Environmental Science Climate Change and Conflict in Northern Africa
Janpeter Schilling, Lisa Krause
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 November 2019
  • 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.

Special Issues and Edited Volumes

The works cited in this section are journal articles of special issues and book chapters of edited volumes that focus on linkages between climatic and environmental changes on the one hand and conflict on the other. Nordås and Gleditsch 2007 includes a paper on the much-debated link between “climate change-induced” migration and violent conflict. Other papers correlate environmental and conflict variables on a global scale, and for sub-Saharan Africa and East Africa. The special issue on climate change and conflict appeared in the Journal of Peace Research in 2012 (Gleditsch 2012). It made a significant contribution to the then-young field of quantitative studies. Correlation analysis between environmental, conflict, development, and economic variables are conducted. Some of the papers find a link between climate change and conflict, while others do not. In Selby and Hoffmann 2014, eight research articles “rethink” climate change, conflict, and security. The achievement of this special issue is that it deconstructs the narratives of the climate-conflict nexus and problematizes the Oxford Bibliographies article “Securitization” of climate change. Discourse analysis is the main method used in this issue. The special issue Zimmerer 2014 focuses on the interactions between climate and environmental changes on the one hand and genocide on the other: the main method used here is a review of academic literature and publications by policymakers and nongovernmental organizations. In O’Loughlin 2014, several quantitative articles (many of them are discussed in the Quantitative Studies section) find mixed support for an impact of climate variables on conflict. Gemenne, et al. 2014 stresses the need for robust theories to explain “causality and associations” of the climate-conflict nexus. Brücher, et al. 2016 focuses on climate, land use, and conflict in Africa. In contrast to the other special issues, modeling approaches feature strongly in the issue. The edited volume Scheffran, et al. 2012 is particularly rich in local case studies. The editors of the book stress that there is no “automatic effect” of climate change on conflict. Climate change should rather be seen as a multiplier of existing risks for societal stability. Bob and Bronkhorst 2014 explores how adaptation to climate change in Africa can be done in a way that also takes the local conflict context into account. Mwiturubani and van Wyk 2010 offers a comprehensive collection on relevant articles on climate change and natural resources conflicts in Africa.

Fundamental Theories and Concepts

Research on the links between climate change and conflict strongly draws on the theories and concepts of environmental security. The discussion of the security implications of the environment started in the 1980s, and Dalby 2008 describes how the field of environmental security has developed since then. The most widely cited author in the field is Thomas Homer-Dixon who was among the first ones to systematically link conflict and violence to environmental factors. Homer-Dixon 1994 argues that violent conflict is caused by resource scarcity which is in turn a result of environmental degradation, population growth and unequal resource distribution. Particularly Homer-Dixon 1994 but also Bächler 1999 and Kahl 2006 have been widely criticized for being neo-Malthusian and for drawing simplified links between environmental factors and the occurrence of violent conflict. Political ecology studies, most prominently Peluso and Watts 2001, have stressed that the broader social and political context needs to be considered when analyzing conflicts over resources. Barnett 2000 (cited under the Critical Perspectives section) and Dalby 2002 have further advanced the criticism and the environmental security field in general. Most conceptual frameworks on climate change and conflict have integrated and advanced elements of environmental security. One of the first and widely used frameworks is Barnett and Adger 2007. The authors connect climate change, human security, and violent conflict through the intermediate concepts and variables of vulnerability, poverty, state weakness, and migration. Scheffran, et al. 2012 is a comprehensive framework that draws on game theory. The authors analyze how climate change (e.g., reduced precipitation) places stress on natural resources (e.g., soil), what impacts this has on the human security (e.g., food security) of the affected community and how the community responds (conflict or cooperation). This pathway depends on the community’s vulnerability and resilience that have been identified as key concepts in the research on climate change and conflict. A useful overview of vulnerability in Africa is Niang, et al. 2014. Busby, et al. 2014 is a vulnerability assessment of Africa based on georeferenced data. Schilling, et al. 2017 discusses the strengths and weaknesses of resilience and environmental security and the potential to combine them.

  • Bächler, G. 1999. Environmental degradation in the south as a cause of armed conflict. In Environmental change and security: A European perspective. Edited by A. Carius, and K. M. Lietzmann, 107–130. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-60229-0_7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues for the existence of environmentally caused armed conflict in less developed regions of the world but at the same time warns against apocalyptic scenarios and alarmism. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Barnett, J., and W. N. Adger. 2007. Climate change, human security and violent conflict. Political Geography 26.6: 639–655.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2007.03.003Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides a useful framework to understand relations between climate change and conflict. Particular attention is paid to the connections to human security and vulnerability.

