In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Climate Change and Conflict in Northern Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Special Issues and Edited Volumes
  • Fundamental Theories and Concepts
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Reports by Nongovernmental Organizations

Environmental Science Climate Change and Conflict in Northern Africa
Janpeter Schilling, Lisa Krause
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0090


Climate change is one of the key challenges the world is facing in the 21st century. Concerns are increasingly raised that climate change might not only undermine the livelihoods of millions of people across the globe but that it might actually act as a multiplier of risks and threats that could result in violent conflict. In 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the first time included a chapter on human security in one of its assessment reports (cited under General Overviews). The security and conflict implications of climate change have made it to the international policy agenda. The pathways from climate change to conflict are, however, indirect and highly complex. Global climate change has local effects in the form of changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, extreme events such as drought and flooding, and sea-level rise. Conflicts related to climate change may be violent or non-violent and occur on subnational, national, or regional scales. Intermediate variables between climate change and conflict may include altered availability of resources such as land and water, migration, displacement, decline or loss of livelihoods, and food insecurity. To have an overview of these linkages in northern Africa is particularly important as the region is characterized by both strong vulnerability to climate change and conflicts of varying intensities. This article first gives a general introduction to the topic of climate change and conflict (see General Overviews and Special Issues and Edited Volumes) before Fundamental Theories and Concepts and Critical Perspectives are addressed and Quantitative Studies and Qualitative Case Studies are described. Thereafter the focus is placed on linkages between climate change and conflict in the following countries: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, South Sudan and Sudan, and Tunisia. The final section of the article gives an overview of relevant Reports by Nongovernmental Organizations.

General Overviews

All works cited in this section (at least partly) cover Africa and explicitly or implicitly draw on theories on environment and conflict (see section Fundamental Theories and Concepts for more detail). One of the first articles on the security implications of climate change is Barnett 2003. Scheffran, et al. 2012 provides a more recent and concise introduction to linkages between climate change and violent conflict. Theisen, et al. 2013 goes into some more detail, particularly with respect to rainfall and temperature, natural disasters, sea-level rise and migration and their potential to aggravate conflict. Meierding 2013 points out that in studies on climate change and conflict, it is often unclear whether a relationship between the two variables is actually being tested. Adger, et al. 2014 focuses particularly on human security. Ide, et al. 2016 offers a useful table that lists studies claiming and rejecting links between climate change and conflict, structured along climate variables, freshwater, land, and natural disasters. Theisen 2017 provides the most recent overview on the topic. The methods used by researchers exploring interactions between climate change and conflict are discussed in Ide 2017.

  • Adger, W. N., J. M. Pulhin, and J. Barnett, et al. 2014. Human Security. In Climate change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by V. R. Barros, C. B. Field, and D. J. Dokken, et al., 755–791. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter on human security as part of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC.

  • Barnett, J. 2003. Security and climate change. Global Environmental Change, Part A: Human and Policy Dimensions 13.1: 7–17.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0959-3780(02)00080-8

    An innovative paper as it is one of the first ones to critically discuss the security implications of climate change. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Ide, T. 2017. Research methods for exploring the links between climate change and conflict. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 8.3: e456.

    Provides an overview of methods used in climate-conflict research. Suggestions are made on how methods can be combined and improved. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Ide, T., P. Michael Link, J. Scheffran, and J. Schilling. 2016. The climate-conflict nexus: Pathways, regional links, and case studies. In Handbook on sustainability transition and sustainable peace. Edited by G. H. Brauch, Ú. Oswald Spring, J. Grin, and J. Scheffran, 285–304. Cham: Springer International.

    Paper gives an overview of key linkages between climate and conflict, relevant literature and three case studies. One of the case studies is on environmental and conflict issues in the Nile River Basin. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Meierding, E. 2013. Climate change and conflict: Avoiding small talk about the weather. International Studies Review 15:185–203.

    DOI: 10.1111/misr.12030

    Based on a literature review, the article identifies key methodological and theoretical weaknesses of studies on the climate-conflict nexus. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Scheffran, J., M. Brzoska, J. Kominek, P. M. Link, and J. Schilling. 2012. Climate change and violent conflict. Science 336.6083: 869–871.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1221339

    Widely cited, this paper gives a concise introduction to the field. Includes a table with questions to explore the causes and effects of climate-conflict linkages. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Theisen, O. M. 2017. Climate change and violence: Insights from political science. Current Climate Change Reports 3.4: 210–221.

    DOI: 10.1007/s40641-017-0079-5

    After reviewing the relevant literature, the article calls for an increased focus on the political consequences of adaptation and mitigation.

  • Theisen, O. M., N. P. Gleditsch, and H. Buhaug. 2013. Is climate change a driver of armed conflict? Climatic Change 117.3: 613–625.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0649-4

    Literature review of studies on climate change and armed conflict, several of them on African countries. Identifies gaps in research and makes suggestions on how these can be reduced, for example, by using subnational conflict data. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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