Climate Variability and Security Threats (CLIMSEC)

Climate Variability and Security Threats (CLIMSEC)
A family setting up "charpoy" beds next to a vast expanse of flooded fields in Pakistan's Sindh Province - the land that they used to farm. Photo: Russell Watkins / UK Department for International Development
Led by Halvard Buhaug
Sep 2015 - Jun 2021

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​I​​​​​​​​​​​n the past few years, rising food prices and the global financial downturn have increased the ranks of the world's food insecure to over a billion, reversing decades of slow but ​steady progress in reducing hunger. Not only have the human costs been considerable but this reportedly also had dramatic political repercussions. According to one World Bank-commissioned study, the 2007–08 food crisis sparked demonstrations and rio​ts in at least 48 countries. The notion that food insecurity drives violent conflict is just one of many dimensions of the contemporary climate security debate. However, in distinct contrast to the near universal agreement among political leaders and NGOs that climate change con​stitutes a significant threat to peace and security, the scientific community is yet to reach consensus on specific links between climate and political violence.​​​

To get updates on events and project outputs, go visit our Climate and Conflict Blog.

CLIMSEC seeks to remedy shortcomings in the empirical literature, such as the scientific community's inability to reach a consensus on specific links between climate and political violence and the apparent disconnect between theories and analyses of climate-conflict connections, by providing a more rigorous scientific foundation for efficient policy advice and implementation. The project will be guided by the following overarching research question: How does climate variability affect dynamics of political violence?

Reflecting the general nature of this research question, the primary scientific tool will be rigorous quantitative analysis at various levels of spatial and temporal aggregation. The project will rely on a multitude of data sources, among them the PRIO-GRID dataset, Munch Re's NatCat database and the NAVCO dataset. In addition, as a specific deliverable of the project, the Urban Social Disorder (USD) dataset will be expanded. The quantitative empirical approach will be complemented by a set of qualitative case studies of carefully chosen areas and events as a means to investigate suggested processes, validate key statistical findings, explain unexpected patterns, and facilitate further theory building.

The five-year research project (September 2015 – August 2020) is funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (CG) as part of EU's new program for research and innovation, Horizon 2020 (H2020). The project brings together researchers across institutions and countries, with Halvard Buhaug​ at PRIO as project leader; Ole Magnus Theisen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Jonas Nordkvelle from PRIO; PhD-candidate Elisabeth Lio Rosvold from PRIO and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology​, as well as three nine-month visiting researchers yet to be announced.​​ 

ERC EU logo
ERC EU logo

The project will be organized into four work packages (WPs):

WP 1: Food inse​​curity

Objective: Investigate how food security impacts of climate variability affect political violence

WP 1 identifies two primary pathways through which climate-induced food insecurity affects peace and stability. First, drought, heat waves, and other extreme weather events have the potential to exert significant impacts on food prices. In the recent global food crises, failing harvest among some of the world's major food exporters contributed to a dramatic increase in the international price of many food commodities. Second, subsistence households and societies dependent on local food production may experience dramatic food shortages and loss of livestock when the rain fails.

Neither of these proposed pathways has been subject to rigorous comparative testing. By placing prime focus on the multi-scale process from food price volatility to social responses, WP 1 takes a consumer perspective. Two types of insecurity outcomes are considered particularly relevant in this context: urban demonstrations and riots, and rural land use disputes.

WP 2: Econo​​mic insecurity

Objective: Investigate how economic impacts of climate variability affect political violence

WP 2 will investigate how economic impacts of climate anomalies and extremes affect social cohesion and political stability. A novel contribution in this regard is the decoupling of general economic performance from agricultural performance and the explicit consideration of alternative economic transmission mechanisms of an indirect climate-conflict relationship besides food production. Unique to this project, we will draw on Munich Re's NatCat database, which contains unsurpassed information on natural disasters, including coordinates of their spatial extent and best estimates of economic and human losses incurred. Combined with other relevant high-resolution data, it will be possible for the first time to evaluate whether economic damages of natural disasters affect the local risk or dynamics of political violence, including the possibility that disasters may create a ripe moment for negotiations and conflict settlement.

WP 3: Forec​​​asting

Objective: Conduct short-term forecasts of political violence in response to food and economic shocks

WP 3 aims to develop a short-term prediction tool that will provide forecasts of urban disorder and civil conflict within a temporal range from several months to two years. The specification of the forecasting model will be based on results from empirical models in the other WPs – with recurring recalibration against actual outcomes as the project moves on.

The forecasting model will be analogous to an early warning tool, with frequent updating of real-time input data and constant evaluation of performance. International and domestic food price statistics will constitute a core component in the tool, supplemented by country-specific, time-varying information on economic performance and unemployment, foreign direct investments, regime approval rates, national political elections and irregular leader transition, as well as various contextual variables.

