ECC Platform Library


Livelihood Conflicts in the Niger Delta, Nigeria

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Western Africa
Time 1990 ‐ 2015
Countries Nigeria
Resources Fish, Biodiversity, Air (Pollution), Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water, Ecosystem Stability, Resilience …
Conflict Summary Since the 1950s and the discovery of oil on the Ogoni territory in Niger Delta, oil-exploitation activities have been conducted at the expense of the...
Livelihood Conflicts in the Niger Delta, Nigeria
Since the 1950s and the discovery of oil on the Ogoni territory in Niger Delta, oil-exploitation activities have been conducted at the expense of the population and of the environment.
Conceptual Model

Intermediary Mechanisms

The oil extraction methods used by Shell have greatly polluted one of the most biodiverse systems in West Africa, the Niger Delta. Rich in fish resources and diverse in flora and fauna, it is home to a large number of ethnic groups who are dependent on the natural resources of the region for their livelihood. The environmental degradation caused by the company’s operations has threatened the livelihoods of many communities.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Since the 1990s, affected communities have been conducting a large-scale protest movement to demand reparations for the damages caused by Shell’s polluting activities. The Nigerian government's repressive retaliation and attempts to contain the protests have resulted in approximately 2,000 fatalities between 1993 and 1999, including the execution of the leader of the protest movement by Nigerian authorities.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversEconomic activity causes pollution.Pollution / Environmental degradation reduces available/usable natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines resource-dependent livelihoods.Livelihood insecurity leads to growing discontent with the state.Livelihood insecurity augments the risk of crime, violence, and extremism.A 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 DegradationGrowing scarcity of essential natural resources.Natural Resource ScarcityA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State GrievancesThe uptake of activities, such as joining extremist groups or engaging in illicit and violent activities, which increase the overall fragility of a region.Crime / Violence / Extremism
Context Factors
  • Unresponsive Government
Conflict History

Following the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in Nigeria in the 1950s, the Nigerian Government in partnership with Shell rapidly expanded its oil-exploitation activities at the expense of the numerous local ethnic minorities, including the Ogonis – the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta – and their environment. The conflict escalated in the 1990s when the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) started demonstrations to protest against the destruction of the environment by Shell activities. The unrest of the population, which caught the attention of the international community, led Shell to stop its activities on Ogoniland in 1993. Still, today pipelines continue to cross the land, regularly causing oil spills and polluting the water bodies. After approximately 2000 conflict deaths and 30000 displaced persons since 1993, international organisations have taken the lead and continue to push Shell and the Nigerian Government to take actions to restore Ogonis' livelihood.

Discovery of oil in the Niger Delta
The Ogonis, who have lived in the Niger Delta for hundreds of years, depend on the delta’s rich natural resources to sustain their livelihood and the river forms an important part of their religious life (Nnadozie, 1996). Following the discovery of oil in the delta, Shell – in partnership with the Nigerian Government–, accelerated its activities without conducting any preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (ICE, 1997). Due to repeated leakages and ruptures of the oil pipelines, gas flaring, seismic activities and use of chemicals, the installations and the activities of Shell led to a wide pollution of the soils, air and water bodies and significantly affected the fauna and the flora of the region (Collins et al., 2008).

Protests against environmental degradation
As the degradation of their means of subsistence worsened whilst none of the exploitation revenues where redistributed to the Ogonis (ICE, 1997), the MOSOP, under the leadership of Ken Saro-Wiwa started peaceful demonstrations in 1990 to protest against the degradation of the environment and demand more regional autonomy (Obi, 2009). However, the economic impact of oil in the Nigerian economy was an incentive for the government to turn a blind eye on Shell’s polluting activities and enable it to bypass the existing Nigerian environmental regulations (CETIM, 2014).

Fearing a snow-ball effect of Ogonis’ claims on neighbouring communities, the federal forces harassed and killed Ogonis for organising protests and threatening to sabotage oil installations (ICE, 1997). To contain the Ogoni upheaval, the government was also suspected to have fomented inter-ethnic violence with the neighbouring Andonis (Ibid.). The conflict reached a peak in 1993 when Shell stopped its activities on Ogoniland following a protest which gathered 300,000 Ogonis (Ibid.). The violence and the killings operated by the military were denounced internationally by organisations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International. In fact, between 1993 and 1999 – the end of the military rule in Nigeria –, reports indicate that more than 2,000 Ogonis were killed, that 37 villages were destroyed and that 30,000 Ogonis were displaced (Nnadozie, 1996). MOSOP’s leader Saro-Wira was killed in 1995.

A continuous fight to get reparations for environmental damages
Despite the death of MOSOP's leader, the Ogonis have continued seeking reparation for Shell’s environmental damages. The election of Obasanjo as president of Nigeria, which led to the conduct of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was a turning point. Nevertheless, both the government and Shell are yet to engage in the cleaning-up recommendations they committed to (Vidal, 2015).The climate of distrust towards Shell and the government has been exacerbated by the fact that the destruction of the livelihoods of many Ogoni fishermen or farmers has led many of them to engage in criminal activities, such as kidnappings, ransoming of employees (Obi, 2009) or sabotage of pipelines and oil theft (Vidal, 2015).



