Progress Thus Far
Thus far we conducted a proof-of-concept case study in Syria. Our analysis showed that, within a given country at risk of sociopolitical instability and conflict such as Syria, it is possible to create models predicting risk of climate-induced migration, protest, and related violence more precisely, down to the city level, and with higher predictive power than enabled by most publicly available research.1 Additionally, for hotspots where protest or political violence occurred, we were able to accurately determine whether direct climate impacts or resulting migration had played a causal role in sparking the violence. To do so, our study used a cluster analysis of available satellite data on environmental and demographic factors, followed by causal mediation analysis on the impact of climate-induced drought on protest, mediated by migration. Our study’s findings represent a significant positive step in conflict early prediction and prevention.
Comparison with Current Research and Early Warning Systems
For comparison, a handful of recent studies in various African countries have achieved results relating climatic factors to conflict with a similar level of granularity; our study achieved a higher spatial resolution than all but one of these analyses.13 If we are able to build on existing conflict research to predict climate related socio-political instability and violence at a global scale, we would be, to the best of our knowledge, the first to have done so. In the area of early warning systems, the Pentagon’s recently re-classified Worldwide Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (W-ICEWS) uses compilations of news reports to predict global conflict incidents with over 80% accuracy.14 Because of its reliance on news reports, however, the system does not appear to enable users to determine whether predicted conflicts are likely to be significantly sparked by climate impacts or to do so with enough lead time (on the order of 5-10 years) to determine in which locations targeted environmental peacebuilding work will be most critical.
According to a 2012 study by the UNEP, the types of early warning systems required to target environmental peacebuilding work, in particular, those for creeping hazards such as drought, are the least developed of all types of early warning systems, and only a few such national and regional systems exist worldwide.11 The most reliable global early warning system around drought impacts is the UNFAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS). This is the system that helped trigger investigations into the impact of drought in Syria; however, it was not able on its own to predict links between early drought and later unrest at the city or subdistrict level.1
Proposed Intervention Strategies
In addition to predicting locations in which climate impacts are likely to lead to conflict, we have brought together research from other organizations that has helped to determine the most impactful and cost-effective interventions in the intersection of GHG mitigation and conflict prevention. Notable among these are several of the top ten most cost effective GHG mitigation methods described by the 2017 Drawdown report:5
- Regenerative agriculture and silvopasture sequester up to 60 tons of CO2 per acre while improving soil quality and agricultural output, reducing the need for water, and combatting desertification. A case study involving similar methods in Afghanistan found that they reduced opium trade by enabling farmers to grow alternative low-water high-income crops, reduced terrorism, and ultimately enabled post-conflict resettlement of the areas in which they were implemented.
- In severely water-stressed and conflict-vulnerable locations, phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure and replacing it with distributed renewable energy generation saves critical water resources, reduces the vulnerability of energy infrastructure to conflict-related damages, and can contribute to income generation and community empowerment when accompanied by local skill training on construction and maintenance.
- Education of women and girls contributes both to conflict prevention through peacebuilding and climate change mitigation itself. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, which reduces carbon emissions, water needs, and the population shocks that contribute to instability by stabilizing population growth. Educating girls and women enables their participation in peacebuilding processes, which during war-time increases the probability that conflict will end within a year by 24% and increases the likelihood of lasting peace.
Empowering local community organizers to implement these strategies and seek continued government funding and support for them is one of the most cost-effective methods NGOs and private foundations can use to leverage additional resources.15 This strategy has the additional benefit of strengthening democratic processes in conflict-vulnerable nations, while being available to smaller organizations that do not have the capacity to implement the above strategies directly. By determining the critical locations for this work, in time for community-based strategies to take place, and facilitating communication between larger and smaller organizations and funding sources, we hope to make an outsized impact in preventing climate-induced conflict.