Does climate change drive land-use conflicts in the Sahel?

DOI10.1177/0022343311427343
AuthorHalvard Buhaug,Tor A Benjaminsen,Jill Tove Buseth,Koffi Alinon
Date01 January 2012
Publication Date01 January 2012
SubjectResearch Articles
Does climate change drive land-use
conflicts in the Sahel?
Tor A Benjaminsen
Norwegian University of Life Sciences & Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Koffi Alinon
Centre for the Study of Civil War, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Halvard Buhaug
Centre for the Study of Civil War, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Jill Tove Buseth
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Abstract
While climate change scenarios for the Sahel vary and are uncertain, the most popularized prediction says there will
progressively be drier conditions with more erratic rainfall. According to some, an increase in violent conflicts over
scarce resources should also be expected. This article investigates the climate–conflict nexus in detail, focusing on a
distinct area at the heart of the Sahel, the inland delta of the Niger river in the Mopti region of Mali. Two comple-
mentary analytical approaches are applied. The first consists of collection and analysis of court data on land-use con-
flicts, 1992–2009, from the regional Court of Appeal in Mopti. A comparison of the conflict data with statistics on
contemporaneous climatic conditions gives little substance to claims that climate variability is an important driver of
these conflicts. Second, we carried out a qualitative analysis of one of the many land-use conflicts in the region.
Again, we find that factors other than those directly related to environmental conditions and resource scarcity dom-
inate as plausible explanations of the violent conflict. We argue that three structural factors are the main drivers
behind these conflicts: agricultural encroachment that obstructed the mobility of herders and livestock, opportunistic
behavior of rural actors as a consequence of an increasing political vacuum, and corruption and rent seeking among
government officials.
Keywords
climate change, conflicts, Mali, Sahel
Introduction
During the last few years, violent land-use conflict in the
Sahel has become the most popular example of the
alleged link between global climate change and conflict.
Many politicians and international civil servants seem
particularly attracted to this idea (Benjaminsen, 2009).
For instance, in an article in the Washington Post in
2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon claimed that
there is a connection between global warming and the
Darfur conflict (Ban, 2007). The idea was also at the
core of the decision to award the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
to former US vice-president Al Gore and the Intergo-
vernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the
justification for the award, the chair of the Nobel Peace
Prize Committee declared that ‘global warming not only
Corresponding author:
torbe@umb.no
Journal of Peace Research
49(1) 97–111
ªThe Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/0022343311427343
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