Posted by: Home Strange Home | December 16, 2009

Global warming increases risk of civil war in Africa

Marshall Burke, a Research Associate at the Program on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, in conjunction with several other researchers from the University of California Berkeley, NYU, and Harvard, has recently published a journal article which predicts that climate change will worsen armed conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa in the future.

The projections are based on a historical analysis of the relationship between temperatures and conflict over the period 1981-2002 in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The study finds a statistically significant positive correlation between temperature and the incidence of civil conflict (defined as involving at least 1,000 battled-related deaths).  Warmer than average years experienced a 50% greater likelihood of civil conflict.   

This is consistent with previous research which has found a link between precipitation and conflict; wars are more likely to occur after rain failures and in drier years.  When precipitation is incorporated into Burke’s regression, the temperature effect on conflict remains robust. 

The climate-conflict relationship is not surprising, given the key role of agriculture in many African economies, the evidence that higher temperatures hamper agricultural productivity, and other research which indicates a causal link between poor economic growth and civil conflict (e.g. Collier).   With limited irrigation and crop varieties, poor farmers may be ill-equipped to respond to adverse climate shocks, hurting their livelihoods and incomes.  Burke et. al. call urgently for policy measures to protect the poor from these adverse climate shocks.

Source:  Stanford University Food Security and Environment.



  1. In response to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the Global Agricultural Development Initiative solicited commentary by leading agricultural development, food security, and climate change experts to provide expert analysis of the Conferences’s proceedings.

    Weigh in at

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