WP4: Theorizing ​​and validation

Objectives: Develop a comprehensive, testable theoretical model of security implications of climate variability; validate key empirical findings from other work packages

The final work package is explicitly cross-cutting by bringing together and evaluating the output from WPs 1–3 and developing a common theoretical framework that will guide the specification of empirical and forecasting models. The first and most essential part of WP 4 concerns theory development, with particular focus on establishing the causal mechanisms and conditions under which various conflict types emerge as plausible outcomes of climate-induced food or economic shocks. An important aspect of this work will be to make further progress on understanding the temporal dimension of climate-conflict linkages.


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Thomson, Henry; Karim Bahgat; Henrik Urdal & Halvard Buhaug (2022) Urban Social Disorder 3.0: A global, city-level event dataset of political mobilization and disorder, Journal of Peace Research. DOI: 10.1177/00223433221082991.
Eklund, Lina; Ole Magnus Theisen; Matthias Baumann; Andreas Forø Tollefsen; Tobias Kuemmerle & Jonas Østergaard Nielsen (2022) Societal drought vulnerability and the Syrian climate-conflict nexus are better explained by agriculture than meteorology, Communications Earth & Environment 3: 1–9.
Vestby, Jonas; Jürgen Brandsch; Vilde Bergstad Larsen; Peder Landsverk & Andreas Forø Tollefsen (2022) Predicting (de-)Escalation of Sub-National Violence Using Gradient Boosting: Does It Work?, International Interactions. DOI: 10.1080/03050629.2022.2021198.
de Bruin, Sophie P.; Jannis M. Hoch; Nina von Uexkull; Halvard Buhaug; Jolle Demmers; Hans Visser & Niko Wanders (2022) Projecting long-term armed conflict risk: An underappreciated field of inquiry?, Global Environmental Change 72: 102423–.
Hoch, Jannis M.; Sophie P. de Bruin; Halvard Buhaug; Nina von Uexkull; Rens van Beek & Niko Wanders (2021) Projecting armed conflict risk in Africa towards 2050 along the SSP-RCP scenarios: a machine learning approach, Environmental Research Letters 16(12): 124068–.
Buhaug, Halvard; Mihai Croicu; Hanne Fjelde & Nina von Uexkull (2021) A Conditional Model of Local Income Shock and Civil Conflict, Journal of Politics 83(1): 354–366.
Vestby, Jonas; Halvard Buhaug & Nina von Uexkull (2021) Why do some poor countries see armed conflict while others do not? A dual sector approach, World Development 138: 105273–.
Buhaug, Halvard & Nina von Uexkull (2021) Vicious circles: Violence, vulnerability, and climate change, Annual Review of Environment and Resources 46: 545–568.
Thomson, Henry; Halvard Buhaug; Henrik Urdal & Elisabeth Lio Rosvold (2021) Group organization, elections and urban political mobilization in the developing world, Democratization. DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2021.1944117.
Gilmore, Elisabeth & Halvard Buhaug (2021) Climate mitigation policies and the potential pathways to conflict: Outlining a research agenda, WIREs Climate Change. DOI: 10.1002/wcc.722.
Schutte, Sebastian; Jonas Vestby; Jørgen Carling & Halvard Buhaug (2021) Climatic conditions are weak predictors of asylum migration, Nature Communications 12: 2067–.
Linke, Andrew & Andreas Forø Tollefsen (2021) Environmental stress and agricultural landownership in Africa, Global Environmental Change 67(102237).
Rosvold, Elisabeth Lio & Halvard Buhaug (2021) GDIS, a global dataset of geocoded disaster locations, Scientific Data 8(61): 1–7.
von Uexkull, Nina & Halvard Buhaug (2021) Security implications of climate change: A decade of scientific progress, Journal of Peace Research 58(1): 3–17.
Vesco, Paola; Matija Kovacic; Malcolm Mistry & Mihai Croicu (2021) Climate variability, crop and conflict: Exploring the impacts of spatial concentration in agricultural production, Journal of Peace Research 58(1): 98–113.
Bakken, Ingrid Vik & Halvard Buhaug (2021) Civil War and Female Empowerment, Journal of Conflict Resolution 65(5): 982–1009.
Rustad, Siri Aas; Elisabeth Lio Rosvold & Halvard Buhaug (2020) Development Aid, Drought, and Coping Capacity, Journal of Development Studies 56(8): 1578–1593.
Mach, Katharine J.; W. Neil Adger; Halvard Buhaug; Marshall Burke; James Fearon; Christopher B. Field; Cullen Hendrix; Caroline M. Kraan; Jeac-Francois Maystadt; John O'Loughlin; Philip Roessler; Jürgen Scheffran; Kenneth Schultz & Nina von Uexkull (2020) Directions for Research on Climate and Conflict, Earth's Future. DOI: 10.1029/2020EF001532.
Theisen, Ole Magnus; Håvard Strand & Gudrun Østby (2020) Ethno-political favoritism in maternal health care service delivery: Micro-level evidence from sub-Saharan Africa, 1981–2014, International Area Studies Review 23(1): 3–27.
Buhaug, Halvard & Jonas Vestby (2019) On Growth Projections in the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, Global Environmental Politics 19(4): 118–132.
Rosvold, Elisabeth Lio (2019) Disaggregated determinants of aid: Development aid projects in the Philippines, Development Policy Review. DOI: 10.1111/dpr.12465.
Vestby, Annette & Jonas Vestby (2019) Machine Learning and the Police: Asking the Right Questions, Policing: a Journal of Policy and Practice. DOI: 10.1093/police/paz035.
Mach, Katharine J.; Caroline M. Kraan; W. Neil Adger; Halvard Buhaug; Marshall Burke; James Fearon; Christopher B. Field; Cullen Hendrix; Jeac-Francois Maystadt; John O'Loughlin; Philip Roessler; Jürgen Scheffran; Kenneth Schultz & Nina von Uexkull (2019) Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict, Nature 571: 193–197.
Vestby, Jonas (2019) Climate variability and individual motivations for participating in political violence, Global Environment Change 56: 114–123.
Gilmore, Elisabeth; Lauren Herzer Risi; Elizabeth Tennant & Halvard Buhaug (2018) Bridging Research and Policy on Climate Change and Conflict, Current Climate Change Report 4(4): 313–319.
Linke, Andrew; Frank D. W. Witmer; John O'Loughlin; J. Terrence McCabe & Jaroslav Tir (2018) The consequences of relocating in response to drought: human mobility and conflict in contemporary Kenya, Environmental Research Letters 13(9): 94014–.
Theisen, Ole Magnus (2017) Climate Change and Violence: Insights from Political Science, Current Climate Change Reports. DOI: 10.1007/s40641-017-0079-5.
Vestby, Jonas; Siri Aas Rustad & Monika Salmivalli (2017) Identifying the effect of climate variability on communal conflict through randomization, Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-017-1914-3.
Buhaug, Halvard (2016) Climate Change and Conflict: Taking Stock, Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 22(4): 331–338.
von Uexkull, Nina; Mihai Croicu; Hanne Fjelde & Halvard Buhaug (2016) Civil conflict sensitivity to growing season drought, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113(44): 12391–12396.
Hegre, Håvard; Halvard Buhaug; Katherine V. Calvin; Jonas Nordkvelle; Stephanie T. Waldhoff & Elisabeth Gilmore (2016) Forecasting civil conflict along the shared socioeconomic pathways, Environmental Research Letters 11(5): 054002.

