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Ethnic divides play a major role in many armed conflicts around the world and might serve as predetermined conflict lines following rapidly emerging societal tensions arising from disruptive events like natural disasters. We find evidence in global datasets that risk of armed-conflict outbreak is enhanced by climate-related disaster occurrence in ethnically fractionalized countries. Although we find no indications that environmental disasters directly trigger armed conflicts, our results imply that disasters might act as a threat multiplier in several of the world’s most conflict-prone regions.