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Food Price Shocks in Lebanon

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 1.5
Region
Western Asia
Time 1987 ‐ ongoing
Countries Lebanon
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Conflict Summary Lebanon is highly dependent on food imports and thus has to cope with the volatility of global food prices. Whereas price-related food riots in 1987 led to...
Food Price Shocks in Lebanon
Lebanon is highly dependent on food imports and thus has to cope with the volatility of global food prices. Whereas price-related food riots in 1987 led to several fatalities, the Lebanese Government used subsidies to limit the impact on the population during the recent global food price spikes. This was successful in avoiding violence, but raises troubling long-term questions about the fiscal sustainability of such measures and the potential consequences of the abolition of such subsidies in terms of fragility.
Conceptual Model

Intermediary Mechanisms

Lebanon was amongst the countries most vulnerable to food price inflation due to its high dependency on food imports for domestic consumption. During the global food crises the Lebanese government was perceived as unable to provide affordable food to its population, resulting in the threat of protests and strikes.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

While the Lebanese government used subsidies to limit the impact on the population during the recent global food price spikes and was successful in avoiding violence, such measures are unsustainable. The political instability, widespread corruption, deep sectarian cleavages, and the pronounced inequality in Lebanon increase the likelihood of unrest and accentuate the effects of food price shocks on the population in the future. Conflicts at the border of Lebanon, particularly the current civil war in Syria and the influx of refugees into the country, also facilitate situations of fragility.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversEconomic developments reduce available natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources reduces available resources and ecosystem services.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines state capacity.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to volatile food prices.The perceived inadequacy of state capacity leads to growing discontent with the state.Food price volatility provokes growing discontent with the state.A broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentGrowing scarcity of essential natural resources.Natural Resource ScarcityReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesReduced capacity of the state to fulfil basic functions deemed necessary by the population and/or reduced public support for state authorities.Reduced State Capacity and/or LegitimacyStrong 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
  • High Food Expenditure
  • Inadequate Infrastructure
Conflict History

Lebanon’s agriculture and import dependency

Due to its diverse climate conditions, Lebanon is one of the most agriculturally productive countries in the Middle-East North-Africa (MENA) region. These conditions enable the country to produce diverse agricultural and farming products, such as citruses, potatoes, wheat, tomatoes, sheep and goats (Bankmed, 2013). However, in spite of its agricultural potential, Lebanon is highly dependent on food imports for domestic consumption, which include processed food, dairy and meat.  Today, the country imports approximately 80 percent of its food (Aspen Institute, 2012). This is due to the fact that a large part of the production is exported and because of the underinvestment of successive governments in the agricultural sector. Since the 1990s, governments have allocated less than 3 percent of the national budget to the sector whilst subsidies for electricity alone account for more than 4.5% of GDP (Albers and Peeters, 2011). Moreover, issues such as the use of inefficient technology, inadequate water infrastructure, high production costs, lack of government planning and a monopolized agricultural supply chain have been hampering agricultural production (Sassine, 2015; Issam Fares Institute, 2013).

Environmental impacts

Even though the 2007-2008 crisis led Lebanon to seek food self-sufficiency, pollution and other degradation are likely to decrease the availability of arable land over the years (Babar and Kamrava, 2012). Ceteris paribus, this would thus make the country even more dependent on imports.

Riots in 1987

In 1987, following twelve years of civil war, the Lebanese pound had lost 98% of its value and the country was going through a severe period of inflation, particularly in terms of food prices. Despite several attempts to raise wages, the government did not succeed in mitigating the price rises (Ghazi, 1997). As a result, the high price of fuel, medicine and food triggered the eruption of so-called “bread-riots”.

