ECC Platform Library


Climate change and violent extremism in the Western Sahel

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Western Africa
Time 2012 ‐ ongoing
Countries Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Chad
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Conflict Summary Prominent extremist organisations, including Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State affiliated groups, have flourished in the...
Climate change and violent extremism in the Western Sahel
Prominent extremist organisations, including Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State affiliated groups, have flourished in the last decade in the West African Sahel, with severe consequences for local communities and political stability in the region. Evidence suggests a combination of historical, social, and political factors are driving these conflicts, while there are indications the situation could be exacerbated by more frequent and severe extreme weather events such as floods and extended dry periods.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are projected to become more frequent and severe if climatic variability increases in the Sahel. Meanwhile, some climate models show a potential greening of the Sahel in the coming years resulting from a slight increase in average rainfall.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Pressures on natural resources undermine the livelihoods of rural communities and could intensify competition and conflicts between different user groups – e.g. farming and herding communities.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Poor economic prospects in combination with government neglect and general insecurity, in turn, are driving radicalisation in the region. Long-standing land-use conflicts and the inability or reluctance of Sahelian governments to resolve them have eroded the legitimacy of public authorities, a gap which has been filled to some extent by extremist groups. This is contributing to the rise of militant anti-state sentiment and jihadist groups in the Western Sahel.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversMore frequent/intense extreme weather events reduce available land.Economic developments lead to changes in land use.Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity undermines the livelihoods of agricultural producers.Livelihood insecurity reveals lacking capacity of the state to manage crises.The perceived inadequacy of state capacity leads to growing discontent with the state.Reduced capacity and/or legitimacy of the state compounds fragility.Reduced capacity and/or legitimacy of the state augments the risk of crime, violence, and extremism.Livelihood insecurity leads to growing discontent with the state.Livelihood insecurity augments the risk of crime, violence, and extremism.An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityReduced capacity of the state to fulfil basic functions deemed necessary by the population and/or reduced public support for state authorities.Reduced State Capacity and/or LegitimacyChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State GrievancesA reduced ability of the state to fulfil basic functions.Weakened StateThe uptake of activities, such as joining extremist groups or engaging in illicit and violent activities, which increase the overall fragility of a region.Crime / Violence / Extremism
Context Factors
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Marginalization
  • Unresponsive Government
  • Eroded Social Contract
  • History of Conflict
  • Proliferation of Weapons
Conflict History

Prominent jihadist organisations, including Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State affiliated groups, have clashed with government forces in the last decade in the West African Sahel, leading to widespread suffering and worsening political instability in the region (Warner, 2017Cooke & Sanderson, 2016). Conflicts have primarily increased between state security forces and Jihadist insurgents. However, attacks on civilians committed by militias and jihadists have also increased. Insurgent groups have used various strategies to exploit local struggles and grievances over land access and claims of government corruption to gain popular support. Furthermore the military presence of France, Estonia, UN forces and the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) with support from the UK and Canada has been used to vindicate a need to confront invasion, “re-colonisation” and exploitative government elites through jihad (Benjaminsen & Ba, 2018). After the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, many groups gained fighters and weapons from disbanded units of the Libyan army (see Mali case).

Aggression between the governments and the insurgents led to a greater polarisation between communities as local disputes are interwoven in broader ideological and regional struggles. This is highlighted by increasing violence in most countries of the Western Sahel (UCDP, 2019) culminating with the killing of 160 Fulani Muslims in Oggosagou, Mali on the 23rd of March 2019 (Hoije, 2019).  Fulani pastoralist communities are increasingly targeted by “self-defence” militias known as Dozo for alleged links to the jihadists. These groups primarily made up of the sedentary farming Dogon and Bambara communities have been blamed for extreme violence against the nomadic Fulani.

Attacks have severe consequences for local communities and political stability. Reported fatalities have increased consistently over the past three years (ACSFSS, 2019) while it is estimated 2.3 million are currently displaced in the region by a combination of factors related to violent conflict and environmental pressures (UN, 2018). Moreover, the spread of extreme violence interferes with the provision of services, such as education and health, thus aggravating socio-economic disparities between violence-affected and other regions (Cooke & Sanderson, 2016). In northern Mali for example, schools have remained inactive in some areas since attacks began to intensify in 2012 (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018).

