How Climate Change Is Causing Global Conflict

by Patrick Quarberg

People in lesser developed countries are more likely to move out of climate change-affected areas and cause conflict, a study by Rafael Reuveny (2007) finds. Developing countries face serious threats due to climate change, such as severe scarcity in the food and water supply. These fundamental issues cause larger numbers of people to leave the country. Reuveny analyzes this from an economic perspective. That is, when the net benefit of staying in a place is overshadowed by the net cost, people—especially in developing countries—are inclined to leave that area or country. The displacement of many people leads to greater conflicts in a few ways. Increased competition for resources in the receiving country lead to increased tension and conflict. If displaced people are of a different ethnicity than the people of the receiving country, this effect is amplified. If the trend of migration continues for long enough, the host country’s citizens develop a tradition of distrust for anyone from that country, prolonging the struggle of the migrants and providing an opportunity for conflicts in the future. A final contributing agent to conflict is when migrants move on so-called “fault lines”, which can be any sort of large change in way life. For example, migrants who move to an urban area from a rural area experience greater tension and conflict due to the transition.

The widespread effects of climate change on lesser developed countries is especially concerning because it places additional stress on countries that are also struggling to handle its own citizens. Increasing tensions due to climate change could destabilize entire regions, since so many people will need to migrate away from their homes, due to the net cost exceeding the net benefit. Mitigating the effects of climate change is very important for the whole world, but alleviating existing tensions and social issues will also be incredibly beneficial for lesser developed countries.

Reuveny, R. 2007. Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict Science Direct, Volume 26, Pages 656-673

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