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Climate change and the Syrian civil war revisited

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Jan Selby, Omar Dahi, Christiane Frohlich, Michael Hulme

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-244
Early online date6 Sep 2017
Accepted/In press24 May 2017
E-pub ahead of print6 Sep 2017


King's Authors


For proponents of the view that anthropogenic climate change will become a ‘threat multiplier’ for instability in the decades ahead, the Syrian civil war has become a recurring reference point, providing apparently compelling evidence that such conflict effects are already upon us. According to proponents of this thesis, human-induced climatic change was a contributory factor in the extreme drought experienced by Syria prior to its civil war; this drought in turn led to large-scale migration; and this migration in turn exacerbated the socio-economic stresses that underpinned Syria’s descent into war. By contrast, this article – in what is the first systematic interrogation of these claims – concludes that there is little merit to the ‘Syria-climate conflict thesis’. Among other things it shows that Syria’ s pre-civil war drought should not specifically be attributed to human influences on the climate system; that this drought did not cause anywhere near the scale of migration that is often alleged; and that there exists no evidence that drought migration pressures in Syria contributed to civil war onset. The Syria case, the article finds, does not support ‘threat multiplier’ views of the impacts of climate change; to the contrary, we conclude, policymakers, commentators and scholars alike should exercise far greater caution when drawing such linkages or when ‘securitising’ climate change.

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