ECC Platform Library


Global Food Price Shocks

Type of conflict main
Intensity 3
Global Issues
Time 2007 ‐ ongoing
Countries Global Issues
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary This analysis highlights the factors leading to global food-price shocks, explains how the impacts of food price spikes differ depending on countries and...
Global Food Price Shocks
This analysis highlights the factors leading to global food-price shocks, explains how the impacts of food price spikes differ depending on countries and points out the risks of such shocks leading to situations of fragility.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Adverse weather events were a major driver of the 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food-price spikes. Decreased food crop productivity was experienced in major exporting countries such as Russia, Ukraine, United States, Canada, Australia, and Southern Europe. Variations in temperatures, rainfall and drought patterns and shifts in growing seasons due to climate change may significantly impact food productivity over time.

Intermediary Mechanisms

As developing countries have become increasingly dependent on food imports, the incapacity of governments to guarantee the population access to and availability of food during food-price shocks has been the cause of unrest in many countries. In some cases, however, food price volatility is not a root cause, but an aggravating factor to the already existing fragility of the state.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

In some cases, a direct link can be drawn between global food-price spikes and the emergence of political instability. Indeed, protests and riots related to food prices were reported in 30 countries during the food price shock period in 2007-2008. A resurgence of food-related protests was seen during the 2010-2011 food-price shock in several countries. Different characteristics can make countries more or less vulnerable to global food-price spikes, such as their import dependency, level of poverty and policies set up by governments to cope with food price spikes. Thus, food is usually only one of many grievances which motivate unrest.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Changing climate decreases available land.More frequent/intense extreme weather events lead to decreased water availability.More frequent/intense extreme weather events reduce available land.Demographic changes increase pressures on available land resources.Economic activity causes pollution.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Environmental policies encourage land use change.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Pollution reduces available/usable land.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to volatile food prices.Food price volatility provokes 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 ScarcityReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentPollution and degradation of ecosystems, such as coral reefs.Pollution / Environmental DegradationConstruction 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 PoliciesA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesStrong fluctuations in the prices of foodstuffs, such as cereals or livestock.Volatile Food PricesChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Food Import Dependency
  • Eroded Social Contract
  • Food Insecurity
  • High Unemployment
  • Inadequate Infrastructure
  • Unresponsive Government
Conflict History

Factors leading to food price shocks

Environmental changes and human interference in the environment: role in food price shocks
Among the many factors which have been identified as playing a role in food-price peaks, environmental changes and human interference in the environment pose significant risks for international food price stability. The extreme weather events experienced by major exporting countries prior to the 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food-price spikes have highlighted the role played by weather conditions in the international food crisis (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009). Examples include the drought in Russia and Ukraine, which affected food production in both 2007 and 2008. Only three years later, in 2010, the renewed effects of a drought combined with wildfires decimated the summer harvest in Russia (see Droughts and export ban in Russia). Adverse weather events also highly affected the production of crops in the US during these periods. In 2007, a freeze affected the productivity of wheat whilst a period of drought in summer 2010 destroyed three quarters of corn (Ibid.Plumer, 2012 ; Euractiv, 2012).  Similarly, adverse weather events led to low crop yields in Canada and Australia as well as in Southern Europe (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009; Euractiv, 2012). Scholars have raised concerns about the possible impacts of climate change -- variations in temperatures, rainfall and drought patterns and shifts in growing seasons -- on food productivity over time (von Braun and Wheeler, 2013).

In addition to the impacts of adverse weather events, human interference in the environment also stands as a threat to agricultural productivity, which may lead to food price shocks. Each year, human-induced pollution, salinisation and soil degradation cause the loss of between 5 to 12 million hectares of agricultural land (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009). As a result of these activities, the surface of arable land in the world has been decreasing since the end of the 1990s (Ibid.). Moreover, the unsustainability of water extraction – particularly in China, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – intensifies this threat by increasing water scarcity (Ibid.). Essentially, human activities are highly significant in reducing the availability of arable land and water for agricultural purposes.  

Population growth and economic factors
Many factors have been identified as contributing to food price shocks in addition to environmental changes. These factors include the inability of supply to match higher demand in food, due to population growth and increasing demand for a varied diet as a result of rising global prosperity; the depreciation of the US dollar; the lack of investment in and low productivity growth of agriculture; as well as high energy prices (Trostle, 2008Marti et al., 2011).