Inability of government to fulfil its basic functions

In the eyes of moderate leaders and the population, the fragile economic situation was the result of the inability of the government to ensure the provision of adequate public services (Salam, 1987), in particular to provide the population with affordable food. In 2007-2008 and 2011-2012, as the Lebanese import bill rose again due to global food price spikes, unions threatened to strike at several occasions to demand the government increase wages and subsidies to enable the population to cope with food and energy price increases (Missionary International Service News Agency, 2008; The Daily Star, 2012b). The government then appeased the population by increasing subsidies and by convincing flour mills to reduce the price of flour (The Daily Star, 2012b). The policy tools used by the Lebanese government to limit discontent have played a major role in avoiding that the situation of fragility – in this case, protests – escalated to large-scale violence as it did in 1987.

Vulnerability to global food price shocks

As a consequence of the country’s dependence on imports, global food price spikes raise the costs of food imports for the country. Between 2005 and 2008, a period of food price spikes, Lebanon’s cereal import bill increased by more than 65 percent: vegetable oils and sugar increased by 45 percent, meat products by 40 percent and dairy products by 20 percent (Sassine, 2015). Moreover, because Lebanon’s trade balance is negative and because the country runs a large fiscal deficit, food price spikes, as observed in 2007-2008 and 2011-2012, have widened the country’s already large deficit (Albers and Peeters, 2011; Cafiero et al., 2012). Lebanon’s fiscal deficit increased from 6 percent in 2011 to 9 percent in 2012 (SNAP, 2013).

Political instability

The political instability in Lebanon renders the emergence of situations of fragility more likely. The deep religious divisions in the country and the continuous struggles of sectarian leaders to maximize influence and/or secure veto points have prevented the country from establishing a well-functioning government for years (Gehem et al., 2014). In 2011, this accentuated the fragility of the state and led the population to take to the streets to demand the overthrow of the sectarian system which characterises the country’s political system (The Washington Post, 2011). More recently, from 2013 to 2014, the religious divisions prevented the election of a President. By increasing fragility, political instability also accentuates the effects of food price shocks on the population. The high political instability in the country in 2011 prevented the government from shielding the population from the 2010-2011 price shocks (Aburawa, 2011).

Corruption and inequality

Several context factors play a role in facilitating situations of fragility. Widespread corruption as well as the pronounced inequality could potentially cause the discontent of the population (SNAP, 2013). Even though successive increases of the minimum wage benefited the poorest, the general subsidies provided by the government mostly benefit the richest part of the population. Between 2004 and 2010, the poorest quintile of the Lebanese population received between 1 and 8 percent of the total fuel subsidies, whilst the richest population received between 38 and 86 percent of them (Albertin et al., 2014). Albertin et al. also highlight that food subsidies – even though better targeted – also benefit the richer more than the poorer (Ibid.). This unequal system could accentuate the dissatisfaction of the population and facilitate the emergence of situations of fragility.

Conflicts at the border

Conflicts at the border of Lebanon – and particularly the current civil war in Syria – also facilitate situations of fragility. At the border with Syria, Lebanese citizens depend on Syria for imported food and other groceries (SNAP, 2013). In addition, Lebanon has been welcoming a massive influx of refugees since the beginning of the conflict, which have increased pressure on the state to deliver goods and widened the state’s fiscal deficit. Whilst the state has been receiving less revenue, it has had to increase the delivery of public services such as electricity and water. Refugees are also competing for jobs with the locals, and have been driving up unemployment (The World Bank, 2013).

Demographic factors

A number of scholars have argued that a high youth rate increases the likelihood of unrest. In the case of Lebanon, this rate is diminishing, yet Gehem et al. argue that the outgoing “youth bulge” could fuel protests (Gehem et al., 2014).

Resolution Efforts

In 2012, the Aspen Institute declared Lebanon to be amongst the most vulnerable countries to global food price shocks (Aspen Institute, 2012). Yet it is interesting to see that, despite Lebanon’s high dependence on food imports and its negative fiscal balance, the policies put in place by the government have been able to shield consumers. However, although such policies are effective in protecting the population from sudden price shocks in the short-term, they are not sustainable in the long-term and could actually worsen the situations of fragility that may arise if those subsidies were to be removed.

