ECC Platform Library


Conflicts surrounding the Kishanganga Dam

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 2
Southern Asia
Time 1988 ‐ ongoing
Countries Pakistan, India
Resources Water
Conflict Summary The effects of the Kishanganga hydroelectricity project in India on downstream water availability in Pakistan resulted in diplomatic tensions between the two...
Conflicts surrounding the Kishanganga Dam
The effects of the Kishanganga hydroelectricity project in India on downstream water availability in Pakistan resulted in diplomatic tensions between the two countries. Pakistan sought World Bank intervention to block the dam, which was refused. However, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued an interim order in 2013 which allowed India to divert water from the Kishanganga River for purposes of electricity production but required India to change the design in order to ensure a minimum standard flow of water downstream to Pakistan.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Climate change is expected to reduce available water in the Indus basin, and subsequently challenge water distribution and hydro-development in India and Pakistan.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Pakistan opposed the project on the grounds that it contravened the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) signed by both countries and for its effects on downstream flows and energy production. Local communities also opposed the project as it was perceived as a threat to their livelihoods.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

The dispute was taken to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, which led to an alteration of the project and an obligation to provide a certain amount of downstream water flow, to which Pakistan continues to oppose. Despite compensation being offered to local communities affected by the dam, opposition against pollution and lack of employment caused by the dam continues.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.More frequent/intense extreme weather events lead to decreased water availability.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Environmental/climate policy motivates the construction of infrastructure.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Water scarcity undermines water-dependent livelihoods.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to tensions between states.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources provokes discontent with the state.Livelihood insecurity leads to interstate tensions.Livelihood insecurity leads to growing discontent with the state.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentImplementation of environmental/climate policies, such as REDD+, climate adaptation or the promotion of crop-based biofuel development.Environmental / Climate PoliciesReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate TensionsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Water-stressed Area
Conflict History

The construction of the Kishanganga hydroelectric power plant (KHEP) on the Kishanganga River (known as the Neelum in Pakistan) started in 2007, with the aim of diverting water from the river through an underground tunnel to a power house near Bonar Nallah in India-administered Kashmir (see Chakravartty, 2015 for an illustration of the project and the regions involved). The project is seen as giving India control over the river’s flow before re-entering Pakistan due to its location in India-administered Kashmir just metres away from the Line of Control (Iqbal, 2018). The expected impact of the project on water availability in Pakistan thus caused political friction between the two countries from the onset, with Pakistan objecting that the diversion of water contravened the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT; see also Water Conflict in the Indus River Basin between India and Pakistan.). Pakistan argued that the KHEP would reduce downstream water flow and leave the country with 27% less water than natural flow (Islam et al., 2014). Consequently, this would affect irrigation, agriculture and power generation downstream at the Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric power plant (NJHEP) in Pakistan (Islam et al., 2014).

Local Opposition to the Dam
Damages to local ecology and livelihoods have led communities living near the site of the KHEP in Jammu and Kashmir to mount protests against its construction. Dams often inundate occupied land, displacing communities and creating inequalities in wealth and natural resources.

Local communities led by the ‘Village Welfare Committee’ oppose the construction of the dam, fearing it would “drown their villages and leave them at the mercy of government-sponsored rehabilitation packages” (Bhan, 2018). Protests primarily attacked the low amount of compensation offered for a loss of 38 hectares of land (Basu, 2015) but tensions also existed within communities over how political claims for compensation overran attempts to block the project entirely. Gender played a role as women claimed their voices were being ignored by men leading the protests (Bhan, 2018). At the same time, local communities criticised the pollution of water resources from waste, while trade unions and labour organisations protested the lack of employment for local communities from the projects (Basu, 2015).

Resolution Efforts

Past negotiations
Plans to build the dam came to Pakistan’s attention as early as 1988, and more formally in 1994, to which Pakistan had initially objected on the grounds that it went against the IWT (Ahmad, 2018Islam et al., 2014; Khan, 2013). In particular, the diversion of water was seen by Pakistan to violate the IWT’s call that diverted waters must be returned to the main stream, because it was feared that the diversion would dry out Pakistan’s downstream portion of the river where the NJHEP was planned (Islam et al., 2014). As a consequence, India had to delay construction and revise the dam’s designs until it satisfied Pakistan’s demands, with both sides holding successive bilateral meetings up to 2007, when construction finally began (Islam et al., 2014; Qadir, 2013).