Vulnerability, marginalisation, and violent extremism
Communities in the periphery of Sahelian countries face a multitude of intertwined challenges to peace and development, leaving them often in a situation of acute vulnerability and insecurity. In northern Mali, for instance, school attendance and malnutrition rank well below the country’s average (Bakrania, 2013). Similar situations can be observed in Chad and Niger (IASC & European Commission, 2019).

Furthermore, the Western Sahel has suffered from recurring conflict, including separatist rebellions and violent clashes between communal groups, which interact with clashes between jihadists and state security forces (e.g. see case studies on insurgencies in Mali and Niger or farmer-herder conflicts in the Sahel), as well as from the consequences of wars in North Africa (e.g. in Libya)(Larémont, 2013Jalali, 2013). Those have not only caused widespread suffering but also significantly slowed socioeconomic development; partly also because state interventions in peripheral areas have often privileged short-term security aspects over long-term investments in infrastructure, health, and education (de Melo, 2016Cooke & Sanderson, 2016).

Meanwhile, government neglect insecurity, and poor economic prospects can be considered driving forces of the ascendance of violence in the region. Evidence suggests people lacking economic opportunities and access to essential resources are likely to be sympathetic to armed groups who offer an income or promise more control over land (Nett & Rüttinger, 2016King, 2014). Moreover, news reports in Mali claim that jihadist groups successfully find new recruits and followers by simply providing food (Arsenault, 2015), while militias were often encouraged by the army to tackle extremism themselves. Local communities have accused security forces of offering no protection from extreme violence (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Meanwhile, armed opposition groups have garnered support by giving out humanitarian aid, outbidding other employment options in monetary terms, or offering micro-credit and similar services (Welsh, 2012Rowling, 2018Boffey, 2018CSIS, 2016: 06m00s).

Groups such as Boko Haram and AQIM are also gaining ground by addressing local conflicts over access to water and land, where trust in the official legal system and the ability of the state to address such conflicts has been eroded (McGregor, 2017Walch, 2017Benjaminsen, 2008). In particular, pastoralist communities, who have often seen their grazing rights curtailed by large scale acquisitions, especially in Mali and Nigeria – as well as a general bias against pastoralism in national development policies - have become more inclined to the application of Sharia law in unresolved disputes (Walch, 2017Benjaminsen & Ba, 2019).  

The aggravating role of climate change
Climate change could be compounding the above issues. As Walch (2017) explains, marginalised communities in the Western Sahel “have been left to manage the devastating impacts of climate change on their traditional livelihoods on their own [...]”. This has created fertile ground for recruitment by Jihadist groups”.

There is some uncertainty as to whether the Sahel is becoming wetter or drier but some have noted that both wet and dry spells are becoming more severe (Sylla et al 2016), increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events (Whiting, 2017United Nations University, 2011).

Further east some climate models project an increase in average rainfall in the Sahel (Leverman & Schewe, 2017). This additional rainfall and the potential for large scale commercial agriculture could in turn disrupt the livelihoods of smallholders and pastoralists, making them more vulnerable to both, climate change and indoctrination by extremist groups.

 [Last updated 2019-03-25]

Resolution Efforts

As a reaction to increasing extremist violence, international and regional actors have intensified their efforts to curb terrorism.

Military interventions and assistance
France’s military mission Operation Barkhane, efforts by the United Nations (UN) through the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and the establishment of the anti-trafficking and anti-terrorist G5 Sahel joint force have put military pressure on extremist organisations in the Western Sahel (Cooke & Toucas, 2017Cooke & Sanderson, 2016). Often efforts are interlinked, as in the example of the troops of the G5 Sahel: The force receives financing from many Western countries, such as $60 Million by the US, and is strongly supported by France’s Operation Barkhane (Cooke & Toucas, 2017Permanent Mission of France, 2017).

Many Western actors, including the EU focus on training and building military capacity in Sahel states instead of more extensive interventions: e.g. EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) or EU Capacity-Building Mission (EUCAP) (Cooke & Sanderson, 2016). The US has further been present with an important drone programme, which has become the target of criticism, however, after an investigation into the killing of four soldiers in Niger shed light on the extent of the programme and its operational practice (Callimachi et al., 2018Cooke & Toucas, 2017).

