The political implications of climate change

What are the political implications of climate change? I have been looking into a few studies lately on the implications of climate change for societies. In brief, there is substantial evidence that climate change matter for economic development, political instability, climate migrants, public health, conflict, etc. Nerini et al. (2019) provide a great overview on how climate change can impact the achievement of the different Sustainable Development Goals (for each of the targets in the 17 SDGs):

They find that climate change can undermine the achievement of at least 16 out of the 17 SDGs. In other words, it is clear that climate change is not unrelated to other challenges faced by societies today (I wrote about this in relation to COVID-19 earlier this year). For topics such as poverty, gender equality, and economic inequality, climate change is important.

A lot of the studies I have found look at how climate change shape economic outcomes. In the table below I show some of these studies with information on their climate focus as well as the key result. The core finding is that changes related to climate change (extreme weather events, temperature increase) matter for economic outcomes.

Study Climate focus Result
Coronese et al. (2019) Extreme natural disasters (floods, extreem temperatures, droughts, storms, wildfires, and landslides) Increase in economic damages (GDP)
Dell et al. (2012) Average temperature Decrease in economic growth
Estrada et al. (2017) Global temperature Increase in economic costs (% GDP)
Hsiang et al. (2017) Global mean temperature Increase in economic market and nonmarket damage
Kotz et al. (2021) Increase in day-to-day temperature variability Reduction in regional growth rates
Pretis et al. (2019) Global mean surface temperature Decrease in economic growth

The studies are particularly interested in economic growth rates and economic damages caused by temperature changes.

Similarly, there are studies demonstrating how climate change matters for (political) conflicts. In the table below I provide an overview of some key studies in the field.

Study Climate focus Result
Burkhardt et al. (2019) Air pollution exposure Increase in violent crimes
De Juan and Wegenast (2020) Average annual temperature Decrease in food riot occurrence
Harp and Karnauskas (2020) Surface air temperature Increase in violent crimes
Hsiang et al. (2013) Warmer temperatures and more extreme rainfall Increase in human conflict (interpersonal violence, political instability etc.)
Jun and Sethi (2021) Extreme weather events Increase in military conflicts
Schleussner et al. (2016) Climate-related disasters Increase in risk for armed conflict

These studies tend to focus on temperature and extreme weather events as well, but with at least one study looking at air pollution exposure. Given the different measures available in the different studies, I would be interested in knowing how many of these studies replicate if they used different measures.

What I find most interesting is not the evidence I have found, but rather what I have not found. Of course, I might have missed some relevant studies beyond economic outcomes and (violent) conflict, but I was expecting to see a lot more political science research on the impact of climate change. How will climate change – and not just the framing of climate change or the amount of rain on Election Day – matter for politics?

As climate change is not affecting countries in a homogeneous manner, there should be a lot of options to study the political implications of climate change. However, again, what are the political implications of climate change? We don’t really know. That being said, I do expect that we will see a lot more research on this topic in the coming years. To be continued…