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Climate Change as a Risk Amplifier – On the links between climate change and conflict

By Michael Brzoska

Changes in the natural environment caused by climate change affect people’s living conditions as well as the conditions for managing and resolving conflicts of interest. Climate change is therefore also a risk factor for violent conflicts. However, its links with economic, social and political conflict drivers are complex, and its significance therefore cannot be determined in isolation. For the foreseeable future at least, whether or not a conflict escalates is determined not so much by the magnitude of environmental changes, as by how conflict-prone the situation is in which these changes take place. In general, the risk of conflict is especially high at the local level, because this is where climate change has the biggest impacts – for example in extreme weather events or as a result of rising sea levels. The close intertwining of the impacts of climate change on the environment with other conflict factors presents a wide range of opportunities for reducing the risk of conflict induced by climate change. However, the conditions for successfully mitigating the conflict risk diminish as climate change advances. Risk factors beyond climate change itself include the dangers of over- and underestimating its significance for the occurrence of conflict. Exaggeration can lead to militarization, while underestimation can mean a failure to take useful steps to mitigate the climate change risk factor.

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