So far the results of the G5 Sahel joint force are mixed (Lebovich, 2018). While funding is relatively secure and operations are focused on relevant border regions, coordination on the battlefield remains an obstacle as well as the distribution of funds and the appropriate level of force (ibid.). Moreover, concerns have been raised that further deployment of yet another military mission could contribute to a security traffic jam (International Crisis Group, 2017a). It remains to be seen how effective the joint force turns out to be in the long run as it only launched its first operation in November 2017 (Cooke & Toucas, 2017).

Mali is a focal point in the Western Sahel. The country’s challenges are central to the stability of other states in the region (International Crisis Group, 2017b), and after a peace agreement in 2015 the situation remains fragile (see analysis of the situation in northern Mali). UN Peacekeepers in Mali have been frequently targeted by jihadist groups, making MINUSMA the deadliest ongoing peacekeeping mission (Sieff, 2017). This has led to a controversial discussion of the aims and means of MINUSMA, which is an ongoing process and arguably does not contribute to the mission’s effectiveness (ibid.).

From their bases in Mali, jihadist groups have launched attacks in Niger and Burkina Faso (ibid.). As a consequence, the threat of conflicts moving into Burkina Faso has grown in recent years due to increasing military presence, and terrorist targets (Weiss, 2017). Taken together, it can be said that despite combined efforts, military solutions have not yet significantly contributed to reducing terrorist violence in the Western Sahel. On the contrary, there are even fears that an overly militarised approach has repressed necessary reforms in other areas (Lebovich, 2018). However, in absence of solutions to the persistent governance problems in the region, no long lasting peace seems plausible at this point (ibid.International Crisis Group, 2017b).

Non-military responses to violence and extremism
There are different initiatives employed in the Sahel that aim to strengthen state capacities to counter extremism and terrorism from a non-military angle. Part of the US’s Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership consists of strengthening good governance and the rule of law. In Nigeria disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) measures have allegedly led to the surrender of more than 1,400 former Boko Haram fighters (Anyadike, 2017b). Niger also launched a deradicalisation and reintegration programme in 2016. Yet, DDR efforts are sometimes complicated by retaliations on former fighters when they return to their communities (Anyadike, 2017b). 

In recent years, the idea of negotiating with extremist groups has gained prominence (Hasseye, 2018). Proponents claim that a peace deal, similar to the one with Tuareg rebels in Mali, is feasible (see analysis of the situation in northern Mali). However, opponents of such an approach argue that extremists group are not willing to engage in any forms of negotiations and that even if they would, their positions are too extreme to engage with in the first place (ibid.).

Climate change adaptation
Besides immediate solutions to violence and extremism, various stakeholders in the Sahel – ranging from governments to local communities to NGOs, donor organisations and international organisations such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and United Nations Environment Program – collaborate on counteracting the impacts of climate change (Epule, et al, 2017). This could reduce the burden on regional governments and local communities, and hence help address the root causes of the region’s development and security challenges.

Among the measures taken in the region, income diversification was most common, followed by water harnessing and soil conservation (ibid.). Moreover, the amount of adaptation programmes has increased in the last two decades (ibid.). All Least Developed Countries in the Sahel completed their National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) between 2004 and 2010, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The programmes help to outline the most urgent needs in relation to climate change adaptation (UNFCCC, n.d.). Some of them include measures to manage migration and tackle conflict issues. For example, Burkina Faso’s NAPA entails a proposal for a regional mechanism that secures pastoral zones and prevents farmer and herder conflicts over land (UNEP, 2011). The country also started an early warning and prevention system to improve water and food security with the implementation of its NAPA (ibid.).

Developing solar energy
In addition, much hope is put into the instalment of off-grid solar options. In West Africa around 60% of the population do not have access to electricity. This is even more pronounced in rural areas, where 90% of energy needs are met by burning wood (SIPA, 2018). It is envisioned that developing solar energy might simultaneously champion climate change adaptation, climate change mitigation and economic development (Rowling, 2018). It is argued that solar powered applications, such as easy irrigation systems, could help farmers to adapt to a changing climate while also making sure to not contributing to further global warming (ibid.). This would in turn lead to improved living standards, as access to electricity is generally seen as a necessary source for economic development (ibid.O’Keeffe, 2016The World Bank, 2017). Improving off-grid energy access is increasingly seen as a security as well as a development priority. It is argued to keep children in school, to support the needs of rural populations and to create jobs where much of the most lucrative employment is with jihadist groups and illicit trade (SIPA, 2018 39:24).