Energy prices and policies
The impact of high energy prices is twofold and has been observed during the recent food-price shocks. First, since modern agriculture is highly dependent on energy – for agricultural machinery, transport, refrigeration and fertilizers -, rising oil prices are strongly connected to food price increases. Second, high energy prices combined with climate mitigation objectives have led developed countries’ governments to encourage through subsidies the diversion of crops to produce biofuels (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009; von Braun and Wheeler, 2013). These climate policies have been successful in that they led to a three-fold increase of biofuel production between 2000 and 2007. Yet there has been an intense debate on whether these policies have unintended effects on global food-price shocks. Whilst the FAO claimed that those policies caused lesser production of cereals to the tune of nearly 100 million tons which would otherwise have been available for human consumption, other studies, e.g. by the US Environmental Protection Agency, have contested this conclusion (Euractiv, 2012). Some scholars argue that biofuel production does not necessarily lead to food price increases. Babcock explains that it is possible to produce biofuels without limiting the production of crops which are suitable for human consumption (Babcock, 2008). Moreover, Taheripour et al. argue that co-products from biofuels, which are unsuitable for human consumption, can be used to feed pigs, therefore reducing the competition between animals and humans for food (Taheripour et al., 2013).

Speculation has also been pointed at as a major factor of the 2008 food-price shock. Some scholars and international organizations draw a clear link between speculation and food-price spikes in the occurrence of the 2007-2008 food price shock (Bar-Yam et al., 2011). Nevertheless, whilst acknowledging the serious implications that speculation could have for food security, other scholars argue that the already high prices led to speculation, and not the other way around (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009).

Government interventions
Another major factor which may worsen food-price shocks is the reaction of governments to price volatility. These reactions may take the form of export restrictions, quotas or import taxes to protect domestic customers. Such market interventions, which may induce more volatility of commodity prices, were observed during the 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food price shocks (Abbott and Borot de Battisti, 2009). As of June 2008, 14 countries had limited or banned rice exports, 15 countries had capped or halted wheat exports and more than 12 had restricted maize exports, thereby intensifying the situation of food shortage at the global level (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009). For instance, the export ban imposed by Russia in 2010 had significant consequences for countries like Egypt and Pakistan, which were highly dependent on wheat imports from Russia.

Impacts of food price shocks
Food price rises at the global level may have different impacts from region to region (Gregory et al., 2005) and do not necessarily have direct impacts at the national level. In analysing the impacts of food price shocks, it is important to take into account country specificities, such as varying levels of import dependency, poverty amongst the population, and the policies set up by governments to cope with food price spikes. Figure 1 (see below) clearly shows that global prices are not necessarily reflected in domestic prices.

Variations in Vulnerability

National Level - Import dependency
How a country is affected by high food prices is a result of its dependency on food imports and its ability to finance those. Developing countries have become increasingly dependent on food imports in order to reduce investments in agricultural infrastructure, such as food storage (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009). Whilst in the 1960s countries in Asia and in Africa imported as much food as they exported, in 2011 they had become highly dependent on imports (Haggard and Hendrix, 2015). These changes of strategy stem from the fact that commodity prices had remained low and stable for the last two decades of the 20th century and that the depreciation of the dollar had reduced import costs (Trostle, 2008Marti and al., 2011). Importing goods appeared to be a more rational strategy for developing countries. Yet import dependence can have diverse consequences. A country that is able to generate foreign exchange to finance these imports might not be greatly affected by price spikes (Breisinger et al., 2012).  For instance, the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) region is highly dependent on food imports because of its limited agricultural potential due to severe water constraints (see also: Food price volatility and fragility in the MENA region). However, whilst oil-exporting countries have the ability to generate foreign exchange to finance food imports, financing high-food prices represents a serious challenge for oil-importing countries, namely Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauretania, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey (Ibid.).

Household level
At the household level, food price shocks particularly affect poorer households. In fact, in developing countries, poorer households use an average of 49.4% of their budget to buy food (Haggard and Hendrix, 2015). Moreover, food-price increases are likely to have more impacts on residents from urban than from rural areas, as urban residents are more dependent on purchased food (Ibid.).

Governments may use mechanisms to mitigate the effects of food-price shocks at the national level, such as subsidies, price control and export taxes – (as will be discussed in the next section) (Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009). This is for instance the case in the MENA region, where, as a result of the global food price crises, rising food and fuel prices have led to increases in fuel and food subsidies, public sector wages and other government welfare spending (Breisinger et al., 2012).

From food price shocks to situations of fragility
Many scholars have drawn a link between food price shocks and the emergence of situations of fragility, i.e. unrest and political instability (Smith, 2014aHaggard and Hendrix, 2015Dupont and Thirlwell, 2009). During the food price shock period in 2007-2008, protests and riots related to food prices were reported in 30 countries (Haggard and Hendrix, 2015). These authors also report a resurgence of food-related protests during the 2010-2011 food-price shock in several countries in Africa, South Asia, the Middle-East and across North Africa (Ibid.; see also case: Food price volatility and fragility in the MENA region). The causes of these so-called food riots are debated among scholars.

