It’s already been blamed for a beer shortage, shrinking goats and the death of the Loch Ness Monster; now global warming has a new charge against it: that of causing the civil war in Syria. A new study has drawn a link between a multi-year drought in Syria and the de facto collapse of the Assad regime.
The researchers from Columbia University and the University of California Santa Barbara are quick to insist that they are not saying that climate change caused Syria’s civil war. But they also state that this is the “single clearest case” of climate change playing a significant role in a conflict because “you can really draw a blow-by-blow account with the numbers,” the Telegraph has reported.
At the heart of their case, inevitably, lies a computer model. Syria suffered a drought between 2007 and at least 2010, although the war beginning in 2011 made it difficult to record definitive data beyond that date. By using statistical and computer simulation analysis, the researchers concluded that the dry spells were two to three times more likely thanks to human carbon emissions than under normal circumstances.
To iron-clad their case, they also show that Syria’s temperature has risen by nearly one degree centigrade since 1900, adding to drying through evaporation. Winter rainfall has also dropped too. Three of Syria’s worst four multi-year droughts have occurred within the last 30 years, they point out.
Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia, who worked on the paper, said that the connection between man-made climate change and drought in the Mediterranean region is one of the most robust in science.
Having therefore proved that climate change caused the Syrian drought, it was short work to link the resultant migration of over a million farmers into the cities to civil unrest, and eventually to the violence suffered in Syria over the last four years.
“There are various things going on, but you’re talking about 1.5 million people migrating from the rural north to the cities,” Seager said. “It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”
He and his co-author Colin Kelley do admit that a number of other factors played their parts, including the influx of over one million Iraqi refugees and the Arab Spring uprisings. But they say they couldn’t rule as to which, including the drought, was the most important.
Martin Hoerling, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist has described Kelley and Seager’s argument as “quite compelling,” praising the paper for making a strong case that human emissions caused the drought and therefore the violent civil war.
David Titley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist and retired Navy admiral, said in an email: “Reading this paper is like reading the analysis of an airline crash. There is a chain of events stretching back over 40 years that has led to the present calamitous conditions. The change in climate, forced by greenhouse gases, was one of the key events in this tragic story.”