BY DAVID OCHIENG ONYANGO
Relationship between Climate Change and Conflict Climate change is not just affecting the natural world. Researchers have long understood that rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions will also have cascading ramifications on the dynamics of human society, whether by forcing refugees to flee from newly flood-prone areas or arid regions, by causing spikes in the prices of food crops, or by reducing the productivity of livelihoods based on fishing or grazing in certain regions.
Recently, studies and journalistic investigations have focused on one particularly chilling potential social consequence of climate change: an increased frequency of armed conflicts around the world. By studying the link between various climactic factors and rates of historical violence, researchers have speculated that the climate trends we’ll experience over the next century hotter overall temperatures, more erratic rainfall patterns and a rising sea level could make conflict and war more common in the future.
Changes have been observed in the amount, intensity, frequency, and type of precipitations. Widespread increases in heavy precipitation have occurred, even in places where total rain amounts have decreased. With confidence we can concluded that human influences had contributed to an increase in heavy precipitation events at the global scale. Projections of future changes in precipitation show overall increases in the global average, but with substantial shifts in where and how precipitation falls.
The various scenarios of climatic change suggest that human economies can benefit or suffer from climatic change, depending on its nature. Wildlife and biological diversity will, in contrast, decline with any shift in rainfall due to the fixity of park boundaries and mounting human pressures. There are more reasons to be concerned about the climatic threats to the earth’s remaining large mammal fauna concentrated in the savannas than to the overall biodiversity of the tropical forests. What little large mammal diversity and abundance remains will become economically more valuable to Africa in future. It is also the greatest inspiration there is to preserve earth’s biological wealth and beauty.
A drier climate would have the reverse effect, with the marginal lands and dry savannas marching into the present moist savannas. The agricultural boundaries would contract, small stock would replace cattle economies over much of Africa and, overall, the agricultural production would shrink. The marginal agricultural societies and cattle economies in the present mid-rainfall belt would become unsustainable. A drier climate would be particularly harsh on wildlife. The mid-rainfall, high diversity belt would lose the diversity and abundance of its wildlife, with little prospect for relocation in the wetter areas where the human pressures would be acute.
Suliman (1994) argues that Desertification or desert encroachment can result from a change in climate or from human action, and it is often difficult to distinguish between the two. This has commonly led to confusion and misconceptions. A temporary or long-continued deterioration of climate may accentuate the harmful consequences of human occupation of the land and vice versa. It has often been suggested that man’s activities have resulted in climatic deterioration, but this is difficult to substantiate. In any case it is important to attempt to assess the relative contribution of climate and man in the process of desertification in order to decide on the ameliorative measures that can best be taken and to estimate the likelihood of their success.
For many decades scientists have known that a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the potential for warming the earth’s climate through the so-called greenhouse effect. Over the past ten years, awareness has grown that other greenhouse gases can contribute in total to climate warming at a level comparable to that of Carbon dioxide. The atmospheric concentrations of these gases are currently increasing at a rate sufficient to produce substantial atmospheric consequences over the next century. These other greenhouse gases are known to contribute to very significant changes in the atmospheric ozone structure and amount. Their potential to add to the Carbon Dioxide climate warming effect is not as universally appreciated. The carbon content in the atmosphere is increasing annually by approximately seven billion tonnes as a result of utilization of fossil fuels, although the situation is further aggravated by deforestation which removes forest Carbon Dioxide sinks.
Pearce (1991) argues that Carbon dioxide is the primary substrate for photosynthesis. Carbon Dioxide frequently limits photosynthesis and productivity of plant systems. Laboratory experiments have found that increasing Carbon Dioxide concentration increases photosynthetic rate per unit leaf area in single leaves and plant canopies. In greenhouse farming, raising Carbon Dioxide levels has been shown to promote crop growth and yield, thus resulting to abundance of food and lesser conflicts. Global increase in Carbon Dioxide concentration is therefore expected to raise productivity and yield of both agricultural plant products and forests; hence a reduction of conflicts. However, given the diversity in plant types, there will be interspecific and even intervarietal differences in the extent of gain.
On the negative side, Porter (1995) observes that increasing Carbon Dioxide concentration will also boost growth rate of weeds, many of which grow more rapidly than crop plants even at the current Carbon Dioxide levels. Furthermore, increased growth rate of plants will lead to rapid exploitation of soil nutrients and water so that application of higher levels of fertilizers will be necessary. Considering that most African farmers operate at low input levels, crop yields may drop and this could be a perfect recipe of conflicts. In areas with low rainfall rapid growth rate early in the season may utilize much of the soil water so that there is little left for reproductive growth which comes later in the season.
