Civil conflicts are twice as likely to occur during El Niño years

September 19th, 2011 by Nature

Civil conflicts are twice as likely to occur during El Niño years, when conditions are typically warmer, than in cooler La Niña years, suggests a paper published in the 25 August 2011 issue of Nature. This is the first demonstration that the stability of modern societies relates strongly to global climates.

It has been suggested that global climate changes have been responsible for incidences of widespread violence and even the collapse of civilisations. However, most of the support for this idea has been anecdotal and the methodologies that govern quantitative studies have so far yielded inconclusive results.

Using data from 1950 to 2004, Solomon Hsiang from Princeton University and Andrew Solow from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution show that the probability of new organized political violence arising throughout the tropics doubles during El Niño years in comparison to La Niña years.

This indicates that the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) — a major driver of global climate — may have had a role in 21% of all civil conflicts since 1950. The authors also suggest that El Niño might accelerate the timing of conflicts that would have occurred later.

Because the strong ENSO events that have the greatest influence on annual conflict risk may be predictable up to two years in advance, the authors propose that their findings may improve global preparedness for some conflicts and their associated humanitarian crises. They caution, however, that generalizing their results to global climate changes other than ENSO will require a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that link conflict to climate. They also note that economic shock caused by ENSO variations, for example, flooding, drought and disease, leading to loss of income or increased food prices, may plausibly have an impact on how conflict-prone a society is, therefore further research into this will be needed.

  1. No Comments

Have your say