5 Places Climate Change Could Spark War

Climate change is notorious for its influence on severe weather, giving us bigger wildfires, stronger storms, and longer droughts. But these disasters can also trigger domino effects on the ground, which means the initial flames, floods, and crop failures are only part of the danger.

Once climates and ecosystems begin to shift, the human societies who rely on them can quickly fall into crisis. This can force people into terrible situations, such as mass migrations, clashes over resources, and even war.

Some recent conflicts have already been linked to climate changes, but they are likely just the tip of the iceberg. As climate disasters increasingly stretch limited resources around the world, often adding to existing social problems, here are a few regions that may be poised to boil over into war.

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Southern Africa

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Much of southern Africa is desperately poor and climate change conditions could push struggling states to collapse. This could create an untenable refugee situation, resulting in armed conflict as relocating peoples are oppressed, either by existing militaries or by xenophobic local populations. Food security in southern Africa is already an issue due to unprecedented droughts, which have forced countries to import massive amounts of food.

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Western China

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Increasing droughts and heat waves will worsen desertification and water scarcity in many parts of China. Western China, much of which is already desert, also happens to be home to the country's most volatile ethnic minorities, many of them Muslim Uighurs. The Xinjiang border province has 8.5 million Uighurs and, according to Der Spiegel, "is second only to Tibet as a source of trouble for Beijing."

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Sahel Region, Africa

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In Sudan, climate change has already led to increased competition over natural resources, one of the many causes of the crisis in Darfur. These resources are expected to become even scarcer, which would likely cause crises like Darfur to be replicated around the country, with varying degrees of seriousness. The entire Sahel region of Africa is one vast "marginal situation," according to economist Jeffrey Sachs.

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Central Asia

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The already volatile states of central Asia will experience above-average warming due to climate change. As mountain glaciers continue to melt, water-supply problems are likely to combine with existing conflicts over energy resources and social issues to create the possibility of widespread violence. Many of these formerly Soviet states could collapse, especially with the heightened tensions brought about by war in Afghanistan and the increasingly precocious aspirations of Iran.

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Lake Victoria, Africa

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Talk of war between Kenya and Uganda has recently caused the world to take notice. The dispute is over a tiny, fishing-rich island in Lake Victoria. The one-acre island would hardly be worth fighting over were it not for the effects of climate change, which have pitted already discordant ethnic groups and countries against one another. Environmental damage has worsened a continent-wide water-supply problem, leading to droughts and famine.