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  • Busby, J. W., T. G. Smith, and N. Krishnan. 2014. Climate security vulnerability in Africa mapping 3.0. Political Geography 43:51–67.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2014.10.005Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A georeferenced assessment of Africa with the aim to identify hotspots of vulnerability that is a composed index of (1) physical exposure to climate change, (2) population density, (3) household and community resilience, and (4) governance and political violence. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Dalby, S. 2002. Environmental security. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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    Approaches environmental security mainly with a geopolitical perspective. It encourages the reader to rethink the concepts of environment and security and how they are used.

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  • Dalby, S. 2008. Security and environment linkages revisited. In Globalization and environmental challenges. Edited by H. G. Brauch, Ú. O. Spring, C. Mesjasz, et al., 165–172. Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

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    A useful literature review that describes the different stages of the environment security field. The paper shows a shift of the research focus from resources scarcity to human security. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Homer-Dixon, T. 1994. Environmental scarcities and violent conflict—evidence from cases. International Security 19.1: 5–40.

    DOI: 10.2307/2539147Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Widely cited and controversial paper that discusses several hypotheses connecting environmental scarcity and violent conflict. Introduces a model and key concepts to understand environment-conflict linkages. Finds that resource scarcity plays a key role in conflicts when combined with unequal resource access and population growth.

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  • Kahl, C. 2006. States, scarcity, and civil strife in the developing world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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    Influential and controversial book that argues that demographic and environmental stresses are key drivers of instability and conflict.

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  • Niang, I., O. C. Ruppel, M. A. Abdrabo, et al. 2014. Africa. 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., 1199–1265. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press.

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    Chapter of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, discussing impacts of adaptation and vulnerability to climate change in Africa. Includes a brief section on violent conflicts.

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  • Peluso, N. L., and M. Watts. 2001. Violent environments. In Violent environments. Edited by N. L. Peluso and M. Watts, 3–38. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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    Chapter rejects the conclusions drawn in Homer-Dixon 1994. Authors warn against simplifications and assumptions of direct causality between environmental scarcity and violence. Stresses the importance of institutions and the broader social and political context in conflicts over resources.

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  • Scheffran, J., P. M. Link, and J. Schilling. 2012. Theories and models of climate-security interaction: Framework and application to a climate hot spot in North Africa. In Climate change, human security and violent conflict: Challenges for societal stability. Edited by Scheffran, J., M. Brzoska, H. G. Brauch, P. M. Link, and J. Schilling, 91–131. Berlin: Springer.

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    Develops a comprehensive framework and vocabulary to analyze linkages between climate change and conflict. Establishes the bases for an agent-based modeling approach to environment and conflict issues. Illustrates some of the climate-conflict linkages with examples from northern Africa. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Schilling, J., S. Nash, T. Ide, J. Scheffran, R. Froese, and P. von Prondzinski. 2017. Resilience and environmental security: Towards joint application in peacebuilding. Global Change, Peace and Security 29.2: 107–127.

    DOI: 10.1080/14781158.2017.1305347Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides an overview of strengths and weaknesses of resilience and environmental security. Develops a framework to combine the two concepts with the aim to apply them jointly in peacebuilding projects. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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Critical Perspectives

Barnett 2000 and Barnett 2009 point out that the claims by the organizations portraying climate change as a security risk are based on limited evidence. Brzoska 2009 raises the same criticism while adding that securitization of climate change is mainly based on “ad hoc theories.” Hartmann 2010 expands the criticism of the securitization of climate change to “climate refugees.” Hartmann shows how some organizations in developed countries, primarily the United States, draw on “old colonial stereotypes” to portray the Third World as a destructive force against which the First World should take protective measures. Hartmann 2014 further elaborates on her argument with a focus on population growth as a key element of the Malthusian narrative on “climate conflicts.” Verhoeven 2014 historicizes, politicizes, and criticizes the discourse on climate-induced insecurity in Africa. A related critique of the discussion on environmental security in Sudan and South Sudan can be found in Selby and Hoffmann 2014. Rather than focusing on policy-oriented reports, Ide 2016 chooses school textbooks as the basis for his analysis to find that the risk of environmental conflicts is often overstated and people from the Global South are stereotyped as “irresponsible and threatening”. Under critical perspectives one should also point to the critical exchange between Buhaug, et al. 2014 and Hsiang, et al. 2014 over the validity of each other’s research findings (see also Quantitative Studies section).

