Climate and Conflict in East Africa, and UNEP’s Plan to Avoid Future FaminesNovember 16, 2012 By Carolyn Lamere
While climate change will undoubtedly have an impact on societies throughout the world, researchers are still debating whether or not it will cause conflict. John O’Loughlin, Frank D.W. Witmer, Andrew M. Linke, Arlene Laing, Andrew Gettelman, and Jimy Dudhia use a quantitative approach to tackle some of “sweeping generalizations” that have come to characterize this debate in a new study, “Climate Variability and Conflict Risk in East Africa, 1990-2009,” published last month in PNAS. They found that while there is “no statistically signiﬁcant relationship” between precipitation and conflict, increased heat is correlated with more conflict in East Africa. Still, they also found that other factors, like population size and the space-time lag for violence, predict conflict more reliably than either of the climate-related elements.
Though the relationship between the direct effects of climate change (more extreme weather, higher temperatures, etc.) and conflict is still cloudy, the impact of secondary effects (like decreased agricultural productivity) is slightly clearer. Climate change is already linked to lower yields in the tropics, where many of the world’s poorest countries are located, and fluctuations in food prices have been linked to political instability in the past. A new United Nations Environment Programme report, Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems, looks at the possibilities of changing food production and consumption to improve food security for the nearly one billion “left behind” by the Green Revolution last century. By changing destructive practices, like overfishing, over-fertilization, and over-tilling, as well as reducing food loss and waste, UNEP proposes a “wide-ranging, encompassing solution” that will take into account climate change and improve food security in the short and long term.