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Research Questions

  1. Does an increase in climate hazards within the CENTCOM AOR lead to an increase in the frequency of conflict?
  2. Does the existing research adequately account for the impact of climate change on conflict?
  3. Does the interaction of climate hazards with other socioeconomic factors influence the probability of conflict?

This report addresses how climate change could affect the frequency of conflict in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). The report begins with an examination of how the current literature characterizes the relationship between climate change and the incidence of conflict. The report then presents conflict projections out to 2070 for the AOR at the provincial level. The projections are made on the basis of a machine learning framework that uses historical data to train and validate a forecasting model. The projections incorporate anticipated changes in temperature and levels of precipitation, although these climate factors are used to complement other known drivers of conflict, such as an area's political and economic development. This is followed by an analysis of why the strength of the relationship between climate change and future conflict could be underestimated by the consensus in the field and the modeling in this report. The report ends with a modeling excursion that shows how drought could increase conflict risk by affecting economic growth.

The purpose of this research is to support CENTCOM leadership and planners and their interagency partners to prepare for a future security environment that is affected by climate change. Understanding the frequency of future conflict in the AOR, as well as the marginal increase that is owed to climate change as a threat multiplier, will enable the U.S. government to better prepare for this future. This report is the third in a series focused on climate change and the security environment.

Key Findings

  • Under all plausible socioeconomic and climate conditions, the CENTCOM AOR will experience substantial conflict in the next half century.
  • In areas where climate hazards increase conflict risk, the hazards do so by interacting with other variables that are stronger predictors of conflict.
  • Although there is suggestive evidence that worse climate outcomes will correlate with a greater incidence of conflict between 2040 and 2060, temperature increases and declines in precipitation are not the major drivers in the security environment, according to a machine learning model.
  • There are good reasons to believe that existing research and the conflict forecasts in this report could be underestimating the impact of climate variables on conflict.
  • The existing research gives inadequate attention to the link between climate and conflict, which is neither unidirectional nor direct; rather, the presence of conflict limits a state's ability to adapt to climate change and further increases the risk of conflict. Additionally, climate hazards could suppress economic development and contribute to conflict via socioeconomic conditions.
  • The existing research has also given inadequate attention to how climate change could contribute to conditions that shape conflict risk in a manner that is fundamentally different from conditions that have characterized the recent past.
  • After making assumptions that are grounded in existing research about the impact of drought on the economies of agriculture-dependent areas, the authors project an increased risk of conflict in those areas.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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