Quantitative Studies

Quantitative studies, sometimes called large-n studies, cover several countries or world regions and correlate climatic and environmental variables with conflict variables. To have a sufficient database, the period of quantitative studies usually covers several decades. Since there are as of this writing no quantitative studies available focusing specifically on northern Africa, this section includes publications on Sub-Saharan Africa and global studies. The following two sections then summarize the findings on specific countries and on drought. Scheffran, et al. 2012 is an overview of results by studies published between 2004 and 2012. The authors conclude that for recent periods the link between climate change and violent conflict is “more ambiguous” than for historical periods. Similar approaches in Hsiang, et al. 2013 and Hsiang and Burke 2014, which structure their reviews along world regions, find stronger links between climatic variables and conflict outcomes. The most controversial study in this field is Burke, et al. 2009. The study identifies a strong effect of increasing temperatures on civil war. This result and the study overall have been criticized, most strongly by Buhaug 2010, which argues that uncommon model specifications were used and that the robustness of the results by Burke, et al. 2009 disappears when more recent data is used. Raleigh and Urdal 2007 was one of the first to use georeferenced data to explore linkages between the environment and conflict on a sub-national level. Hendrix and Salehyan 2012 finds that extremes in precipitation, particularly high rainfall, aggravates conflicts in Africa. A global study, Bergholt and Lujala 2012, finds no evidence that natural disasters increase the risk of armed conflict. Raleigh, et al. 2015 concludes that extreme dry conditions in Africa are associated with an increased frequency of conflict and that reduced rainfall indirectly affects the conflict risk through food prices. Similarly, Exenberger and Pondorfer 2014 identifies a complex and nonlinear relationship between food security and violence. Schleussner, et al. 2016 finds that climate-related disasters increase the risk of armed conflict in ethnically fractionalized countries.

National Quantitative Studies

Most quantitative studies with a focus on a particular country analyze climate and conflict dynamics in (South) Sudan or Kenya. The results in Maystadt, et al. 2015 suggest that temperature anomalies strongly increase conflict risks in Sudan and South Sudan. De Juan 2015 focuses particularly on the early phase of the civil war between 2003 and 2005 to conclude that the intensity and likelihood of violence is higher in areas with better availability of water and vegetation as compared to areas where resources are sparse or scarce. In Kenya several scholars have paid attention to violent livestock thefts (called “raids”) between different nomadic pastoral groups. Witsenburg and Adano 2009 analyzes data on raids and precipitation data for northern Kenya to find that compared to the dry period, the number of raids triples during the rainy seasons when more pasture and water resources are available. The authors give practical reasons for this connection. During the rainy season the stolen animals are healthier and their own herds need less attention, which enables pastoralists to conduct raids. Findings in Ember, et al. 2012 suggest the opposite and find that drier months and drought years have higher intensities of livestock raids. During drought and dry periods, pastoralists have to migrate further to find pasture and water. This brings them closer to the territory of hostile groups and hence increases the likelihood of violence. Schilling, et al. 2014 argues that raids are driven by a combination of resource scarcity and resource abundance. Raleigh and Kniveton 2012 argues in a similar vein, finding that communal or rebel conflict events in several East African countries increase during periods of extreme rainfall variation. The violence during the dry periods is explained by a resource scarcity argument, while the violence during heavy rainfall events is connected to rent-seeking motivation and the recruitment of people to participate in violence.

Quantitative Studies on Drought

Within the quantitative literature, the role of drought has received particular attention. Based on the period from 1989 to 2008, von Uexkull 2014 finds that areas in Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to see civil conflict when they experience sustained droughts or depend on rainfed agriculture. Von Uexkull argues that after a drought people are more likely to partake in a rebellion in order to improve their economic situation or food security. This result has only in parts been confirmed by von Uexkull, et al. 2016. The study finds that under most conditions, drought has little effect on the short-term risk of a violent rebellion. However, when a drought occurs in an agriculturally dependent area where the population is both poor and politically excluded the likelihood of sustained violence increases. The results of Detges 2017 point in a similar direction. Only when drought is combined with “unfavourable social and political conditions” does the risk of violence and rebellion increase. The author specifies these conditions as high degree of political marginalization and poor citizen-government relations. This is because marginalized and disadvantaged populations are thought to be more vulnerable to droughts and more likely to blame their government for losses caused by drought. This, in turn, serves as a breeding ground for more radical attitudes and even violence against the government. Detges 2016 pays particular attention to the role of infrastructure when analyzing drought-conflict relations. According to the study, poor road infrastructure in combination with drought increases the risk of civil conflict events while the risk of violence between communities is increased by a lack of communal access to improved water infrastructure.

