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Syrian Civil War: The Role of Climate Change

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Region
Western Asia
Time 2011 ‐ ongoing
Countries Syria
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water, Resilience of the environment
Conflict Summary Several studies have pointed to a link between climate change and the civil war in Syria, which started in 2011 and is still ongoing. The direct causes of...
Syrian Civil War: The Role of Climate Change
Several studies have pointed to a link between climate change and the civil war in Syria, which started in 2011 and is still ongoing. The direct causes of the conflict relate to popular discontent with the government. Yet the mishandling of a major drought in the preceding years likely fed into this discontent, and climate change increased the likelihood for such a drought.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Over the past decades, Syria has experienced an intensification of drought cycles. Between 2006 and 2010, Syria suffered a five-year drought that strongly hit the population. Some scholars believe that the unusually long drought, which led to the uprisings in 2011, was made more likely by a regional trend towards higher temperatures and drier winters.

Social and Economic Drivers

While climate change has intensified the droughts faced by Syria, it is only an indirect cause of the conflict. Other problems stem from the long-term mismanagement of natural resources by the Syrian government. The inefficient and unsustainable agricultural and water policies of the Syrian government since the 1950s contributed to the depletion of both soils and water.

Environmental Change

Over the unusually long period of drought, nearly 800,000 people lost their livelihood. During this time, the population received little relief from the government. The situation triggered a massive exodus of 50,000 families, who left rural areas to migrate to cities in 2010. The food price hikes which followed the drought worsened the humanitarian situation in Syria. Additionally, the regime implemented a series of economic policies that strongly favored a small elite group. The lack of transparency and corruption behind these policies added to the discontent of the population.

Intermediary Mechanisms

In 2011, the resentment of agricultural communities towards the government for its failure to address basic needs led to protests against the regime. Although the protests started peacefully, the repression of the government against demonstrators evolved into a bloody conflict between authorities and various rebel groups. The civil war in Syria has forced almost half of the population to flee their home and has led to a competition over resources and alignment along ethnic lines.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversExtreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.Economic developments reduce available natural resources.Extreme weather event leads to scarcity of essential natural resources.Extreme weather event destroys/threatens livelihoods.Extreme weather event reveals a lacking capacity of the state to manage crises and/or reduces state capacity.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources reduces available resources and ecosystem services.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines resource-dependent livelihoods.Loss of livelihoods leads to migration.Livelihood insecurity reveals lacking capacity of the state to manage crises.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines state capacity.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to volatile food prices.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Problems related to migration/displacements lead to growing discontent with the state.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.The perceived inadequacy of state capacity leads to growing discontent with the state.Food price volatility provokes growing discontent with the state.An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather EventA 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 ResourcesA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityReduced 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 Legitimacy(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationStrong fluctuations in the prices of foodstuffs, such as cereals or livestock.Volatile Food PricesNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Dysfunctional Resource Management
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Cut in Consumer Subsidies
  • Eroded Social Contract
  • Unresponsive Government
Conflict History

In March 2011, “peaceful protests” in the rural town of Dara'a in Syria were violently repressed by the government of Bashar Al-Assad and evolved into an armed rebellion. The conflict has further intensified and reports estimate that approximately 220,000 people lost their lives in the conflict by 2015 (Hadid, 2015). A number of scholars have sought to analyse the original causes of the Syrian conflict. Several studies have drawn a link between the protests of March 2011 and climate change. This case study will analyse this potential link.

Strong impacts of the five-year drought (2006-2010)
In 2011, Syria was emerging from a five-year drought (2006-2010), which strongly hit the population, particularly in the North-east part of the country (De Châtel, 2014). Over this unusually long period of drought – during which nearly 800,000 people lost their livelihood according to the UN –, the population received little relief from the Government (De Châtel, 2014, Nafeez, 2013a). The authorities even tried to minimise the extent of the humanitarian crisis to the international community (Femia and Werrell, 2013).

Massive displacement of population
The situation triggered a massive displacement of farmers and herders, who left rural areas to migrate to cities where they settled in shanty towns and were forced to compete with the already poor urban populations over resources (Sowers et al., 2013; Femia and Werrell, 2013). According to the UN, 50,000 families migrated from rural areas in 2010 (Femia and Werrell, 2013). The food price hikes which followed the drought – the price of wheat doubled from 2010 to 2011 – worsened the humanitarian situation in Syria (Nafeez, 2013a).

Failure of the government to address important needs
In 2011, the resentment of agricultural communities towards the government for its failure to address basic needs led the population of the town of Dara'a to the streets to protest peacefully against the regime (De Châtel, 2014). Although the protests started peacefully, the repression of the government against demonstrators spread the wave of protests, which then evolved into a bloody conflict between the authorities and various rebel groups (Nafeez, 2013a.; De Châtel, 2014).

