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Climate Change, Demographic Shifts, and Socio-Political Stability

PI: Arun Agrawal, University of Michigan

Year selected for award: 2022

Climate Change, Demographic Shifts, and Socio-Political Stability in Sub-Saharan Africa

Principal Investigator: Arun Agrawal, University of Michigan

Co-Investigators: Yuri Zhukov, University of Michigan

Years of Award: 2023-2026        

Managing Service Agency: Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Project Description:
Leveraging the skills of an exceptional interdisciplinary team of University of Michigan’s social, data, and climate scientists, this project will advance the frontiers of usable social-scientific knowledge at the intersection of climate, demography, and socio-political stability as it affects U.S. national security interests. The project will analyze how complex interactions of climate and demographic change affect sociopolitical stability in Africa, assess where and when risks are greatest, and thus respond to two central concerns of the 2022 U.S. National Defense Strategy: climate change and China (PRC). The project will generate actionable research findings on factors that prompt and locations that harbor great risks of political instability and conflict in Africa.

 The five deliverables from the project: 1) Critical data infrastructure. The project's innovations will include the creation and development of the most comprehensive and user-accessible data platform in existence for harmonized climate, demographic, socioeconomic, institutional, and conflict data for sub-Saharan Africa. The data infrastructure is designed to address the persistent and ubiquitous problems of data harmonization and integration. It exploits technical advances in up- and downscaling data, estimation of missing data, and metadata specification to transform datasets across different and incompatible spatial units, facilitating the generation of bespoke, analysis-ready datasets. In the process, it will also generate a comprehensive dictionary of causal and outcome variables and their measures that represent climate, demography, context, and conflict for national security relevant analyses. 2) Processed and transformed data into useable datasets for analysis. The project will extend existing data infrastructural capabilities to support interdisciplinary research on climate, demographics and conflict, by incorporating into the platform new spatial transformation and interpolation algorithms developed by computer scientists and statisticians on the project team. 3) Honed and tested analytical empirical models that can help forecast when and where risks will develop. The project will deploy big-data analytic and AI techniques for a systematic assessment of the empirical validity of multiple hypotheses proposed in the literature, and to test relationships between climatic, demographic, and conflict variables at the continental, country, and local scale. The project will share the results of these analyses publicly with the scholarly and the defense community for their assessment and feedback. 4) Novel data from field studies in critical sites. The project will support directed data collection by leading field research in three critical locations in the region, and additionally support 15 research projects by promising candidates from other institutions including in Africa, in the process mobilizing a community of research and practice on climate-demographic change and sociopolitical stability. The direct data collection efforts will help identify key variables on which data will improve the understanding and empirical modeling of the relationship between climate-demographic change and sociopolitical stability, uncover unsuspected mechanisms that lead to sociopolitical instability, and explore resilience mechanisms that dampen the prospects of instability. 5) A network of researchers (including education and training of early career scholars at PMEs and elsewhere).