Qualitative Case Studies

The works cited in this section are based on qualitative field research such as interviews and focus group discussion or in-depth literature reviews. Most papers focus on climate change and conflict issues in one country while some papers analyze conflicts across borders or compare countries. Schilling, et al. 2012 provides a comparative assessment of vulnerability in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. The paper further explores the conflict implications of climate change in these countries. Ide 2015 applies to determine why conflicts over scarce resources turn violent. The study includes twenty cases, two of them being located in northern Africa. Based on a literature review, Seter, et al. 2016 analyzes eleven cases of conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, and among pastoralists in western Africa and East Africa. In four cases drought was found to be a contributing factor to conflict, while in none of the eleven cases, resource scarcity was identified as the most important cause of conflict. For country-specific case studies see sections on Mali, Sudan and South Sudan, Niger, Chad, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Algeria. For some of these countries few or no studies exist that specifically focus on linkages between climate change and conflict. In these cases, studies on intermediate variables, such as climate vulnerability are presented. Significantly more publications are available on Sudan, South Sudan, and Mali in comparison to the other countries.

  • Ide, T. 2015. Why do conflicts over scarce renewable resources turn violent? A qualitative comparative analysis. Global Environmental Change 33.0: 61–70.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.04.008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Study of twenty cases of conflicts over scarce resources to explore why they turn violent. Includes two cases from northern Africa. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Schilling, J., K. P. Freier, E. Hertig, and J. Scheffran. 2012. Climate change, vulnerability and Adaptation in North Africa with focus on Morocco. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 156.0: 12–26.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2012.04.021Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Comprehensive assessment of vulnerability, adaptation, and associated conflict risks in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. Combines climate modeling with literature review, analysis of socioeconomic and conflict data and field research conducted in Morocco. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Seter, H., O. M. Theisen, and J. Schilling. 2016. All about water and land? Resource-related conflicts in East and West Africa revisited. GeoJournal 2016:1–19.

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    This literature-based paper explores the causes of conflicts between pastoralists and farmers and among pastoralists. Two of the analyzed conflict cases are from Mali. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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Sahnounea, et al. 2013 discusses the vulnerability of Algeria to climate change as well as mitigation and adaptation strategies. The study finds decreasing but more intense rainfall, more frequent and longer drought events, and an increasing temperature trend. To mitigate negative effects, the authors emphasize the importance of maintaining water and soil resources and a sustainable development. Hirche, et al. 2011 also finds more severe droughts and an increase in livestock numbers in the southwestern Algerian steppe. This led to the ongoing desertification processes and a decrease of the vegetation cover and fodder potential of the Algerian steppe. The effects of the reduced rainfall on the groundwater resources in the Cheliff-Zahrez basin of Algeria is described in Meddi and Boucefiane 2015. Due to the decreasing dam water availability, the groundwater is already overexploited and in both scenarios (2020 and 2050) the groundwater potential will be reduced. Achite and Ouillon 2016 takes a detailed look at the surface waters of Wadi Abd, which is a part of the Cheliff Basin. The hydrology of the river changed from perennial to intermittent and the variation of discharges increases. Because of higher evaporation rates, earlier floods in the warmer season have also negative effects on the groundwater recharge. As described by Aoun-Sebaiti, et al. 2014, increasing water scarcity is also an important issue in the Seybouse River basin in East Algeria. The main scarcity drivers will be the climatic variability and socioeconomic factors, such as population growth and an expansion of the agricultural and industrial sectors. Increased drought cycles, land use change, population growth, and overgrazing are also drivers of desertification processes in semi-arid lands, as shown by Ahmed, et al. 2015. The authors identify areas where the steppe is vulnerable to land use change and desertification. In Chourghal, et al. 2016 the effects of climate change on wheat production as the key cash crop are discussed.


The most compact overview of 21st-century climate, environmental change, and food security in Chad, is given by Funk, et al. 2012. The authors find that an overall temperature increase and a decrease in summer precipitation, combined with stagnating crop yields and strong population growth, could lead to a reduction in per capita cereal production in Chad. Okonkwoa, et al. 2013 takes a detailed look at droughts and rainfall characteristic in the Lake Chad Basin. The authors identify a greening of the Sahel part and a high drought index for the northern parts of the basin. Similarly, Lemoalle, et al. 2012 finds this region to be especially vulnerable because of increasing climate variability and uncertain climate conditions. The authors further stress the importance of Lake Chad as a key water resource in the West African Sahel during drought periods. Okpara, et al. 2015 examines the environment-vulnerability-security-nexus and argues that conflicts can only develop in regions where a multitude of challenges (including resource scarcity) exists. Due to the variety of the challenges, regions with the same environmental conditions can develop different water-to-conflict pathways. The authors explain how the receding of Lake Chad leads to conflicts between and within the bordering states, especially during drought periods. Thiombiano and Tourino-Soto 2007 finds that land degradation is particularly pronounced in the dry areas of the Nile, Niger, and Lake Chad Basin. About 46 percent of the basin surface is affected by land degradation. In the agro-ecological zones the wind and water erosion effects will further increase. Carmody 2009 does not focus on climate change, but it explains how the resource extraction of developed countries leads to conflicts in Africa. For example, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline strengthened the authoritarian state in Chad and fueled multi-scalar and transborder conflicts between the Chinese-influenced Sudan and the Western-influenced Chad.


