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The Future of Research on Climate Change and Armed Conflict

Pakistan flood relief

U.S. Marines unload food and supplies for Pakistani flood victims in support of the flood relief effort in Pano Aqil, Pakistan, Sept. 11, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Bushong

By Dr. Marc Kodack

As military planners look out to future operating environments that they may face, they need to continue to anticipate the changing social, environmental, political, and economic conditions that populations may experience when these populations are increasingly affected by climate change. Climate change will dynamically influence many societal variables including migrationfood security, and conflict. Planners may be particularly drawn to the causes of conflict. Mach et. al (2020) present four areas of future research that would assist planners with better understanding the relationship between climate change and armed conflict.

Building on previous work that brought together multiple experts to elicit their judgments on the relationship between climate and armed conflict, Mach et. al (2020) propose four areas for future research. The first research area is centered around better defining the mechanisms that link climate and armed conflict so that management of a conflict, such as what interventions may be needed, can be applied along the entire conflict trajectory from its’ onset to termination. Multiple methods exist that can be used to collect the type of on-the-ground data in local communities to determine what interventions might be beneficial. The second research area focuses on coordination between researchers in the questions they are interested in addressing and the data that they intend to collect. Increased awareness and of other’s research and exchange of data would provide different views of conflict, sometimes of the same conflict. The third research area emphasizes that local-to-global situations need to be incorporated into forecasts for how climate and conflict may interact with one another. Risks of conflict under climate change will vary both in time and space, such that a trigger for conflict may be obscured by the passage of time or its peripheral effects may be show up elsewhere in space. The fourth research area seeks to examine existing types of interventions, e.g., international food aid, to determine if they continue to have utility to disrupt links between climate change and conflict, while also assessing if new interventions are needed based on the scale of the climate issue and its global-regional-local effects on security, e.g., global greenhouse gas emissions; regional drought that affects both farmers and pastoralists.

The execution of projects and increased coordination of methods and data across disciplines throughout the four proposed research areas would directly benefit the work of military planners as they begin to forecast potential conditions that the U.S. military may encounter around the world. While the causes of armed conflict are multidimensional, climate change is one dimensional that will increasingly be present far into the future that the U.S. military will need to better understand and address in order to achieve successful, global, multidomain operations.

Dr. Marc Kodack is Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former Sustainability and Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability.

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