Skip to Content
Climate change

Soaring temperatures will raise the risk of armed conflict

June 13, 2019
Man with rifle.
Man with rifle.
Man with rifle.Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

A new analysis in Nature finds that climate change has likely played a relatively small role in driving armed conflict so far. But if temperatures reach more than 2 °C above preindustrial levels, it may substantially increase violence around the globe.

The methods: The paper published on Wednesday synthesized the judgments from a group of 11 highly cited climate and conflict experts at Stanford, the University of Exeter, the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and elsewhere.

The findings: Shifting climate conditions have “substantially increased” the likelihood of armed conflict breaking out in only about 5% of instances when it has in the past century, according to the mean estimate among the experts. Other factors were far more influential in raising conflict risks, including greater levels of poverty, inequality between groups, and a recent history of violent conflict.

But if temperatures rise by 2 °C, there is a 13% chance of substantial increase in the risk of armed conflict, the analysis found. That rises to a 26% chance if temperatures reach 4 °C. Global surface temperatures have already risen nearly 1 °C, and current energy and emissions trajectories suggest it’s almost certain they’ll reach 2 °C.

The mechanisms: Climate impacts such as higher temperatures, droughts, and floods can all create economic shocks by, among other things, reducing agricultural yields and driving up food prices. These shocks can, in turn, exacerbate other drivers of violence by deepening poverty or increasing inequality and tension between groups.

Addressing rising risks: The experts agreed that climate-related conflict risks can be reduced with investment in measures like crop insurance, training, improved food storage, conflict mediation, peacekeeping operations, and post-conflict reconstruction. But the odds of reducing those risks fall as temperature levels rise, the researchers found.

Sign up here to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech in our daily newsletter The Download.

Deep Dive

Climate change

This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops

New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.

giant kelp underwater
giant kelp underwater

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.