According to Abouelfadl and El-Lithy 2014 climate change will induce more frequent extreme weather events, sea-level rise, water shortage, and flooding in Egypt. Especially the densely populated coastal area and the agriculturally used Nile Delta are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Wahabzada, et al. 2016 focuses on the connection between natural resources and violent conflicts in Egypt. On the national level the two variables do not appear to be correlated except on a subnational level, specifically in the Shamal Sina (Northern Sinai) and the Al Qahirah (Cairo) governorates, positive correlations exist. Swain 2011 examines the Nile Basin. He emphasizes that basin-wide collaborations are already under stress and will be threatened by long-term climate change and geopolitical, large-scale water development projects. One project is analyzed by Salman 2016, which examines the reaction of Egypt to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project. Cascão and Nicol 2016 focuses also on GERD and new water cooperation forms that have emerged from this dam project. In ElGanzori 2012 several risks of climate change for the water sector of Egypt are described in detail. A reduced flow and increasing temperatures can be expected for the Nile Basin. This will likely have a negative effect on agricultural production, which is critical to feed the rapidly growing population in Egypt. In Nour El-Din 2013, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in Egypt examines climate change risks and adaptation strategies for Egypt. Drought and water scarcity, high water consumption, sea-level rise and increased floods are presented as the main climate change risks. Ayoub 2012 compares the adaptation and mitigation measures in four Arab countries that face the challenges of sea-level rise and water scarcity. The lack of adaptation should be addressed by building research capacity and a collaborative framework between countries in the Arab world. Furthermore, Ullah 2012 requests a redefinition of refugees that should include also climate refugees, as well as the reinforcement and modification of migrant infrastructure. Femia, et al. 2014 analyzes different underlying processes of the uprisings in Syria and Egypt and identifies the following factors: the extreme and severe drought events in the Mediterranean region between 2007 and 2012, the increasing dependence on food imports, government failures, and mismanagement of resources. Werrell, et al. 2015 identifies similar processes and argues that predictive tools measuring state fragility should include natural resource dynamics. The mentioned high dependency on food imports is the main topic in Sternberg 2013. Global natural hazards, especially droughts indirect influence the food security and political stability of different countries.


For Libya, there are only a few case studies that are directly or indirectly connected to climate change and conflict. Ramali and Holloway 2012 describes the background of emerging water-land-use conflicts in Libya. They stress the lack of water management, both before and after recent conflicts, as the main reason for the excessive and uncontrolled water use of farmers. For Byrnes 2013 the “Global Water Crisis” plays a key role in the escalation of violence in the world. In Libya the strain on the water resource could lead to civil unrest. Byrnes discusses a dam and desalination plants to stress that these measures could also increase the vulnerability of the country. Lacher, et al. 2013 examines conflicts and conflict actors in Libya after the revolution. The paper is not linked to climate change, but it shows the already complex and vulnerable political and economic system of Libya.


Butt, et al. 2005 does not consider conflict, but it is useful to understand the impacts of climate change on food security, which in turn is a key intermediate variable between climate change and conflict. The results of the study suggest a mainly negative effect of climate change on crop yields, a negative effect on forage yields and livestock animal weight, and a doubling of the percentage of the population at risk of hunger (from 34% to between 64% and 72%). Benjaminsen 2008 explores the role of drought and resource scarcity in the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali. Benjaminsen finds that because of the drought in Mali, young men migrated to Algeria and Libya, where their feeling of being marginalized by the Malian state grew and revolutionary discourses existed. The frustration of the Tuareg with the central government was further aggravated by its embezzlement of drought relief funds. Overall, the author concludes that the drought played a role in the rebellion but that resource scarcity related to the drought was not a key driver of the rebellion. Based on a literature review, Schilling, et al. 2010 states climate change does play a role in conflicts between herders and farmers in Mali, but more research is needed to evaluate the impact of climatic variables on conflicts more precisely. In a study carried out in central Mali, Benjaminsen, et al. 2012 finds that climate variability is not an important driver of land-use conflicts between farmers and herders. A similar conclusion is offered by Goulden and Few 2011 (cited under Reports by Nongovernmental Organizations), which draws on two case studies from central and southern Mali. The authors cannot identify a direct impact of climate stresses on conflicts but rather through pressures on land, water, and consequently food that could escalate low-intensity conflicts.


