AGCI seminar on Environmental Change and Conflict in Spring 2012

AGCI seminar on Environmental Change and Conflict in Spring 2012

On November 3rd, 2011, Wolfgang Wagner, chair of international security at the department of political science, Faculty of Social Sciences, at VU University Amsterdam, gave a talk on “Climate Change and Conflict: State of the Art and Future Avenues of Research” for the Amsterdam Global Change Institute. The main aim of this talk was to stimulate inter-disciplinary discussion between the social sciences, on the one hand, and environmental studies and earth and life sciences, on the other hand, to identify areas of shared interest and explore possibilities for future co-operation.

According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, climate change “not only exacerbates threats to peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security”. However, as Wolfgang Wagner pointed out in his talk, the scholarly literature has found little evidence for this claim. Although case studies suggest that environmental stress is associated with violent conflict, most scholars emphasize that it is not environmental degradation as such, but a society’s capacity to cope with it that may or may not lead to violent conflict.

Using recent studies as an illustration, Wagner demonstrated that research thus far has suffered from a widespread “methodological nationalism” that takes state-level data as its main unit of analysis. This is highly problematic because both the environmental consequences of climate change (such as extreme weather events, floods or droughts) and incidents of organized violence occur on a regional level, often transgressing state boundaries. Recent efforts to gather geo-spatial data on the occurrence of armed force, however, provide new opportunities to examine the effects of environmental degradation (and, by implication, climate change) on conflict.

The ensuing discussion made clear that the “geographical turn” in conflict studies that Wagner reported provides ample opportunities for cooperation with the earth and life sciences that have a rich collection of geo-spatial data on environmental circumstances and environmental change, including the climate.

As a follow-up to these discussions, AGCI researchers Wolfgang Wagner and Laurens Bouwer (IVM) have invited Dr. Halvard Buhaug, Professor at the Centre for the Study of Civil Wars at the Peace Research Institute Oslo to further discuss avenues of future research and collaboration between the social and the natural sciences in the area of climate change and conflict in Spring 2012. More details will follow later.