A direct link between food prices and riots is too simplistic
Using data from the FAO, some scholars and media have drawn a direct link between global food-price spikes and the emergence of riots, based on the assumption that global food prices systematically impact prices at the national level (Bellemare, 2012; Bar-Yam et al., 2011Smith, 2014b). However,  the impacts of food price spikes vary between countries according to a number of national characteristics, for instance the dependency on food imports and the policies put in place by the state to control prices. Moreover, focusing on the link between food prices and riots may be too simplistic: because food prices are interdependent with other factors such as energy prices, the rise of energy prices may trigger food price spikes, which would then trigger protests (Smith 2014a). Given this interrelation, it can be difficult to ascertain whether situations of fragility are originally caused by high food prices or by related factors (Smith, 2014a). The case of Nigeria illustrates this complexity: the removal of fuel subsidies in January 2012 led food prices to increase and thousands of Nigerians took the streets to protest (Smith, 2014b).

Fragility as a trigger for “food-riots”
Beyond food prices, unrest is triggered by drivers such as poor governance and lack of government accountability; lack of public service delivery; lack of political freedom to voice grievances; perceived lack of justice and equity in global food and economic systems; as well as poor workplace conditions and labour disputes (Smith, 2014a). Rather than price volatility as such, it was the broader incapacity of the government to guarantee the population access to and availability of food (i.e. food security) which was the main root cause for unrest (Ibid.).  In fact, although some scholars have argued that the Arab Spring was caused by food shocks, economists have attributed the movement to people’s dissatisfaction with their standard of living, high unemployment and growing inequalities (Breisinger et al., 2012). This argument has also been used in the case of Syria. Whilst food price hikes doubled the price of wheat from 2010 to 2011, De Châtel argues that it was the overall incapacity of the state to deliver goods to the population which led to protests against the regime (2014). In those cases, it seems that food-price spikes have been an aggravating driver and perhaps a symptom, which added to the already existing fragility and triggered a situation of fragility.

Influence of regime type on situations of fragility
Research has shown that a rise in global food prices is correlated with urban unrest in democracies and anocracies – hybrid regimes between democracies and autocracies --but not in autocracies (Haggards and Hendrix, 2015). Because democratic leaders risk removal from office through elections, they have less incentive to favour urban areas at the expense of rural areas. On the other hand, in autocracies, governments have a tendency to be more responsive to the concerns of the urban population – which is more likely to organise than in rural areas -- to limit the discontent of the population and avoid unrest (Ibid.). By providing urban residents with subsidies and other kinds of benefits, autocratic authorities expect to limit the dissatisfaction of the urban population and thereby avoid being removed from office by a coup or popular upheaval.

Of course, autocratic governments may not be able to sustain such subsidies. In 2002 food and fuel subsidies in Egypt amounted to 1.4% of GDP, whilst by 2011 they amounted to 8% of GDP (Haggard and Hendrix, 2015). In the case of Syria, after decades of massive food and fuel subsidies, Assad’s government withdrew these benefits in the early 2000s. This put the population under intense pressure and led to protests in 2009, which later fed into the civil war that is still ongoing (see Syrian Civil War: The Role of Climate Change).

Factors intensifying situations of fragility
Scholars have also identified factors which are likely to intensify situations of fragility. A number of studies have analysed the exacerbating effect of climate change on unrest, through decreased food crop productivity and lower economic growth (Demarest, 2014Miguel et al., 2004Koubi et al., 2012).  Not all scholars agree on this causal pathway and the debate is ongoing. In a recent article Raleigh et al. state that this causation depends on the vulnerability of places to climate change (Raleigh et al., 2015). They argue that, because rural areas have less capacity to react to climate impacts through legislation, commodity substitution and coping strategies, climate changes are more likely to lead to political instability in rural places (Ibid.). Brinkman and Hendrix reckon that low levels of development, deteriorating economic conditions or high inequalities amongst groups within a country are likely to heighten the risk of violent conflict (Brinkman and Hendrix, 2011). As for the studies of Smith and O’Loughlin et al., they suggest that increased food prices are more likely to lead to unrest in places which have experienced violence (Smith, 2014a; O’Loughlin et al., 2014). Moreover, Smith identifies a ‘youth bulge’ in the population as being a factor which might increase the likelihood of unrest (2014a).  He also argues that situations of fragility are more likely to occur after long-term food-price spikes and during sudden increases in domestic food prices (Smith, 2014a). On top of that, situations of fragility themselves contribute to high food prices and food insecurity (Brinkman and Hendrix, 2011Raleigh et al., 2015). In fact, conflicts are likely to affect the ability of states to produce and trade food.

To conclude, this case study highlights three major points: First, food price shocks are driven by a number of interconnected factors. Amongst them, adverse weather events were a major driver of the 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food-price spikes. Moreover, in light of global population growth, scholars are increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of human activities and the potential effects of climate change on the availability and productivity levels of arable lands. Secondly, global food price spikes do not necessarily have strong impacts at the national level. Countries have different characteristics which make them more or less vulnerable to global food-price spikes, such as their import dependency, level of poverty and policies set up by governments to cope with food price spikes. Third, it is thus not possible to draw a direct causal link between global food-price spikes and the emergence of situations of fragility at the local level. Food is usually only one of many grievances which motivate unrest and the intensity in a situation of fragility varies depending on countries and their specificities. However, food insecurity can contribute to and play a critical role in undermining stability if safeguards fail or prove insufficient. Because scholars anticipate that food prices are likely to remain high and show increased volatility in the foreseeable future, it is critical for national governments to find sustainable ways to mitigate these effects in order to maintain stability.

Resolution Efforts

Policy recommendations
Because scholars anticipate that food prices are likely to remain high and show increased volatility in the foreseeable future (Brinkman and Hendrix, 2011Breisinger et al., 2012) in light of population growth and increased global demands for a more varied diet, it is crucial for governments to set up policies to mitigate these effects and avoid situations of fragility. Based on this, the following policy ideas deserve consideration:

1)    Considering the exacerbating impacts of human activities on land and water scarcity where demand for agricultural products is likely to increase by about 50% by 2030, it is necessary to find remedies to these unsustainable practices. Solutions could come from the development of new crop varieties and other technological innovations.

2)    Improving local infrastructure - i.e. transportation networks to deliver food and storage capacity – and modernizing irrigation to reduce vulnerability to changing rainfall patterns in order to ensure that the population will have access to food during periods of food price crises (Smith, 2014a). This is particularly important for import-dependent states.

3)    Taking food-price stabilisation measures to limit price fluctuations for the population and avoid situations of fragility. Such measures should be favoured over unilateral measures such as export bans, which may enhance food security in the countries imposing the bans but worsen the price fluctuations at the global level.  In addition to safety nets, in situations of food crisis, states may consider lowering import tariffs to lower prices for the population (Ibid.).

4)    Instead of seeking to shield populations affected by food price shocks through fuel and food subsidies, social protection systems should be implemented to protect the population. International organizations usually advise against the use of food and fuel subsidies because they are difficult to remove once in place, even if they do not serve their purpose (anymore). Moreover, it is difficult to ensure that poorer households benefit from them in the first place. In some countries such as e.g. MENA states, fuel and food subsidies are higher than traditional/other social spending (Breisinger et al., 2012). The social protection systems recommended replacing food and fuel subsidies need to be inclusive of young people as situations of fragility are correlated with their relative size within overall population (Brinkman and Hendrix, 2011).

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation
Mass Displacement Less than 100.000 and less than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Less than 100.000 and less than 10% of the population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries Global Issues
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
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 partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity The decline in intensity can be explained purely by the decline of the environmental stressor.
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

Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
0 Cooperation Intra-regional trade could be developed to capitalise on comparative advantages and reduce the costs of imported food.
0 Reducing dependence on specific supplies Countries vulnerable to food price shocks can adopt measures to support local producers and encourage investments in an effort to increase domestic food production capacities and reduce dependence on international markets.
0 Containing (effects of) price volatility Food-price stabilisation measures to limit price fluctuations could sensibly reduce exposure and vulnerability to food price shocks. Social protection systems need to be implemented to protect populations affected by food price shocks.
0 Reducing trade barriers In food crisis situations, states may consider lowering import tariffs on food as a way of lowering prices for the population.
0 Improving resource efficiency Modernizing irrigation and introducing more water efficient varieties of crops could improve domestic food production and reduce food import dependence.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Mixed: The abilities of parties to affect the environmental resource is mixed.
Broad conflict characterization Resource Capture is present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL

References without URL
O'Loughlin J., Linke A.M., and Witmer F.D.W. (2014). "Modeling and data choices sway conclusions about climate-conflict links". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111 (6): 2054-2055.
Bellemare M.F. (2012). Rising food prices, food price volatility, and social unrest. American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 97 (1): 1-21.


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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