Commentary on the Syria case: Climate as a contributing factor

Kelley, Colin Patrick; Mohtadi, Shahrzad Zarrin; Cane, Mark A.; Seager, Richard; Kushnir, Yochanan

The article “Climate change and the Syrian civil war revisited” by Selby et al., 2017 (henceforth S2017) challenges research exploring the links between anthropogenic climate change, water scarcity and drought, impacts on agricultural production and economic stability, and the initial 2011 unrest in Syria. More broadly, the authors contest any causal link between climate and conflict. This is an important, evolving area of study and we encourage improved, expanded, and updated analysis of these connections. In their criticism, the authors of S2017 single out three papers (Werrell, Femia, & Sternberg, 2015; Gleick, 2014; and Kelley, Mohtadi, Cane, Seager, & Kushnir, 2015; here after K2015). Here we comment directly on our own work in K2015, though the others are equally unscathed by S2017's criticisms. We do so by refuting S2017's claims regarding the role of climate change, summarizing the sizeable evidence of the long-term drying trend in the region, and bolstering the link between the drought, migration and subsequent unrest by providing further supporting evidence.
Our response contends overall that S2017 fail to make their case. K2015 (as well as Gleick, 2014; Werrell et al., 2015) claim climate as one of many contributing factors to the unrest. Nothing in S2017 refutes this, and none of their supportable arguments even offer reason for doubting this view. While K2015 can and did make a quantitative estimate of the impact of anthropogenic effects on the drought, we cannot quantify the impact of climate or any other factor, separately, on the conflict.

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Political Geography

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
November 22, 2017