as regime type, prior instability, and governance capabilities, the political instability effects of disasters tend to disappear.14

Given the relatively early stage of development of the research field and the strong policy interest in the topic, these sorts of debates can be expected to continue. A search for complex and contingent relationships should improve the conceptual basis for future research and intelligence analysis.


Evidence from the social science literature supports the general argument that climate change can contribute to social and political stresses that create security risks, but that these risks are not caused by climate change alone. They result from the conjunction of climatic conditions that generate potentially disruptive events with a variety of socioeconomic and political conditions. The effects of climate on security in the coming decade are therefore likely to be indirect and contingent, operating through effects on systems that support human well-being (e.g., food, water, or health systems) or on specific events and circumstances (violent conflicts, disruptive migrations), and to depend on other social, economic, environmental, and political conditions in the affected places. This assessment is consistent with the conclusions about climate-security connections that appear in most of the major policy and government assessments.

The strength of the evidence about the linkages between climate events and outcomes of security interest varies substantially within and across issue areas. A number of the linkages are tenuous or not well understood; others seem relatively robust. Some examples of such linkages are:

  • There is a statistically significant correlation between some forms of climate stress and the onset of some forms of armed internal conflict, but in general the causal pathways are not well understood.
  • Climate change is altering the host range for several disease vectors with the potential to cause major epidemics and perhaps pandemics, given global patterns of trade and travel.
  • Climate change is expected to cause changes in some of the basic and proximate conditions that can lead to increases in water insecurity, with the potential to affect food and health security.


14 A second stream of literature not treated here involves the broader question of how publics evaluate the performance of their leaders in disasters, whether they are simply unthinkingly “responsive” (or, perhaps better, “reactive”) or more thoughtfully “attentive” (evaluative). This stream, with an overwhelming U.S. focus, was stimulated by Achen and Bartels (2004) and includes Malhotra and Kuo (2008), Healy and Malhotra (2009), and Gasper and Reeves (2011).

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