Taking legal action at The Hague
In 2010, Pakistan took the matter to The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), claiming that the diversion of water was against the terms of the IWT. One of the violations claimed by Pakistan was the anticipated reduction in energy generation at the NJHEP as a consequence of the river flow diversion, which would go against the provisions of Annexure D in the IWT (Ahmad, 2018; PCA, 2013). Pakistan also argued that reduced water flow would have negative implications on its agricultural and economic development, concluding that “[a]ny future development in the agricultural sector, and hence the possibility of breaking the cycle of poverty, is predicated upon the uninterrupted flow of water which, if ensured, will make a substantial difference to the quality of life of the inhabitants of the Neelum Valley” (PCA, 2013).

This was the first time that a court of arbitration was set up under the IWT (Ahmad, 2018). The move effectively stalled construction work of the KHEP for three years until 2013, when the PCA ruled in favour of India, but with certain conditions.

Decision of the PCA
The interim award of the PCA finally allowed India to move ahead with the KHEP, albeit under strict conditions that includes amendment to the design and operation of the dam. These changes included, among others, a minimum standard of water flow of 9 cubic metres per second instead of a full diversion as was originally intended (Iqbal, 2018; Khan, 2013).

The Court also dismissed Pakistan’s claim that their NJHEP project would be adversely impacted by the KHEP, stating that Pakistan showed no particular urgency in pursuing its own hydropower projects at the time when India moved forward with the KHEP during the period 2004-06, thus rendering the KHEP as taking precedence to the NJHEP (Ahmad, 2018). In a similar line of thought, the Court also ruled out agricultural considerations in determining the minimum flow of water from KHEP, as it claims that “Pakistan has submitted no data on current or anticipated agricultural uses of water from the Kishenganga/Neelum” (PCA, 2013).

The decision by the PCA thus gave India the green light to proceed with the KHEP, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially inaugurating the project in 2018 (Iqbal, 2018). Pakistan, however, continues to reject the outcome, and has taken a number of further steps to oppose the decision.

Further actions
Although a binding order was issued by the PCA, the dispute has since been raised again by Pakistan in bilateral talks with India and the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC). Pakistan has also sought further action from the World Bank - the designated third-party mediator of the IWT - to ensure that India abided by the treaty and to seek another international court of arbitration to address their concerns (Gupta & Ebrahim, 2017; Iqbal, 2018). India, in response, has argued that the objections raised by Pakistan are “technical”, and should therefore be resolved by a neutral expert (Gupta & Ebrahim, 2017). This has left the World Bank in a difficult position to appease both sides, with the World Bank acknowledging its “limited and procedural” role with regards to the dispute and the IWT, and hinting that the dispute would better be resolved bilaterally and in an “amicable manner” between India and Pakistan (World Bank, 2018). 

Some observers have also pointed out the need for India and Pakistan to work more closely to strengthen the implementation of the IWT, and to ensure mutually beneficial cooperation to address the issue of depleting water resources (Kakakhel, 2014). Additionally, both countries should begin to treat water development as a common issue, particularly as the impacts of climate change on water availability worsen in the region (Flamik, 2018).

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Diplomatic Crisis Note of diplomatic crisis in case history, conflict purely verbal
Violent Conflict No
Salience within nation National
Resolution Success
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
Government of Pakistan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Government of India
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Permanent Indus Commission (PIC)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
World Bank
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
0 Cooperation Several observers including the World Bank have hinted that India and Pakistan need to cooperate more closely to strengthen the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and to treat water development as a common national security issue, particularly as climate change continues to threaten water scarcity in the region.
3 Mediation & arbitration The dispute was taken to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2010 and an interim order was issued in 2013, granting India conditional permission to proceed with the project, to which Pakistan continues to oppose. Pakistan sought further action from the World Bank to ensure that India abided by the IWT and to seek another international court of arbitration to address their concerns. However, the World Bank acknowledged its limited role in the dispute, hinting that both parties should resolve the matter bilaterally and in an “amicable manner”.
1 Treaty/agreement The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960 defined the principles of sharing water from the Indus River. The treaty has been criticised for being outdated, for not specifying the use of the river’s resources within its possible limits, and for neglecting the effects of climate change. Pakistan has suggested that the treaty be reviewed because it facilitates exploitation by India.
1 Compensation Compensation has been offered to local communities in Kashmir directly affected by the construction of the Kishanganga Dam. However, local communities continue to oppose the low amount of compensation offered, as well as issues relating to gender inequality, pollution and lack of employment caused by the dam.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse


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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