ECC Platform Library


Climate Change, Charcoal Trade and Armed Conflict in Somalia

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Eastern Africa
Time 2008 ‐ ongoing
Countries Somalia
Resources Forests, Resilience of the environment
Conflict Summary As a result of frequent droughts, civil war and disrupted livelihoods, pastoralist communities in Somalia increasingly turn to charcoal production as an...
Climate Change, Charcoal Trade and Armed Conflict in Somalia
As a result of frequent droughts, civil war and disrupted livelihoods, pastoralist communities in Somalia increasingly turn to charcoal production as an alternative source of income. Charcoal production in Somalia is not only an important source of deforestation, environmental degradation and communal conflict, but provides also steady revenues for rebel groups such as al Shabaab, who control the distribution of the resource.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Somalia has been affected by an increased frequency of droughts and floods, especially in the southern part of the country.

Intermediary Mechanisms

The deforestation and soil erosion resulting from charcoal production has threatens the livelihoods of rural communities.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

The growth of the charcoal industry has not only provoked communal conflicts, but has also supported the military activities of rebel groups such as al Shabaab. Charcoal trading has become one of the group’s main sources of income as they control distribution networks.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversMore frequent/intense extreme weather events reduce available natural resources.In-migration leads to demographic change.Demographic changes lead to environmental degradation.Economic activity causes pollution.Pollution / Environmental degradation reduces available/usable natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines resource-dependent livelihoods.Livelihood insecurity fuels grievances between groups.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 EventsGrowing scarcity of essential natural resources.Natural Resource ScarcityVoluntary or involuntary movement of people from one area to another.Migration patternsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangePollution and degradation of ecosystems, such as coral reefs.Pollution / Environmental DegradationA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsThe 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
  • History of Conflict
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihoods
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Since the 1970s, charcoal is one of Somalia’s principal exports, along with livestock, hides and bananas. Charcoal and firewood are the primary sources of energy for the majority of households in Somalia and charcoal production provides a considerable amount of employment in rural areas (Mohamed, 2001; Ismail, 2011). Despite several attempts to ban charcoal production because of its detrimental environmental effects, the industry has increasingly grown following the collapse of the Somalian state in the 1990s (Baxter, 2007; Gaworecki, 2015). The consequences for the environment are dramatic: Whereas forests represented about 13 percent of Somalia’s land area in 1990, they only covered about 10.7 percent in 2010, with signs for accelerating deforestation rates in recent years (UN, 2011; Bolognesi et al. 2015). But the growth of the industry has also provoked conflicts between woodcutters and rural communities, whose livelihoods are threatened by deforestation and soil erosion, and increased the revenues of armed groups such as al Shabaab (UN, 2011; UNDP, 2013). It has been estimated that al Shabaab earns between $38 and $56 million annually from charcoal exports and $8-$18 million annually from taxing charcoal traders at roadblocks and checkpoints. This makes charcoal one of the group’s main sources of income, but also a matter of conflict with rival rebel groups (Nellemann et al., 2014; Ward, 2014; UCDP, 2015).

Illegal charcoal trade continues despite bans
Charcoal exports have been banned by successive Somalian administrations, including the actual federal government. Yet, high demand for Somalian charcoal in the Gulf States, due to their strict laws on preventing local deforestation, acts as a strong incentive for Somalian traders to continue to export the country’s natural resources. This is further encouraged by the absence of effective government structures in Somalia, who could restrict the activities of woodcutters and charcoal traders (Baxter, 2007; Mohamed, 2012). Forest management and environmental protection is further hampered by unclear property rights regimes: Communal land, which had been nationalized during the military regime of President Siad Barre (1969-1991) became de facto ‘ownerless’ after 1991 and has been exploited since by different communities and armed groups (Mohamed, 2001).

On the supply side, charcoal production has become an important source of income for rural populations affected by environmental hardship, displacement and conflict. Especially in the southern part of the country, increasingly frequent droughts and floods have combined with overgrazing, desertification and soil erosion to deplete pastoralist livelihoods. This dynamic is further accelerated by continuous fighting and mass displacements of rural populations. Left with little alternatives, more and more pastoralists turn to charcoal trading in order to survive, which further exacerbates local communities’ vulnerability to extreme weather events (Mohamed, 2012; Ismail, 2011).