A ‘Great Green Wall’
One project that received prominent reporting is the ‘Great Green Wall’, started by the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. It originally aimed at establishing a belt of trees stretching from Western to Eastern Africa to reverse desertification. However, in the course of the project the focus has shifted to a harmonised regional strategy for integrated natural resource management (ibid.Laestadius, 2017).

So far the ‘Great Green Wall’ has severely lagged behind to sufficiently vitalise the area within the timeframe of the African Union’s 2063 agenda – and is going to be unable to meet its goals within the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development timeframe (Laestadius, 2017UN, 2016). There are also concerns, the Great Green Wall could disrupt local livelihoods and thus add to existing anti-state grievances (Benjaminsen & Hierneaux, 2019). This suggests a greater need for information on the effects of both environmental change and environmental/development policies on local livelihoods and specifically a better understanding of pastoralist concerns (Johnsen et al, 2019).

However, the above reforms are overshadowed by other political priorities and have been slow overall (Cooke & Sanderson, 2016). A big push towards more effective climate change adaption and deeper institutional reforms would greatly benefit from an increase in development assistance (de Melo, 2016). Ultimately, a solution to the terrorist challenge in the Sahel, including its environmental dimension, will require the coordination and integration of strategies across sectors (peacebuilding, institutional reform, resource management, and climate change adaptation among others).

 [Last updated 2019-03-25]

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Katiba Salaheddine
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal International
G5 Sahel
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Islamic State in the Greater Sahara
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Government of France
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
European Union
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Boko Haram
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Peacekeeping MINUSMA has deployed troops to support the G5 Sahel and French government forces. Military solutions have not yet significantly contributed to reducing terrorist violence in the Western Sahel. There are even fears that an overly militarised approach has hampered necessary reforms in other areas.
2 Disarmament, demobilisation & reintegration In Nigeria disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) measures have allegedly led to the surrender of more than 1,400 former Boko Haram fighters. Yet, DDR efforts are sometimes complicated by retaliations on former fighters when they return to their communities.
0 Humanitarian & Development aid A big push towards more effective climate change adaption and deeper institutional reforms would greatly benefit from an increase in development assistance. Ultimately, a solution to the terrorist challenge in the Sahel, including its environmental dimension, will require the coordination and integration of strategies across sectors (peacebuilding, institutional reform, resource management, and climate change adaptation among others).
0 Improving state capacity & legitimacy Applicable, but not employed
0 Improving actionable information More information is needed on the effects of both environmental change and environmental/development policies on local livelihoods, as is a better understanding of the concerns of vulnerable communities.
2 Coping with uncertainty Besides immediate solutions to violence and extremism, various stakeholders in the Sahel work on counteracting the impacts of climate change, which would reduce the burden on regional governments and local communities and help address the root causes of the region’s development and security challenges. Among the measures taken in the region, income diversification was most common, followed by water harnessing and soil conservation. All Least Developed Countries in the Sahel completed their National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) between 2004 and 2010. The programmes help to outline the most urgent needs in relation to climate change adaptation. Some of them include measures to manage migration and tackle conflict issues.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
References with URL

References without URL
Christensen, Jens Hesselbjerg et al. (2007) Chapter 11 Regional Climate Projections. In: Solomon, S. et al. (eds) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 847-940.
Epulea, T.E.; Forda, J.D.; Lwasab, S. and Lepagec, L. (2017). Climate change adaptation in the Sahel. Environmental Science & Policy (75), 121-131
Ibrahim, I. Y. 2017. “The Wave of jihadist Insurgency in West Africa: Global Ideology, Local Context, Individual Motivations.” West African Papers, No. 07, OECD Publishing, Paris.
Rowling, M. (2017). In the Sahel, solar power can help ward off extremism – official [accessed 2018-08-07]
Schewe, J & Levermann, A (2017): Non–linear intensification of Sahel rainfall as a possible dynamic response to future warming. Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 495-505.
Sieff, K. (2017). The world’s most dangerous U.N. mission - The al-Qaeda threat in Mali presents a new challenge to U.N. peacekeepers [accessed 2018-08-02]
Sylla, Mouhamadou & Nikiema, Michel & Gibba, Peter & Kebe, Ibourahima & Klutse, Nana Ama Browne. (2016). Climate Change over West Africa: Recent Trends and Future Projections.


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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