Resolution Efforts

Environmental Impact Assessment and measures taken
After assessing the UNEP’s EIA , the Nigerian Government and Shell committed to follow UNEP’s recommendations. The government set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to implement the environmental clean-up in Ogoniland and conduct EIAs in other parts of Nigeria impacted by oil contamination (UNEP, 2011). Three years after the finalisation of the EIA, no actions have been taken by the HYPREP (EJA, 2014) and several organisations such as Amnesty International have taken the lead of the resigned population to denounce the inaction of both the Nigerian Government and Shell (New African, 2012).

Communities turn to UK courts to seek reparation
Facing the lack of action of the government and Shell and the incapacity of the Nigerian Judiciary to help them in their fight against Shell, another ethnic group in Niger Delta – the Gokanas – turned to UK courts to seek reparations. In January 2015, the company was sentenced by a UK court to pay £55 million to a Niger Delta community following major oil spills on Gokana territory (Vidal, 2015) (see Niger Delta, Nigeria: Shell's pollution punished). This turning point, which further increased the international pressure against Shell, might mark acceleration in the conflict resolution (Ibid.).

Measures for conflict resolution
According to reports and studies on the conflict, a certain number of measures are necessary to solve what has become an “intractable” conflict (UNEP, 2011). First, implementing environmental legislation requires more funding and technical experts (Collins et al., 2008) as well as the creation of regional spill responses in Ogoniland (UNEP, 2011). Second, to ensure that Shell complies with the Nigerian regulations in terms of gas flaring, binding international mechanisms to prohibit gas flaring should be set up (CETIM, 2014). Last but not least, an essential aspect of conflict resolution pointed out is the importance to involve the Ogoni population in the process and to build the capacity of local governments, what the Nigerian Government failed to do as no Ogoni representative was included in the HYPREP.

However, the report of the Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development pointed out some weaknesses in the conflict resolution methods in that these recommendations oversee some human rights aspects, such as the economic compensation for the damage caused, the political control of Ogoni Affairs by Ogonis as well as the right to use fair proportion of economic resources for the development of the region (UNPO, 2015). On top of this, including win-win solutions such as to use the gas from flaring to produce electricity in villages or to use industry wastes for the petrochemical industry could increase the likelihood of conflict resolution (ICE, 1997).

These measures, under the supervision of the international community, seem indispensable to engage in clean-up procedures in a sustainable way and to restore trust between the parties after decades of conflict. Efforts to restore the land of the Ogonis seem to be an essential condition to bring the conflict to an end. Finally, it appears urgent to avoid any further delays in starting the clean-up operations. In fact, Sea-level rise due to climate change predicted by scientists would only increase erosion and floods (CREDC, 2007), therefore intensifying the pressure on the population and potentially leading to other conflicts over resources.

To conclude, although the Ogoni population in the Niger Delta has been protesting since the 1990s to obtain reparations from Shell for the degradation of their environment, the company has been continuing its activities with the impunity of the Nigerian authorities. Although international organisations conducted reports, which highlighted the emergency of the situation and despite commitments made by both Shell and the Nigerian Government to engage in clean-up operations, nothing has been done yet. As several impediments have until now prevented the population to obtain reparations through the Nigerian legal system, some ethnic groups turned to UK courts. This could be a major turning point, which could put an end to decades of pollution for which Shell never assumed its responsibility.

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

2 000
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement Less than 100.000 and less than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Fish, Biodiversity, Air (Pollution), Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water, Ecosystem Stability, Resilience of the environment
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence Violence reduced significantly, but did not cede.
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 The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Conflict resolution strategies have been clearly responsible for the decrease in conflict intensity.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Shell Petroleum
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleExternal
Federal Republic of Nigeria Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Niger Delta Communities
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
UK court of Justice
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Mediation & arbitration The Gokana ethnic group brought a case against Shell in front of UK courts demanding reparations following major oil spills on Gokana territory. The court ruled in favor of the Niger Delta community, and sentenced the company to pay £55 million.
0 Social inclusion & empowerment The involvement of the Ogoni people in conflict resolution processes is crucial.
0 Improving state capacity & legitimacy Funding and technical expertise is needed in order to implement environmental legislation. Furthermore, binding international mechanisms to prohibit gas flaring should be set up to ensure that Shell complies with Nigerian regulations.
1 Environmental restoration & protection The Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) was implemented by the Nigerian Government to lead the environmental clean-up in Ogoniland and conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in other parts of Nigeria impacted by oil contamination. However, no concrete actions have been taken.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL


Adaptation & Resilience

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

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

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

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Capacity Building

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

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Civil Society

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

Climate Change

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

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Climate Diplomacy

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

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

Conflict Transformation

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

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

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

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

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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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