Climate Change and Violent Conflict in East Africa: Integrating Qualitative and Quantitative Research to Probe the Mechanisms


How does climate change affect the risk and dynamics of violent conflict? Existing research shows that climate change can increase the risk of violent conflict and significantly alter the dynamics of existing conflicts. Less is known about the exact mechanisms through which climate change affects violent conflict. In this article, we address this lacuna in light of the first systematic review of both quantitative and qualitative scholarship. Through an analysis of forty-three peer-reviewed articles on climate-related environmental change and violent conflict in East Africa published 1989–2016, we evaluate to what extent the literature provides coherent explanations that identify relevant mechanisms, actors, and outcomes. In addition, we discuss the expected temporal and spatial distribution of violence and the confounding political factors implied in the literature. Against this background, we offer a number of suggestions for how future climate-conflict research can theorize and explore mechanisms. Future research should distinguish between explanations that focus on causes and dynamics of climate-related violent conflict, theoretically motivate when and where violence is most likely to occur, systematically examine the role of state policies and intervention, and explore the implications of each explanation at the microlevel.

International Studies Review 20(4)
Sebastian van Baalen
Sebastian van Baalen
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Research

My research interests include the dynamics of violence and civil war.