Did human-caused climate change lead to war in Syria?
Based only on the mainstream press headlines, you almost certainly would think so.
Reading further into the articles where the case is laid out, a few caveats appear, but the chain of events seems strong.
The mechanism? An extreme drought in the Fertile Crescent region—one that a new studyfinds was made worse by human greenhouse gas emissions—added a spark to the tinderbox of tensions that had been amassing in Syria for a number of years under the Assad regime (including poor water management policies).
It is not until you dig pretty deep into the technical scientific literature, that you find out that the anthropogenic climate change impact on drought conditions in the Fertile Crescent is extremely minimal and tenuous—so much so that it is debatable as to whether it is detectable at all.
This is not to say that a strong and prolonged drought didn’t play some role in the Syria’s pre-war unrest—perhaps it did, perhaps it didn’t (a debate we leave up to folks much more qualified than we are on the topic)—but that the human-influenced climate change impact on the drought conditions was almost certainly too small to have mattered.
In other words, the violence would almost certainly have occurred anyway.
Several tidbits buried in the scientific literature are relevant to assessing the human impact on the meteorology behind recent drought conditions there.
It is true that climate models do project a general drying trend in the Mediterranean region (including the Fertile Crescent region in the Eastern Mediterranean) as the climate warms under increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. There are two components to the projected drying. The first is a northward expansion of the subtropical high pressure system that typically dominates the southern portion of the region. This poleward expansion of the high pressure system would act to shunt wintertime storm systems northward, increasing precipitation over Europe but decreasing precipitation across the Mediterranean. The second component is an increase in the temperature which would lead to increased evaporation and enhanced drying.
Our analysis will show that the connection between this drought and human-induced climate change is tenuous at best, and tendentious at worst.