Environmental change and social conflict: the northeast Atlantic mackerel dispute

Author(s): Spijkers, J., Boonstra, W.
In: Reg Environ Change, doi:10.1007/s10113-017-1150-4
Year: 2017
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Marine
Link to centre authors: Boonstra, Wijnand, Spijkers, Jessica
Full reference: Spijkers, J. & Boonstra, W.J. 2017. Environmental change and social conflict: the northeast Atlantic mackerel dispute. Reg Environ Change, doi:10.1007/s10113-017-1150-4


A recurrent critique of the proposition of a causal relation between environmental change and social conflict is that it fails to account for the complexities and dynamics of processes of social-ecological change. In this article, we open the black box of contextual factors that influence the causal pathway from environmental change to social conflict. Firstly, we argue for the consideration of three social factors that influence that pathway: (a) institutions, (b) power, and (c) knowledge. Taking a deductive approach, we ascertain their causal importance in the case of the “mackerel dispute,” an interstate conflict that unfolded after the abrupt and rapid change in distribution of the northeast Atlantic mackerel stock after 2007. We analyze the historical development of the mackerel dispute through process tracing and demonstrate the importance and causal role of the three factors. Secondly, based on our assessment, we argue to increase the diversity of the scope conditions relevant for the environmental change-social conflict nexus. We propose to consider a wider variety of conflicts as outcome of environmental change, high-income regions as an arena for those conflicts, and a wider variety of environmental change, such as alterations in abundance in the context of climate change. Lastly, we discuss how future research on this topic can handle the wider scope conditions and greater case variability.

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