Government interventions

Although Lebanese households spend an average 34% of their income on food – up to 60% for the poorest households –, the recent global food price spikes did not hit the population as hard as they did in other MENA countries such as Tunisia and Morocco. This is due to the fact that, despite the country’s large deficit, the Lebanese Government limited the impacts of rising food prices on the population by raising the minimum wage (Saif, 2008). This intervention is only one of the many subsidies that the government grants to the population to shield them from high energy and food prices. The authorities regularly increase the level of subsidies to adapt to the volatility of global food prices. In addition to setting the prices of electricity below the import price, the government increased subsidies for bread during the global food price shocks of 2011-2012 (Albertin et al., 2014; The Daily Star, 2012b). In 2011, Lebanon was, with Jordan, the country which subsidised the population the most in the MENA region (Albertin et al., 2014).

Food price shocks and situations of fragility

After the recent global food price shocks, many scholars have drawn a link between food price shocks and the emergence of so-called food-price riots. However, the present analysis of the Lebanese case shows the complexity of the issue, i.e. that global food prices alone are not sufficient for explaining why situations of fragility emerge. During the recent global food price shocks, the ability of the state to fulfil its basic functions vis-à-vis the population – i.e. shield them from the full impact of soaring prices – has been crucial to  in preventing the emergence of situations of fragility by appeased the dissatisfaction of the population. The Lebanese government's (and society's) ability is all the more remarkable as several other factors - the civil war in neighbouring Syria and the deep sectarian cleavages - compounded its political fragility. To strengthen Lebanon's resilience to volatile global food prices, scholars have propose several recommendations:

Recommendations:
•    Invest more in agriculture to find alternatives to the inefficient technologies and infrastructure which limit the potential of agricultural production (Sassine, 2015). Technology and knowledge transfers from developed countries could help Lebanon in this endeavor (Saif, 2008);

•    Adopt more economical practices – for instance through the reduction of energy consumption -- and harvest less water-intensive crops (Saif, 2008; Sassine, 2015);

•    Adopt policies encouraging farmers to increase production, with tax breaks and facilitated access to capital  (The Daily Star, 2012a);

•    The current food and energy subsidies implemented by the Government are highly unsustainable, particularly given the country’s large fiscal deficit, and could exacerbate future situations of fragility if they have to be removed. As discussed in the general case on food price shocks, international organisations generally warn against using food and fuel subsidies because they are costly, often wasteful in the distributive effects, and difficult to remove once in place.

To conclude, the Lebanese population was shielded from latest global food price spikes thanks to the successive subsidies granted by the government. However, the protests that the country experienced demonstrate that the failure of the government to continue protecting the population is likely to lead to situations of fragility. Given the wide fiscal deficit of the country, the subsidisation strategy has become unsustainable and the fractiousness and potential incapacity of the government to continue these subsidies could lead to situations of fragility. For this reason, the government needs to find an exit strategy from potentially ruinous subsidies and strengthen the agricultural sector to reduce the country’s dependence on imports.

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

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Resources
Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Resolution Success
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 Decrease in conflict intensity at least partially the result of conflict resolution strategies.
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


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Lebanese Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Lebanese population
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
0 Reducing dependence on specific supplies It is recommended that Lebanon invests more in agriculture to find alternatives to the inefficient technologies and infrastructure which limit the potential of agricultural production.
3 Containing (effects of) price volatility Lebanese authorities limited the impacts of rising food prices on the population by raising the minimum wage and increasing the level of subsidies. However, the current food and energy subsidies implemented by the government are highly unsustainable.
0 Improving actionable information Technology and knowledge transfers from developed countries could help Lebanon in creating better technologies to improve its agricultural production.
0 Improving resource efficiency Lebanon could adopt more efficient economical practices to reduce energy consumption and harvest less water-intensive crops. Likewise, Lebanon could adopt policies encouraging farmers to increase production, with tax breaks and facilitated access to capital.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
References with URL
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Topics

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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Cities

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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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Co-Benefits

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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Development

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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Energy

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

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Finance

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Forests

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Gender

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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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Security

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.

Water

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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Regions

Asia

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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Europe

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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