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Journal Article


Verhoeven H. Div. Change 2011; 42(3): 679-707.


University of Oxford (St Cross College).


(Copyright © 2011, Institute of Social Studies, Publisher John Wiley and Sons)






Dystopian accounts of climate change posit that it will lead to more conflict, causing state failure and mass population movements. Yet these narratives are both theoretically and empirically problematic: the conflict-environment hypothesis merges a global securitization agenda with local manipulations of Northern fears about the state of planetary ecology. Sudan has experienced how damaging this fusion of wishful thinking, power politics and top-down development can be. In the 1970s, global resource scarcity concerns were used locally to impose the fata morgana of Sudan as an Arab-African breadbasket: in the name of development, violent evictions of local communities contributed to Sudan's second civil war and associated famines. Today, Darfur has been labelled 'the world's first climate change conflict', masking the long-term political-economic dynamics and Sudanese agency underpinning the crisis. Simultaneously, the global food crisis is instrumentalized to launch a dam programme and agricultural revival that claim to be African answers to resource scarcity. The winners, however, are Sudan's globalized Islamist elites and foreign investors, whilst the livelihoods of local communities are undermined. Important links exist between climatic developments and security, but global Malthusian narratives about state failure and conflict are dangerously susceptible to manipulations by national elites; the practical outcomes decrease rather than increase human security. In the climate change era, the breakdown of institutions and associated violence is often not an unfortunate failure of the old system due to environmental shock, but a strategy of elites in wider processes of power and wealth accumulation and contestation.

Language: en


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