Root causes of the civil war

Climate
There is a plethora of factors which must be taken in to account to explain the root causes of the uprisings in Syria: Some scholars have highlighted a link between climate change and the conflict, stating that the drought which led to the uprisings in 2011 was made more likely by a regional trend towards higher temperatures and drier winters (Werrell, Femia & Sternberg, 2015). Over the past decades, the Mediterranean littoral and the Middle East has warmed up considerably, leading to an intensification of drought cycles. Of the 12 driest winters hitting the region since 1902, 10 have occurred in just the last 20 years. These changes matter as the region receives most of its precipitation during the winter. According to a study from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this change towards drier conditions cannot be explained by natural variability alone. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas and aerosol forcing, as well as increases in sea surface temperature are major contributing factors as well (Hoerling, Eischeid, Perlwitz et al., 2012). However, a more complete analysis of the country situation shows that there are more causes for conflict and that climate change should rather be considered as a “threat multiplier” than a main cause of the conflict (Femia and Werrell, 2013).

State fragility
The first aspect is the lack of sustainability in the state’s management of agricultural and water policies since 1963 (De Châtel, 2014). Since the military coup which placed the Ba'ath party – Bashar Al-Assad's party – at the head of the state, the party sought to gain public support by granting massive subsidies for water and agriculture (Sowers et al., 2013). For 50 years, the government has been supporting “overambitious” agricultural projects (De Châtel, 2014). Subsidies for water-intensive crops, the promotion of overgrazing as well as inefficient irrigation methods and groundwater extraction led to the depletion of both soils and water (Femia and Werrell, 2013).

Because of these practices, the levels of the aquifers have been decreasing at an alarming rate since the 1960s – a trend which accelerated between the 1980s and the 2000s – whilst the quality of the remaining water in the aquifers has been deteriorating (Ibid.; De Châtel, 2014). Government plans for modernising water management systems were not followed by actions (De Châtel, 2014). Over the years, the inefficient – and sometimes “inexistent” – water policies of the Syrian Government have thus contributed to desertification (Ibid.). The fast growing population, which is partly due to the government policy launched in the 1950s to promote births, accelerated this desertification process (Ibid.).

Removal of Subsidies and Corruption
A second aspect relates to the changes in economic policy since Bashar Al-Assad took power in 2000. In 2008, the dwindling oil production led the government to remove fuel subsidies (Nafeez, 2013b). The skyrocketing oil prices combined with the food price shock put even more pressure on the population (Nafeez, 2013a, Nafeez, 2013b). To address the country’s economic challenges, Bashar Al-Assad put an end to fuel and food subsidies and instead invested in industrial sectors which only benefited a small Alawite elite, the religious group to which Al-Assad belongs (Nafeez, 2013b; Sowers et al., 2013).

The lack of transparency and corruption which developed out of these elitist business activities added to the discontent of the population (Nafeez, 2013b; De Châtel, 2014). For instance, in 2005, water legislation obliged farmers to license wells on their territory – to prevent the digging of illegal wells – and to renew their license each year (De Châtel, 2014). However, this policy led to a high level of corruption amongst officials, who forced farmers to pay bribes in exchange for licenses (Ibid.).This was one of the triggers which led the population of Dara'a to the streets (Ibid.).

Overstating the importance of the drought in the conflict “diverts attention from the core problem”
Beyond these two aspects related to natural resource management, Syrians had many grievances related to political oppression, and the example of revolution in other Arab countries was obviously important in triggering the original protests. Although scientific studies show that climate change has intensified the droughts, its role thus has to be put into context, as one Syria expert wrote: “While climate change may have contributed to worsening the effects of the drought, overstating its importance is an unhelpful distraction that diverts attention away from the core problem: the long-term mismanagement of natural resources” (De Châtel 2014).  Furthermore, an exaggerated focus on climate change shifts the burden of responsibility for the devastation of Syria’s natural resources away from the successive Syrian governments since the 1950s and allows the Assad regime to blame external factors for its own failures” (Ibid.).

Recent Developments
Since March 2011, the civil war in Syria has forced almost half of the population to flee their home. The displacement of the population has deepened fault lines amongst the population, leading to competition over resources and alignment along ethnic lines (De Châtel, 2014; Femia and Werrell, 2013). The emergence of the group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region has added another threat to the conflict. Recently, both the government and the ISIL have started diverting water, using it as leverage against each other (EJOLT, 2014). As the country experiences extreme water shortages, controlling water supplies has become a way of controlling territories and of putting pressure on opponents. Some experts argue that control of water will be decisive for who will win this war (Vidal, 2014). Meanwhile, this is an additional pressure on the population who already suffers from malnutrition and health issues and is sometimes forced to drink from puddles on the street to survive (Ibid.).