Schilling, et al. 2012 (under Qualitative Case Studies) finds Morocco, among the other compared countries Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, will be most affected by climate change, due to the importance of the rain-fed agricultural sector, its current policy situation, and the limited adaptive capacity. Reduced food security could contribute to conflicts. Rochdane, et al. 2014 also focuses on the vulnerability to climate change and on food security in Morocco. In combination with satellite data and two IPCC scenarios, they project an increase in food net primary production demand and a decreasing supply by 2025. The authors expect an increased vulnerability for food and wood production. Tekken, et al. 2013 focuses on climate change and water demand of the tourism sector in northeastern Morocco. Climate change is projected to result in a longer summer dry season and declining annual precipitation. For sustainable tourism and economic development a modified water management is needed as the current water scarcity is caused by humans, but it can be aggravated by climate change. Studies for vulnerability of southern Morocco exist as well. For example, Karmaoui, et al. 2014 analyzes that oasitic ecosystems of the Middle Draa Valley are vulnerable to climate change, and due to the strong agricultural use and the high poverty rate, they are already overexploited. Another paper on southern Morocco is Houdret 2012. Houdret emphasizes that water conflicts and the overuse of water are often politically induced to increase the power of the economic elites in Morocco’s Souss Valley. Negative impacts on the water level and the remaining farmers are the consequence. Further, mainly four different types of conflicts are analyzed: conflicts over drinking water, conflicts over irrigation water between small-scale and large-scale farmers, conflicts between drinking- and irrigation-water users, and conflicts between farmers and the irrigation authority. Similarly, AbuZeid and Abdel-Meguid 2006 identifies water scarcity both in terms of quality and quality as a source of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. Parish and Funnell 1999 argues that besides climate change, socioeconomic changes are a key driver of resource conflicts in the Moroccan High Atlas. Climate adaptation options for the semi-arid Morocco region are discussed in Freier, et al. 2014. Mobile pastoralism in particular is much less vulnerable to droughts compared to sedentary pastoralism. The promotion of the first variant could increase the resilience of pastoralists. In addition, Sow, et al. 2015 identifies the advantages of mixed migration flows and social networks, which can increase resilience and adaptation. The authors focus particularly on the role of institutions.


Oguntunde and Abiodun 2013 does not consider conflicts, but it analyzes the impacts of climate change on the hydro-climatology of the Niger River Basin, which is crucial for the socioeconomic stability of the five adjacent river states: Guinea, Mali, Niger, Benin, and Nigeria. The authors project a dryer rainy season and a wetter dry season. These changes affect the water availability in the basin which in turn can lead to a reduction in the production of rain-fed crops and hence food security. Mertz, et al. 2016 analyzes conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in Sahel to find that these are mainly driven by competition over resources and crop damage by livestock, rather than climatic changes associated with global climate change. McKune and Silva 2013 argues that the combination of globalization and climate change contributes to political violence, pastoral vulnerability, and food insecurity in Niger. Snorek, et al. 2014 exemplifies divergent adaptation strategies to climate variability for pastoralists and farmers in Niger, which have the potential to increase the pastoral adaptation and mobility again, decrease the conflicts between the two actors, and promote overall resilience. Snorek and colleagues emphasize corruption and the absence of a structured governance as the main reasons for the resource conflicts. Further, Turner 2004 explains the political ecology and the dimensions of farmer-herder conflicts. He warns against simplifying the situation, which could unintentionally worsen it. Jebb, et al. 2008 describes various human insecurities and actors in the Sahel, which must be understood before effective policy can be implemented.

  • Jebb, C. C. R., C. L. J. Hummel, L. C. L. Rios, and L. C. M. A. Abb. 2008. Human and environmental security in the Sahel. In Environmental change and human security: Recognizing and acting on hazard impacts. Edited by P. H. Liotta, D. A. Mouat, W. G. Kepner, and J. Lancaster, 341–392. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

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    To point out the linkages between environment and human survival, this fifty-two-page report describes different forms of insecurities and the actors of the security paradigm. A focus is placed on the analysis of insecurities in Niger and Chad as an example for the Sahel. On the basis of the case study, the paper makes suggestions for political solutions. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • McKune, S. L., and J. A. Silva. 2013. Pastoralists under pressure: Double exposure to economic and environmental change in Niger. Journal of Development Studies 49.12: 1711–1727.

    DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2013.822067Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Exemplifies the connection between political violence, pastoral vulnerability, and food insecurity using a double exposure framework. A particular focus is placed on household coping strategies during food crises in the pastoral and agro-pastoral zones of Niger. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Mertz, O., K. Rasmussen, and L. V. Rasmussen. 2016. Weather and resource information as tools for dealing with farmer–pastoralist conflicts in the Sahel. Earth System Dynamics 7.4: 969–976.

    DOI: 10.5194/esd-7-969-2016Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Mainly based on publicly accessible data and on a small field survey in Niger, this study comprehensively describes the influence of weather and resource information and their communication on the level and severity of conflicts between farmers and pastoralists in the Sahel.

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  • Oguntunde, P. G., and B. J. Abiodun. 2013. The impact of climate change on the Niger River Basin hydroclimatology, West Africa. Climate Dynamics 40.1–2: 81–94.

    DOI: 10.1007/s00382-012-1498-6Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With regional climate models for the present and the future, this paper quantifies the impacts of climate change on the hydrology of the Niger River Basin. The maps and graphics of the study show seasonal changes in the hydro-climatology of the basin as well as the moisture recycling ratio. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Snorek, J., F. G. Renaud, and J. Kloos. 2014. Divergent adaptation to climate variability: A case study of pastoral and agricultural societies in Niger. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 29:371–386.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.06.014Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the conflicts of Niger in context of divergent adaptation. The analysis is based on field studies at three different locations in South West Niger, where pastoral and agricultural groups are living. In particular, adaptive mechanisms and responses are described. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Turner, M. D. 2004. Political ecology and the moral dimensions of ‘resource conflicts’: The case of farmer-herder conflicts in the Sahel. Political Geography 23.7: 863–889.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2004.05.009Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With a detailed look at farmer-herder conflicts in Mali and Niger, as well as on researcher-subject induced portrayals of conflicts, the paper explains the complexity and moral dimensions of resource-related disputes. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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South Sudan and Sudan

The most comprehensive assessment of environmental and conflict issues is a 358-page report, UNEP 2007. Based on literature review, assessment of satellite images, and local interviews, the UNEP concludes that land degradation is not a dominant cause of local conflicts but particularly in the northern rangelands of the Sahel belt, degradation and shrinkage of land is and will increasingly become a critical issue in the Darfur crisis. Based on a discourse analysis, Verhoeven 2011 notes the existence of important links between climatic conditions and (in-)security in Sudan, but the author rejects Neo-Malthusian narratives of resource scarcity and conflict. Pantuliano 2010 and Chavunduka and Bromley 2011 provide insights into the interaction between oil exploration, climate change, land, boundaries, and conflict in Sudan. The paper by Chavunduka and Bromley suggests that a decline in rainfall in northern Kordofan has pushed nomadic groups to migrate to Southern Kordofan where they engage in conflict with settled farmers. Similar arguments for a link between dry conditions, migration of pastoralists and conflict in the receiving area are made in Leff 2009, which studied interpastoral conflicts in the border region of southern Sudan, northwestern Kenya and northeastern Uganda. Bronkhorst 2011 provides some entry points for conflict resolution in Sudan and South Sudan while paying particular attention to the role of nongovernmental organizations. In Scheffran, et al. 2014, climatic changes and resource scarcity are described as violence multipliers that among other factors such as socioeconomic marginalization, drive a spiral of violence in Sudan and South Sudan. Similarly, Bronkhorst 2014 argued that conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in southern Kordofan are also driven by resource scarcity, but this is mainly caused by the introduction of legislation on land and mechanized farming rather than climate change. Further, traditional institutions of resource governance have been weakened by policies of the central government. For a quantitative analysis of climatic and conflict data in Sudan and South Sudan see Maystadt, et al. 2015, cited under National Quantitative Studies.


The most comprehensive report about climate change impacts on Tunisia is Verner 2013, published by the World Bank. It shows how climate change can increase the already high unemployment and poverty rate and thereby induce political instability and food insecurity. In order to prevent this, the report gives recommendations for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Radhouane 2013 also takes a detailed look at climate change impacts on Tunisia with a particular focus on water resources and arable cropland. The increasing temperature, drought intensity, and land degradation risk as well as sea-level rise, decline of water resources, and loss of arable land all negatively influence tourism and agriculture as the main economic sectors of Tunisia. Mansour and Hachicha 2014 further describes the vulnerability of the Tunisian agricultural sector to climate change. The authors predict water conflicts in the future when agricultural modifications to conserve water are not realized. Zouabi and Peridy 2015 is a paper about effects of climate and water stocking in Tunisian agriculture. The study also emphasizes the strong climate dependency of the agricultural sector and make suggestions on how a sustainable agriculture growth in Tunisia can be achieved. Mougou, et al. 2010 focuses on climate change and agricultural vulnerability, especially of rain-fed wheat, which is the staple food for many people in central Tunisia. Decreasing water resources can lead to social instability and hamper socioeconomic development. To prevent this, the authors suggest more effective water management strategies. Omrani and Burger 2012 discusses water resource management in southern Tunisia. The agricultural (oasis) production that plays a key role in economic development is highly vulnerable to climate change. Without an increase in water efficiency, the authors foresee decreasing water availability and negative impacts on food security.