PhD Thesis

Rosvold, Elisabeth Lio (2019) Coping with Calamity: Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict and Development Aid. PhD thesis, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim.
Vestby, Jonas (2018) Climate, development, and conflict: Learning from the past and mapping uncertainties of the future. PhD thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, Oslo.

Book Chapter

Vesco, Paola & Halvard Buhaug (2020) Climate and conflict, in Hampson, Fen Osler; Alpaslan Özerdem; & Jonathan Kent, eds, Routledge Handbook of Peace, Security and Development. New York: Routledge (105–120).
Buhaug, Halvard (2017) Food insecurity and political instability, in Dahlhaus, Nora; & Daniela Weißkopf, eds, Future Scenarios of Global Cooperation – Practices and Challenges. Duisburg: Centre for Global Cooperation Research (105–112).

Non-refereed Journal Article

Benjaminsen, Tor Arve; Halvard Buhaug; Fiona McConnell; Jo Sharp & Philip E. Steinberg (2017) Political Geography and the Environment, Political Geography 56: 1–2.

Popular Article

EU Research, (2021) Can climate variability spark conflict?, EU Research, 11 October.
Benjaminsen, Tor Arve; Halvard Buhaug & Stig Jarle Hansen (2021) De egentlige årsakene til konflikter tåkelegges, Morgenbladet, 7 April.
von Uexkull, Nina & Halvard Buhaug (2021) Is climate change driving global conflict?, Political Violence at a Glance, 1 February.
Vestby, Jonas; Ida Rudolfsen & Halvard Buhaug (2018) Fører matmangel til mer krig? [Does food insecurity lead to conflict?], Bistandsaktuelt, 27 April.

PRIO Policy Brief

Rosvold, Elisabeth Lio; Halvard Buhaug & Siri Aas Rustad (2020) Development Aid, Drought and Coping Capacity, PRIO Policy Brief, 4. Oslo: PRIO.

PRIO Paper

Bahgat, Karim; Halvard Buhaug & Henrik Urdal (2018) Urban Social Disorder: An Update, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

Report - Other

Gilmore, Elisabeth; Halvard Buhaug; & Håvard Hegre (2016) Maintaining Security: What Can Be Done to Prevent the Pressures of Climate Change Leading to Conflict?, Climate 2020. Rising to the Challenge. London: United Nations Association - UK.

Report - External Series

Buhaug, Halvard (2018) Global Security Challenges of Climate Change, Toda Peace Institute Policy Brief, 18. Tokyo.


Related pages