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Research: Can Climate Change Heat Up Conflict?

June 21, 2013
Contacts: 

Jonas Siegel, UMD School of Public Policy/CISSM, 301-405-4020
Neil Tickner, UMD Communications, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A University of Maryland-led team of policy experts and scientists is seeking to understand how the impacts of climate change could affect civil conflicts. The team will develop new models of the relationship between conflict, socio-economic conditions and climate. They will use these to project future conflict and develop interventions.

The U.S. Department of Defense is funding the research through a new three-year, $1.9 million grant – part of its highly selective Minerva program of social science research.

Lead researcher Elisabeth Gilmore, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland's (UMD) School of Public Policy"It's likely that physical and economic disruptions resulting from climate change could heighten tensions in sensitive areas of the world," says lead researcher Elisabeth Gilmore, an assistant professor in UMD's School of Public Policy. "We hope to develop an integrated model to help researchers and policy makers better anticipate civil conflict under a range of climate change scenarios."

For example, Gilmore says that in a region with ongoing conflicts such as sub-Saharan Africa, additional changes in food and water availability, public health crises, and disruptive migration could further destabilize civil order.

The team will use statistical models and case studies to identify the best predictors of climate-related conflict. It will then use this data and a novel simulation method to generate forecasts of conflict over a range of socio-economic and climate change scenarios. Finally, the project will identify a range of military and policy interventions that could reduce the occurrence of civil conflict under climate change.

In addition to Gilmore, the research team includes John Steinbruner, director of UMD's Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM); Halvard Buhaug, research director at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO); Havard Hegre, research professor at PRIO; Katherine Calvin, research scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI), a UMD collaboration with the Department of Energy; and Stephanie Waldhoff, scientist at JGCRI.

The research grant was awarded by the Defense Department's Minerva Initiative, which aims to improve the department's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the United States. The UMD project is one of only 14 funded by Minerva from a total pool of 280.

UMD also won a Minerva grant in the previous round in 2012, supporting research into radicalization and de-radicalization.