African governments must ratify the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. As of March 1990, only nine African countries had ratified the Protocol. Another four signed but have not ratified as yet. Changes in climate have been observed in the amount, intensity, frequency, and type of precipitations. Widespread increases in heavy precipitation have occurred, even in places where total rain amounts have decreased. With confidence we can concluded that human influences had contributed to an increase in heavy precipitation events at the global scale.Projections of future changes in precipitation show overall increases in the global average, but with substantial shifts in where and how precipitation falls.
As earlier mentioned, it is very likely that the number of cold days and nights have decreased globally. There have been other changes in climate extremes like floods and tropical cyclones, but these changes are more difficult to identify. Furthermore, human influences appear to have contributed to some of the observed changes and they are the ultimate bearers of the effects of climate change because they have suffered conflicts as a result of the effects of the climate change.
Rosenzweig (2007) argued that physical and biological systems on all continents and in most oceans had been affected by recent climate changes, particularly regional temperature increases. Impacts include earlier leafing of trees and plants over many regions; movements of species to higher latitudes and altitudes in the Northern Hemisphere; changes in bird migrations in Europe, North America and Australia; and shifting of the oceans’ plankton and fish from cold to warm-adapted communities. 82 Demaree (2001) elaborates that the impacts of climate change on conflicts can be thought of in terms of sensitivity and vulnerability. Sensitivity is the degree to which a particular system or sector might be affected, positively or negatively, by climate change and/or climate variability. Vulnerability is the degree to which a particular system or sector might be adversely affected by climate change.83 The sensitivity of human society to climate change varies. One of the sectors that are sensitive to climate change includes water resources because of its ability to trigger conflicts over access and control of the water resource. Industries sensitive to climate change include agriculture, fisheries, forestry, energy, construction, insurance, financial services, tourism, and recreation.
Demaree further argues that climate change will impact agriculture and food production around the world due to the effects of elevated Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, higher temperatures, altered precipitation and transpiration regimes, increased frequency of extreme events and modified weed, pest, and pathogen pressure and this might. In general, low-latitude areas are at most risk of having decreased crop yields. So far, the effects of regional climate change on agriculture have been relatively limited. Decreased food yields have direct relation. Redclift(1987) argues that temperature influences growth and development of plants; the higher the temperature the faster plants grow and mature. Increased temperatures will therefore enhance agricultural and forest productivity. High temperatures will also increase the atmospheric evaporative demand, and the resulting high rates of evaporation will place more demand on irrigation water and limit dryland farming. Where moisture is not limiting, higher temperatures and higher CO2 concentrations will lead to increased crop yields; hence reduced conflicts.
Salih (1999) further notes that high temperatures accelerate mineralization of organic matter, thus reducing organic matter content of the soils. The problem is already significant in areas such as Darfur in Sudan and leads to reduced soil fertility and poor soil structure. Higher temperatures will have the impact of increasing postharvest spoilage of crops and putrefaction of animal products such as meat and milk. High temperature coupled with high atmospheric humidity also favours development of animal and crop pests and crop diseases and will accentuate these problems which are already contributing to a large extent to agricultural and forestry losses that lead to conflicts in Africa. The problem of forest fires is a common one in hot areas and it is expected that higher temperatures will increase their frequency, particularly when the forests are water-stressed as a result of high atmospheric evaporative demand. This will contribute to atmospheric CO2 reserves that further accelerate climate change.
It is predicted that the doubling atmospheric CO2 level and the resulting greenhouse effect will raise the mean global rainfall by 7 to 11%. This would be welcome news to Africa which has large expanses of semi-arid and arid lands. However, unless there is a change in the direction, duration and occurrence of the raincausing winds, the added rainfall will only fall in the already wet areas and may cause more havoc than good to agriculture. Forests stand to gain from increased rainfall and thus increased forest productivity.
Williams (2007) assessed studies that made quantitative projections of climate change impacts on food security that is also an essential cause of conflicts. It was noted that these projections were highly uncertain and had limitations. However, the assessed studies suggested a number of fairly robust findings. The first was that climate change would likely increase the number of people at risk of hunger compared with reference scenarios with no climate change. Climate change impacts such as huger and conflicts may depend strongly on projected future social and economic development, and conflicts may arise from the scarcity of food as a resource for human and animal consumption. Additionally, the magnitude of climate change impacts was projected to be smaller compared to the impact of social and economic development.