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Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa: Is It Driven by Climate Change?

Paper Reviewed
O'Loughlin, J., Linke, A.M. and Witmer, F.D.W. 2014. Effects of temperature and precipitation variability on the risk of violence in sub-Saharan Africa, 1980-2012. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111: 16,712-16,717.

Writing as background for their study, O'Loughlin et al. (2014) state that "continued public and academic interest in the topic of global climate change consequences for political instability and the risk of conflict has generated a growing but inconclusive literature, especially about the effects in sub-Saharan Africa." However, they note that many of the studies supporting this hypothesis "do not elaborate on nor test the causal mechanisms." And, therefore, they go on to do so.

More specifically, in the words of the three U.S. researchers, "using a new disaggregated dataset of violence and climate anomaly measures (temperature and precipitation variations from normal) for sub-Saharan Africa 1980-2012, we consider political, economic and geographic factors, not only climate metrics, in assessing the chances of increased violence." And what did they thereby learn?

Once again quoting the team of three, they found that "the location and timing of violence are influenced less by climate anomalies than by key political, economic and geographic factors," such that "overall, the temperature effect is statistically significant, but important inconsistencies in the relationship between temperature extremes and conflict are evident in more nuanced relationships than have been previously identified." And in further support of their findings, they cite several independent studies that have come to pretty much the same conclusion, including those of Buhaug (2010), Bergholt and Lujala (2012), Koubi et al. (2012), Raleigh and Kniveton (2012) and Wischnath and Buhaug (2014).

Clearly, therefore, it is becoming more obvious by the day that the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC -- as it relates to the imagined violence that it predicts could occur in response to projected CO2-induced climatic disturbances -- is not dong anybody anywhere any good.

Bergholt, D. and Lujala, P. 2012. Climate-related natural disasters, economic growth, and armed civil conflict. Journal of Peace Research 49: 147-162.

Buhaug, H. 2010. Climate not to blame for African civil wars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107: 16,477-16,482.

Koubi, V., Bernauer, T., Kalbhenn, A. and Spilker, G. 2012. Climate variability, economic growth, and civil conflict. Journal of Peace Research 49: 113-127.

Raleigh, C. and Kniveton, D. 2012. Come rain or shine: An analysis of conflict and climate variability in East Africa. Journal of Peace Research 49: 51-64.

Wischnath, G. and Buhaug, H. 2014. On climate variability and civil war in Asia. Climatic Change 122: 709-721.

Posted 25 March 2015