Savannah Kopp

Savannah Kopp is a senior economics major with a minor in international development and conflict management at the University of Maryland. She is passionate about using economic development to stabilize communities experiencing conflict. Savannah is excited to be working on projects to increase sanitation in schools, as all children should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and increase their economic stability.

The Eurocentric Tendencies of Climate Change Analysis: It Is Time to Pass the Mic

31 Jan

Tomorrow, January will come to a close, and along with it so will the submission period for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominations. In acknowledging this, I have found myself reflecting on the 2019 selection process. As some may recall, Greta Thunberg, a young climate activist from Sweden, was not included on the short-list for the final selection. In justification of this decision, Henrik Urdal of the Peace Research Institute-Oslo stated, “There is no simple and unquestionable causal link between climate change and conflict. The Nobel Committee should take note of this.” Urdal elaborates on this by citing the lack of consensus on climate’s impact regarding conflict and goes on to discuss that climate ranks in the bottom of a list of risk factors. While he concedes the point that researchers acknowledge some impact of climate change on conflict, and that this impact is bound to increase, I feel there are some pressing issues with Urdal’s take.

Rarely does there exist a “simple” link between any risk factor and conflict. In contrast, conflict tends to emerge out of several complex intertwining risk factors, all of which need to be understood and addressed for a successful conflict transformation. Risk factors can amplify one another, and sometimes the presence of one risk factor can set the stage for others.

Is this not the entire concern of climate change? It is not the mere presence of warming temperatures that has everyone up in arms, but the negative impacts of that on the functionality of the very ecosystems we rely on. In a world which developing countries source the majority of their economic livelihoods from agriculture, an increasingly unstable climate threatens socio-economic development (a risk factor Urdal cites as one of the most significant drivers of conflict). In countries with pre-existing risk factors such as an absence of the rule of law, does the economic turmoil and subsequent displacement of climate refugees not strain a nation which lacks institutional integrity?

Climate change will never be the clear risk-factor that causes a country to devolve into chaos, but it is certainly a driver of the risk-factors that will. The negative effects of climate change are already impacting the stability of many developing nations. If our previous mistakes in development have taught us anything, it should be that success is built upon our ability to listen to those most impacted by the concepts we merely theorize on from afar. The opportunity to circumvent future crises requires the international community to shift perspectives to those often left out of the conversations on development.

In the spirit of passing the mic, I will conclude this by turning the focus toward our partners at Children Peace Initiative Kenya (CPIK), whose work has drastically reduced drought-related conflict between pastoralists in their communities. CPIK organizes peace camps to build relationships and bridge the gap in communications between children from tribes fighting over resources. The friendships formed by the children create a ripple effect and encourage cooperation between the two tribes’ authority figures. This foundation is used to foster economic interdependence which optimizes output and disincentives violence driven by resource scarcity. In recognizing the environmental risk-factors that fuel conflict, CPIK has been able to apply innovative and effective measures to alleviate violence. They aim to continue this effort in other areas where severe drought increases susceptibility for resource conflicts. May their devotion to peace serve as an example for the international community as we seek to secure a sustainable future in the face of climate-driven conflict.

Posted By Savannah Kopp

Posted Jan 31st, 2021


  • Stacy

    January 31, 2021


    You are absolutely right, Savannah. Passing the mic should happen with respect to ALL development — or beneficial social change — such that everyone on this planet is able to have some agency in diagnosing the problems and then making the decisions that affect them. But with climate change this is equally important and your blog highlights this clearly. Thank you for your contributions to this ongoing (what should be GLOBAL) conversation.

  • Iain Guest

    February 6, 2021


    This is such a good blog Savannah! You’ve really nailed it, and given us all a great conceptual framework for our work with CPIK this year. Here’s a question for you and MacKenzie: Did the Nobel Committee paint themselves into a corner by that idiotic comment in 2019, denying any causal link between climate change and conflict? If so, what will it take to change their minds and what else is going to change between 2019 and 2021? They may need some serious prompting! Let the battle begin!!

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