A vicious cycle
Charcoal trading in Somalia does not only contribute to communal tensions and the military activities of rebel groups such as al Shabaab, it is also at the heart of a vicious cycle of environmental degradation, depleted livelihoods and further cutting of trees, accelerated by- and exacerbating the local impacts of climate change. In order to tackle these issues, the federal government, the UN Security Council and other organisation are not only trying to restrict charcoal exports from Somalia, but also to reduce local charcoal consumption and promote alternative livelihoods.

Resolution Efforts

Alarming deforestation rates in connection with charcoal production already led to the ban of charcoal exports under the Siad Barre regime and also under the rule of General Muhammad Farah Aideed, who exerted control over much of Southern Somalia from 1992 to 1996. However, general Aideed’s son and successor, Hussein Muhammad Aideed, did not impose such restriction, leading to an increase of charcoal production after 1996. The ban was re-imposed in 2000 and has been in effect, albeit poorly enforced, under changing transitional administrations. In 2010 the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia succeeded in diminishing charcoal exports from a number of ports, including Mogadishu and Marka, but the trade continued unabated in ports controlled by Al Shabaab, such as Kismayo (Baxter, 2007; UN Security Council, 2011).

Actions against illegal charcoal exports
In 2012, the United Nations took note of the charcoal trade and its ramifications with the military operations of Al Shabaab. The UN Security Council issued Resolution 2036, urging UN member states, presumably the Gulf States through which the charcoal trade flows, to take the necessary measures to prevent the import of charcoal from Somalia. The same year, Somalian and African Union troops were able to re-capture Kismayo. Yet, according to a group of UN monitors, Somalia’s illegal charcoal trade and corruption have continued unabated, securing a steady income for Al Shabaab (UN Security Council, 2014). In 2014, the UN Security Council issued resolution 2182, which authorises the naval inspection of ships bound for Somalia, in its territorial waters and on the high seas, including the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf (Keatinge, 2014; Yoon & Gridneff, 2014). The success of this measure has yet to be evaluated.

Reducing charcoal consumption and promoting alternative livelihoods
Efforts to ban charcoal exports have been accompanied by programmes aiming at reducing charcoal consumption and promoting alternative livelihoods. UNEP, UNDP and FAO support the Somalian government in a programme led by the Ministry of National Resources to enhance regional cooperation, establish regulatory instruments and enforcement mechanisms, introduce alternative sources of energy, and most importantly, help charcoal producers and traders to find alternative livelihoods. It is estimated that the adoption of more efficient stoves and kilns for charcoal production could result in a total 50% decline in charcoal consumption and 80% decline in wood cutting (UNDP, 2013). These programmes are complemented by the work of numerous grassroots initiatives in the domains of environmental protection, awareness raising and promotion of sustainable livelihoods. Among these, Fatima Jibrell, a female Somalian environmentalist, recently rose to prominence by winning the 2014 UNEP’s Champion of the Earth award for her continuous fight against illegal charcoal trade in Somalia (Hiiraan, 2015).

Remaining challenges
Despite these efforts to curtail the sources of rebel finance and promote sustainable livelihoods in Somalia, there are still major challenges. The effects of Resolution 2182 have yet to materialise. Controlling the inland trade is also difficult. Different sources have revealed the implication of the Kenyan contingent of the African Union Mission in the illegal charcoal trade and profit-sharing agreements with Al Shabaab (allAfrica, 2014; Ward, 2014). Most importantly, Somalia has been lacking a comprehensive framework for environmental protection, resource governance and drought preparedness for many years. Corresponding legislations need revision and more effective enforcement. The ambitious charcoal use reduction programme of the Somalian government and its partners is set to change this. It remains to be seen in how far it will succeed.

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

8 765
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement More than 100.000 or more than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries Kenya
Forests, Resilience of the environment
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.
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
Al Shabaab
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Somalia
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
UN Security Council
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
United Nation Development Programme (UNDP)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
2 Strengthening legislation and law enforcement After a charcoal ban was imposed in 2000, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia succeeded in diminishing charcoal exports from a number of ports after 2010. However, trade continued unabated in ports controlled by al Shabaab. The UN Security Council issued resolutions urging Gulf States to prevent the import of charcoal from Somalia, and authorised the naval inspection of ships bound for Somalia.
2 Promoting alternative livelihoods Various international organisations, as well as grassroots initiatives have worked to reduce charcoal consumption and promote alternative livelihoods for charcoal producers.
0 Coping with uncertainty A comprehensive framework for environmental protection, resource governance and drought preparedness would help address socio-environmental challenges in Somalia.
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.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
References with URL


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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