Resolution Efforts

Failed negotiation attempts of the International Community
Despite several attempts to negotiate peace agreements between the Syrian Government and the rebels, the efforts of the international community have failed to put an end to the civil war in Syria. Several donors including the EU, the UNDP, Kuwait, Russia, Hungary and Japan contribute to fund UN humanitarian operations to address the basic needs of the population and to restore their livelihood (UNDP, 2014).

The conflict is anything but resolved and any efforts aimed at long-term peacebuilding, such as those related to reducing the conflict potential of water scarcity in the region, will only be applicable once violence has stopped in the country.

Measures to address the environmental root causes
The literature indicates a number of steps or measures which could help address the environmental root causes of the conflict. These measures target core weaknesses that led to discontent in the first place. The first critical measure concerns  addressing the effects of climate change in order to ensure the long-term stability and resiliency of the country  (Femia and Werrell, 2013).

Improve water infrastructure
Second, considering the inefficient water infrastructure in the country, scholars deem it necessary to expand efficient irrigation technologies and practices and groundwater monitoring (Gleick, 2014). Several technologies could help reduce the use of water, such as drip-irrigation systems, no-tillage cultivation as well as the use of water-efficient and high-yield crops (Waterbury, 2013).

Improve water management at the national and transboundary level
Third, the authorities would need to establish a stronger legal framework to ensure the enforcement of the laws; water legislation in the 2000s was either not enforced or not existent (De Châtel, 2014). Last but not least,  improving international cooperation over the joint management of shared/transboundary rivers is important (Gleick, 2014). In fact, the lack of agreement amongst Turkey, Syria and Iraq over the management of the Euphrates River might increase the degradation of the soils and the pollution of the water – through salinity and chemicals – and thus intensify the pressure on the population.

According to Erikson and Lorenz, salinity and pollution through chemicals are likely to have “greater, and more immediate” effects on the population in the basin than a reduction in water quantity (Erikson and Lorenz, 2013). Before the eruption of the uprisings, Turkey, Syria and Iraq were on a good track towards cooperation (see Turkey, Syria and Iraq: conflict over the Euphrates-Tigris) (Ibid.). Yet the hostility between the Turkish and Syrian governments makes any short-term cooperation very unlikely, and the role of the PKK, which has been a long-lasting bone of contention between Turkey and Syria, may add further complications in the future.

In conclusion, there is no evidence for a direct link between climate change and the uprisings from March 2011 in Syria. Climate change has only been one factor among several, and an indirect one insofar as its impact was exacerbated by the consequences of decades of natural resource mismanagement.  Yet studies estimate that climate change is likely to put ever greater pressure on natural resources in the region over the next decades, notably regarding the increase of droughts (Femia and Werrell, 2013). Given the many other cleavages in the region, this may never lead to outright 'climate wars'. Yet to limit the potentially exacerbating role of climate change through its impact on crucial natural resources, it will be critical to improve conflict resolution mechanisms in general and natural resource management in particular.
 

 

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

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Fatalities
210 000
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement More than 100.000 or more than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries Jordan
Resources
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water, Resilience of the environment
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been completely ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Syria Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Syrian Revolutionary Groups
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
United Nations
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Conflict Resolution Strategies
Institutional solutions to reduce conflict
0 Legal mechanisms for dealing with consequences
of environmental change Applicable, but not employed
0 Reduction in conflict potential of scarcity through
better management institutions Applicable, but not employed
Reducing Fragility and Increasing Resilience
0 Greater Institutional Inclusiveness Applicable, but not employed
0 State Capacity Improvement Applicable, but not employed
0 Direct Negotiations Applicable, but not employed
Economic and technological adaptation
0 Reduction in scarcity through (adoption of) technological innovation Applicable, but not employed
0 Reduction in scarcity through changed resource consumption habits Applicable, but not employed
0 Reduction in unequal access to resources Applicable, but not employed
0 Shift of livelihood bases Applicable, but not employed
0 Compensation Applicable, but not employed
0 Restoration/Protection of environmental livelihood base Applicable, but not employed
Third Party Tools
0 External Support for Capacity Building Applicable, but not employed
2 (Humanitarian) Aid The strategy is an important part of the conflict resolution process
1 Peacekeeping / Stabilization The strategy is present, but only attempted weakly
1 Peacemaking / Mediation The strategy is present, but only attempted weakly
Conflict Resolution through Climate Change Impacts or Natural Resources Management
0 An adverse environmental change leads to more cooperation
between stakeholders Applicable, but not employed
0 A common initiative for conservation is used to reduce
conflict intensity Applicable, but not employed
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource Capture is present.
Ecological Marginalization is present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL

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

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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Finance

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

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

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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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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