Tristan McConnell and Nick Loomis consider the connection, specifically in the Sahel, a region just south of the Sahara:
“Climate change plays two roles,” says [energy efficiency company] Opower’s [Drew] Sloan. “When you and your family have been living off the same land for generations and all of a sudden that becomes impossible, the first impact is relocation. But there’s a limited amount of land in the world so we’re going to see more and more skirmish zones. … Second, climate change makes people feel small and helpless, and Islamic fundamentalists have been very good at turning helplessness and despair into anger and action. If you give someone who feels small a gun, they stop feeling small,” he adds. Sloan is a former US Army soldier. “If you give them a direction to point that gun they stop feeling helpless.”
[UC Berkeley scholar Marshall] Burke, a resource economist, is more cautious.
He says the evidence does not yet suggest direct cause-and-effect links between climate change and specific conflicts, but that climate change increases the likelihood of conflict in general. “Years of bad climate — in particular, years of unusually hot temperatures or extreme rainfall — substantially increases the likelihood that many different types of conflict might occur,” says Burke. “We cannot say definitively that changes in climate are what has caused the growing conflict across the Sahel but the types of climate change we’ve seen are on average associated with higher rates of conflict.” …
[Burke] also sees glimmers of hope. “There are many other factors that also affect conflict, and many of these things are improving: countries are getting a little wealthier, and developing better institutions. Whether these improvements will outweigh the negative effects of climate change, I don’t think we know yet.”