I still see a lot of people claiming that the 2007-2009 drought in the Middle East CAUSED the Syrian civil war. This is used as an example of how climate change can (will) lead to conflicts and migration in the future, based on the idea that this alarmist narrative will lead to more climate action. While I agree that climate change is serious and will cause big problems in the not so far future, it’s important to base our claims on scientific evidence.
Just because the drought happened a few years before the uprising started doesn’t mean that there is a causal relationship between the two. Many things are correlated, but that doesn’t mean one variable caused the other. But what do researchers say about the drought and the civil war in Syria?
Important to know is that there is yet no agreement on what role the drought had in the protests in 2011. A recent debate in Political Geography (1 paper, 3 commentaries and 1 rejoinder) has shown that it’s difficult to find reliable evidence for a link, but also very difficult to disprove it. It’s also important to be careful about how to communicate around the topic. Saying that climate change had nothing or very little to do with the Syrian uprising may be interpreted as if no link between climate and conflict exist at all, anywhere. Saying that climate change or drought played a major role in the Syrian uprising and civil war focuses the responsibility away from the Syrian government and fails to reflect the political and socio-economic situation in Syria at the time (an argument made by Fransesca DeChâtel).
What we can say for certain about the Syrian civil war is that climate wasn’t the only factor, and that we should avoid such simplistic narratives. Below this conclusion is summarized in a meme I made some weeks ago:
I’m currently finishing a paper on land use in Syria in connection to the drought that could provide some information about what happened in rural areas, but it may be some time before it’s published. Meanwhile, these papers/articles of mine could be relevant for understanding the 2007-2009 drought: