Heat or Hate: Global warming and farmer-herder conflicts

Last month, the association Alumni HEC Lausanne hosted the webinar “Heat or Hate: Global warming and farmer-herder conflicts » with Professor Dominic Rohner, in which he presented the main findings of the paper “Heat and Hate: Climate Security and Farmer-Herder Conflicts in Africa.”

While one can intuitively recognize that there is an association between conflicts and the detrimental consequences of global warming (and there is evidence to support this hunch), what drew me into this conference was that it suggested that there are important subtleties in this relationship.

What are the main findings of the study?

The paper aims to estimate the impact of temperature shocks on violence in all African countries over the 1997-2014 period. As mentioned previously, while there is evidence on the effect of climate change and conflicts, the authors were interested in the potential heterogenous effects according to the type of settlements observed in the region: farmers, herders, and mixed settlements.

The authors found a robust result that a 1°C rise in temperature leads to a higher conflict probability in both mixed and non-mixed areas. Nevertheless, there is a significant difference in the magnitude of the effects for these groups, with the conflict probability of mixed settlements increasing by 54.4%, while in non-mixed areas it increases by 17.7% per degree change.

Combining the former estimates with the projected climate change until 2040, the authors forecast future conflict likelihoods. Without considering settlement types, total annual conflicts would increase around 26% in Africa. However, taking into account the effect of mixed settlements, the forecast rises to 33%.

Furthermore, the authors seek to understand the mechanisms or the reasons why conflict occurs. Fundamentally, they explore two potential channels: cultural differences and resource competition. They find that while culture matters, the main driver of conflicts is the latter.

Resource competition in case of heat shocks could happen when the two groups in mix-settlements compete for the remaining soil that is useful for both lifestyles; however, the authors provide evidence of an additional mechanism related to resource competition: climate-induced migration.

Their findings show that when heat shocks happen, nomad groups travel further from their home to make their ends meet. These movements can increase the likelihood of conflict due to the lack of previous informal agreements – e.g. ways to cooperate and coexist – with the other groups that are already settled in their new destination.

Finally, the authors also explore what can be done to prevent conflict. Their results show that good institutions matter, for instance those related to land disputes and property rights. Nevertheless, the entire environment is relevant as democratic and less corrupted places mitigate conflict incidence.

What additional lessons did I take from this conference?

I am glad I participated in this webinar, even though the topic and its related areas were completely new to me. I enjoyed not only learning about a valuable contribution to the literature on conflicts, but also about the research process itself. For instance, the innovative ways in which geographical data can be used.

Finally, I liked the authors’ approach to this problem, as they focused not only in quantifying the effects but also in understanding the roots of the problems to find plausible policy responses.

With this in mind, I would like to invite students to join the different conferences offered in UNIL or elsewhere (taking advantage of the remote formats of these days), as there is so much to learn from cutting edge research beyond the specific topic. For potential researchers, these conferences are a valuable learning source of methodologies and way to learn how to link theory and empirics.

Alejandra Diaz Fuentes
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