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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

February 2019: A recent empirical assessment shows a causal connection between climate change, conflict, and migration in countries with poor governance and lower levels of democracy, such as Syria. The study underlines the complexity of migration but offers new perspectives on the potential consequences of climate change and fulfilling the UN’s SDGs.


There is an ongoing debate on causal links between climate, conflict, and migration. While this claim is widespread in media reporting, a breakthrough study now provides an empirical assessment of scientific evidence that links climate change to conflict and migration. The study concludes that the impacts of climate change on migration are causal and operate through conflict. It is a retrospective study that analyses regions with ongoing conflicts, including Syria, and reflects on how droughts caused reduced crop productivity and access to resources, which in turn led to increased urbanisation, overcrowding, unemployment, political unrest and, ultimately, civil war. The study contributes to the discussion that in countries with poor governance and low levels of democracy, climate change-induced migration can cause conflict.

Implications & Opportunities

The study is an important contribution that underlines the importance of climate change adaptation in countries with poor governance. Climate change plays a significant role in causing waves of migration that can create conflict for scarce resources. The study shows that climate change is a statistically significant factor contributing to asylum seeking and impacting migration patterns. Findings like this present opportunities and implication for reaching the UN’s SDGs and prioritising measurements to avoid climate-induced migration and armed conflict in countries with poor governance and lower levels of democracy.


Migration is a highly complex and interconnected topic. While the study underlines an implicit link between climate, conflict, and migration, climate change is not an interrelated or even sole contributor to conflict and migration. Therefore, it needs to be considered in a relevant context, such as the Arab Spring 2010-2012.


Abel, G.J., Brottrager, M., Cuaresma, J.C., Muttarak, R., (2019). Climate, conflict ad forced migration. Global Environmental Change, 54:239. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.12.003

European Scientist. (2019). The Link Between Climate Change, Conflict, and Migration. Retrieved from


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