Global Warming and Water
Can Cooperation help us avoid
conflict over water scarcity?
• Global warming will increase the uncertainties
surrounding our water supply through more
erratic rainfall, loss of snowmelt runoff, etc.
Specific effects will vary by region.
• Most damaging to systems that are already
stressed (IPCC reports that 1.7 billion people
live in water stressed countries).
• So why does this matter?
– People will fight over it.
The Problem: Legal/Political
• Disputes in the developed world-
– Waning Colorado River Water
– Southeastern Drought
• Army Corps of Engineers control how much water is released
from Reservoirs in Georgia downstream to Florida and
• Must take into account interests of each state (Georgia-
municipal water/Florida-sportfishing stocks, oyster industry,
endangered species etc).
• Florida and Georgia both seeking legal action, Alabama has
no water management plan despite two years of drought!
The Problem: Legal/Political
• The potential for reduced water supply to
fast-growing Atlanta caused Georgia Gov.
Sonny Perdue to lead a large group in a
prayer for rain last Tuesday (Nov. 13).
The Problem: Violent Conflict
• In and among undeveloped countries
conflict supposedly will be much worse-
– Nordas and Gleditsch offer numerous
• Dept. of Defense (Randall and Schwartz 2003)
• UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon 2007
• Kevin Noone Director of Intern. Geosphere-
• IPCC, more restrained but still alarmist and
The Problem: Violent Conflict (2)
• What are the causal pathways?
– Scarcity directly causes conflict, either within
or between states.
• Demand induced via population growth
• Supply induced (either because of environmental
change or substandard infrastructure)
• Distributional-scarcity is greater for some groups
– Climate changed induced migration may
cause conflict in host communities
• We have a word for such reasoning….
The Problem: Violent Conflict (3)
Malthusian! Humans Kantian! Humans can
are prisoners of their cooperate.
environments… Institutions help.
• Is violent conflict over water inevitable?
To what extent are the Malthusians right?
• Is it adaptation to water scarcity possible
without violence? How do we currently
adapt to scarcity? To what extent are the
How probable is violent conflict?
• Does scarcity directly lead to civil war? –
– Raleigh and Urdal (2007): test a
disaggregated model covering all
countries, water scarcity matters but not that
much compared to
demographic, economic, and political
– What about just Africa though?
How probable is violent conflict? (2)
• Hendrix and Glaser (2007)
How probable is violent conflict? (3)
• Meier Bond and Bond (2007): precipitation
variability doesn’t lead to increased cattle raids
in the horn of africa.
• Will migration cause civil conflict?
– Maybe (Reuveny 2007): counts 38 documented
episodes of environment-induced migration, finds
conflict results in 19 cases while the other 19 were
– Gleditsch and Salehyan (2007): refugees are more
likely to spread conflict than cause it.
• What about interstate war?
How probable is violent conflict? (4)
• Evidence from Shared River Basins
• Gleditsch et al (2006)
How probable is violent conflict? (5)
• Yoffe, Wolfe, and Giordano (2003)
Summary so far
• Conflict is certainly a possible result of
climate change induced water scarcity but:
– The causal chain between scarcity and
conflict is still sketchy, general human misery
is much more likely.
– Conflict can be averted through successful
water management. How does this work?
What is water management?
• Demand (restrict usage) and supply (build
infrastructure) side regulations dealing with:
• Municipal water supply
• Pollution Control
• Flood Management
The Solution? (2)
As the IPCC notes (Ch. 4.6.4): “having the
ability to adapt to change is not the same
as actually adapting to change.”
So why haven’t management tools been
IPCC says (4.8.3)- we need more knowledge!
Better monitoring data on supply and usage, better
understanding of patterns of variability, better
management techniques and decision criteria…
But…Where’s the politics?
The Solution? (3)
• The ability for relevant political actors to
cooperate is critical for effective water
– Management is costly, who will bear the
costs? How will losers be compensated?
– Management choices are circumscribed by
Example of Water Institutions-CA
• “Water is the life-blood of Southern California” –
• Local governments and water districts controlled
water management pre-1920.
• Metropolitan Water District is a cooperative of 26
– 14 cities, 11 municipal water districts, and the
countywide San Diego Water authority
• Supplies 60 percent of the water used in Urban
Metropolitan Water District
• MWD’s early history is that of a water
– In late 1920s, MWD financed and built 242
mile Colorado River Aqueduct.
– In 1970s imported water from Northern CA via
State Water Project’s Aqueduct system.
• How has MWD adapted to increasing
Increasing Scarcity of Colorado
River Water for CA
• California’s allocation is 4.4 MAF per year, plus
half of any surplus. Arizona v. CA 1963.
– Surplus allocation allowed CA to consume 20% more
than its basic allotment.
– Reduced streamflow cut surpluses, upper basin
states, Arizona, and Mexico now using most of their
– In 2002, Interior department limited CA to 4.4 MAF by
declaring the end of surplus conditions.
• Switch from water importation to in-state
transfers from N. CA, conservation,
storage, and rural to urban water transfers.
– Required abandoning its traditional alliance
• MWD faces opposition everywhere
– Peripheral Canal Defeated in 1982 by Central
valley interests and Environmentalists
– Calfed Bay-Delta Program only partially
implemented by 2002 Proposition 50.
How is water conflict resolved in
• Institutional bargaining amongst every
level and branch of government
– Increasing scarcity merely exacerbates
– The federal government and the court system
– Expertise aggregated into water agencies like
• Conflicts never turn violent, though there
are always losers (i.e. Mexico).
Questions for Discussion
• Given the lack of any water infrastructure
and management in much of the
developing world, can management be
improved? Is migration a forgone
• Is international water aid a realistic