  • Mansour, M., and M. Hachicha. 2014. The vulnerability of Tunisian agriculture to climate change. In Emerging technologies and management of crop stress tolerance: A sustainable approach. Vol. 2. Edited by P. Ahmad, and S. Rasool, 485–500. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

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    This chapter is part of a detailed report on crop stress tolerance. It demonstrates the vulnerability of different agricultural regions in Tunisia. Local studies of semi-arid and coastal regions from other authors are summarized to point out the specific vulnerabilities of different regions. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Mougou, R., M. Mansour, A. Iglesias, R. Z. Chebbi, and A. Battaglini. 2010. Climate change and agricultural vulnerability: A case study of rain-fed wheat in Kairouan, central Tunisia. Regional Environmental Change 11.1: 137–142.

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    Article about possible impacts of climate change on rain-fed wheat production in Tunisia. The core of the study is the correlation analysis of climate data and wheat yields in the Kairouan region of central Tunisia. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Omrani, N., and D. Burger. 2012. Water management issues in southern Tunisia under a climate change context. In Climate change and the sustainable use of water resources: Part of the series Climate Change Management. Edited by W. L. Filho, 225–235. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-22266-5_14Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focuses on the water shortage context in arid, southern Tunisian oases. It examines the current socioeconomic conditions and the technical constraints of new water management strategies. The chapter offers possible water saving options to cope with climate change. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Radhouane, L. 2013. Climate change impacts on North African countries and on some Tunisian economic sectors. Journal of Agriculture and Environment for International Development – JAEID 107.1: 101–113.

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    Presents and discusses current climate change impacts and the issue of water scarcity in North Africa. One section outlines the climate impacts on water resources and the agriculture sector in Tunisia. Further the paper suggests (economic) adaption strategies to cope with climate change impacts.

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  • Verner, D., ed. 2013. Tunisia in a changing climate. Assessment and actions for increased resilience and development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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    This 220-page report by the World Bank discusses in detail different aspects of resilience and developments of Tunisia under a changing climate. It addresses different forms of climate change impacts and socioeconomic effects in central and southern Tunisia. Climate policy responses and recommendations for actions in Tunisia are given.

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  • Zouabi, O., and N. Peridy. 2015. Direct and indirect effects of climate on agriculture: An application of a spatial panel data analysis to Tunisia. Climatic Change 133.2: 301–320.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1458-3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this article the role of climate for the different crop productions in the Tunisian agricultural sector are examined. Climate impacts on irrigated and non-irrigated products such as tomatoes, citrus fruit, olives, potatoes, palm trees, and cereals are analyzed. Political implications for a sustainable agricultural production growth are given. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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Reports by Nongovernmental Organizations

Overview reports on climate change and conflict have also been written by nongovernmental organizations. Smith and Vivekananda 2007 was one of the first reports. Based on several short case studies, this report gives recommendations on how fragile states can address climate change. The German Advisory Council on Global Change 2007 report offers a comprehensive assessment of security risks associated with climate change. The report provides an overview of the different perspectives on environment and conflict, conflict constellations, and regional assessments of hotspot areas. Probably the most controversial report is CNA 2007. Several scholars cited in the Critical Perspectives section have criticized the report for securitizing climate change—for instance, to justify military interventions in developing countries. Levine, et al. 2014 stresses the role and importance of politics in managing the risks of climate change and strengthening the resilience to it. Rüttinger, et al. 2015 is on climate and conflict issues and written for a policy audience, particularly the G7 member states. Similar to the other reports, Rüttinger, et al. 2015 emphasizes the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support states facing the double burden of climate change and violent conflict. The novelty of Mobjörk, et al. 2016 is that it reviews the responses of policy organizations to climate-related security risks. The study particularly stresses the importance of long-term thinking in dealing with climate change. Detges 2017 summarizes the quantitative literature in the field and concludes that results remain ambiguous and warns against a misinterpretation of quantitative studies finding a link between climate and conflict variables.

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