and precipitation and thus reduce the likelihood of conflict arising from resource competition. In essence, this is building the resilience that Hopkins speaks about in his TED talk.
1. using crop varieties adapted to extreme temperatures (Black, 2009; Mertz, et al., 2009)
2. funding development of new technologies and irrigation infrastructure (Mertz, et al.,2009)
3. aiding distribution of farming knowledge and incentives (Burke, 2009; Mertz, et al, 2009)
4. development of government policies affecting social services, land and resource allocation (Odong, 2012)
5. diversification of production (Mertz, et al., 2009)
6. insurance schemes to protect from climate shock (Black, 2009; as discussed in Goslinga’s TED talk)
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Solutions to complex conflicts that focus on one central cause are generally too simplistic and run the risk of diverting blame and thus accountability. We saw the diversion of blame after various UNEP reports focused too heavily on climate change causing conflict, perhaps undermining the political, social and economic root causes.
Clearly, the impacts of climate change can have an effect on access to essential goods and services; stresses on food, water, personal health and community relations will impact human security, possibly in the form of conflict. Thus, the solutions to mitigating climate variability’s impact on conflict listed above are more immediate regional solutions. In addition, international collaboration and continued dialogue will be essential as social and environmental scientists continue to unveil the intricate web of cause and effect of climate change and national industries hopefully rise to meet a more sustainable approach.
Black, Richard. (2009, November 24). Climate 'is a Major Cause' of Conflict in Africa. BBC News.
Climate change: beyond the hype of 'climate wars.' (2012). IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis.
Burke, M.B., Miguel, E., Satyanath, S., Dykema, J.A. & Lobell, D.B. (2009). Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(49), 20670-20674.
Johnston, Sarah & Mazo, Jeffrey. (2011, April-May). Global Warming and the Arab Spring. Survival, 53(2), 11-17.
Mertz, O., Mbow, C., Reenberg, A., & Diouf, A. (2009). Farmers’ perceptions of climate change and agricultural adaptation strategies in rural Sahel. Environmental Management, 43(5), 804-816. Retrieved from Proquest.
Odong, Jackson. (2012). Land conflicts are a threat to stability in the northern area. The Observer viewpoint.