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date: 26 February 2021

Natural Resources, Climate Change, and Conflictlocked

  • Vally KoubiVally KoubiCenter for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zurich
  •  and Gabriele SpilkerGabriele SpilkerDepartment of Political Science and Sociology, University of Salzburg

Summary

What is the relationship between resource scarcity and abundance, on the one hand, and intrastate conflict, on the other? Under what conditions do natural resources cause conflict? Which types of resources can better predict the onset, intensity, and duration of intrastate conflict? These questions and other related questions are needed to discuss how renewable as well as non-renewable resources influence the onset, intensity, and duration of intrastate conflict. In particular, there are two strands of the literature: the first strand deals with renewable resources, such as water, cropland, forests, fish stocks, etc., and examines how the scarcity of such resources leads to resource completion and subsequently to a greater risk of conflict. In this context, it also discusses the more recent literature on climate change and conflict. The second strand deals with non-renewable resources that tend to have a high value-to-weight ratio, such as fossil fuels and minerals, and evaluates how abundance of such resources affects potential “greed” and “grievance” motives of rebels to take up arms as well as a state’s capacity to put down a rebellion, both of which can lead to civil conflicts.

Overall, with the exception of the very recent empirical work on climate change as a “threat multiplier,” the bulk of the empirical evidence provides non-robust and often even contradictory results and thus does not allow for a clear-cut conclusion: while some studies support the link between resource scarcity/abundance and armed conflict, others find no or only weak links. The inconclusiveness of the results might be due to various factors, such as the inability/failure of the extant literature to adequately address the mechanisms via which resource scarcity and abundance could lead to conflict as well as which types of natural resources, including climatic changes, matter most. Moreover, empirical studies differ with regard to the type of conflict under study, ranging from violence against the government (civil wars [1,000 deaths], civil conflict [25 deaths], and low-intensity conflict [protests and riots]) to intercommunal violence (conflict that occurs between competing groups within a state), the operationalization and/or measurement of the types of resource scarcity and abundance, and the appropriate level of analysis (individual, household, subnational, national).

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