Climate and Darfur

Ban Ki Moon has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post linking the calamity in Darfur to climate change:

Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand — an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.

Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail. According to U.N. statistics, average precipitation has declined some 40 percent since the early 1980s. Scientists at first considered this to be an unfortunate quirk of nature. But subsequent investigation found that it coincided with a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean, disrupting seasonal monsoons. This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming.

(Hat tip Belshaw.)

This is an interesting argument well engaged, but at this point is not at all a settled point. I was reading an article this morning in the June 2 New Scientist about some folks looking at the climate-conflict link, which had this to say:

Marc Levy at Columbia University in New York, who is working with the ICG, is one of the few researchers who have been able to support these speculations with data. In a forthcoming paper, he and colleagues combine databases on civil wars and water availability to show that when rainfall is significantly below normal, the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles in the following year.

So there appears to be some data to support the narrower point of a link between climate variability and bad shit happening, which seems to me unsurprising. But then….

“Research has not succeeded in establishing robust, systematic connections between climate and conflict,” says Halvard Buhaug of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway. With the connection still under debate, it may be too early to talk about climate change wars. “So far, climate change has not been powerful enough to be the main driver of conflict,” says Jack Goldstone at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “Drought was a contributory factor in Darfur, not the main cause.”


  1. When Kevin Trenberth, of NCAR, testified before Congress earlier this year he was asked about areas of the world where the effects of climate change have been seen and are expected to be irreversible. He cited sub-Saharan Africa. The point being, this drought/climate change connection is well-accepted among experts.

    Was the drought the sole cause of the Darfus calamity? Of course not. But in discussions of Darfus, should we talk about the ecological cause as well as the social and political cause? Surely.

  2. Pingback: jfleck at inkstain » Blog Archive » Climate, Population, Darfur

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