ECC Platform Library


Water stress and political tensions in Iran

Type of conflict main
Intensity 2
Time 1935 ‐ ongoing
Countries Iran
Resources Water
Conflict Summary Iran is facing a severe water crisis. Drought, rising water demand, degradation and mismanagement of water resources put pressure on society and feed into...
Water stress and political tensions in Iran
Iran is facing a severe water crisis. Drought, rising water demand, degradation and mismanagement of water resources put pressure on society and feed into wider grievances and political unrest. Uncertainty about future water supply due to climate change and tensions over water between Iran and neighbouring countries further compound this situation.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Climate Change is believed to have an intensifying effect on extreme weather events in Iran. This could lead to prolonged and more intense dry-seasons and more severe drought events, further straining natural water resources.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Unequal access to water resources further compounds these issues. Rural areas and smaller towns are often less well served than larger cities. Mismanagement and corruption have in some cases have also led to situations, where water resources and infrastructures are allocated for political gain, thus increasing disparities in water access and quality.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Concerns over dwindling water supply and grievances over resource mismanagement in Iran are straining state-citizen relations and fuelling existing tensions. Over the last 20 years, events of civil unrest were increasingly caused by- or linked to water. This has been most visible in the aftermath of a major drought in 1999, when emergency measures taken by the government were met with violent protests.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.More frequent/intense extreme weather events lead to decreased water availability.Extreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.Demographic changes increase pressures on available water resources.Economic developments place additional strains on water resources.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Extreme weather event leads to scarcity of essential natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines state capacity.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources provokes discontent with the state.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather EventChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentReduced 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 LegitimacyChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Dysfunctional Resource Management
  • Inadequate Infrastructure
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Eroded Social Contract
Conflict History

Iran is facing a severe water crisis. Drought, rising water demand, degradation and mismanagement of water resources put pressure on society and feed into wider grievances against the Iranian regime. Although the effects are not yet known, climate change is likely to put pressure on Iran’s future water supply, this situation could be further compounded by tensions over water between Iran and neighbouring countries. Water-related conflicts have increased dramatically since 1999, when a severe drought revealed Iran’s vulnerability to such extreme weather events. Resulting grievances and unrest have been straining state-citizen relations ever since (Foltz, 2002).

Pressure on water resources
Iran receives on average 376mm precipitation per year, most of which only benefits 26% of the country, mainly along the Caspian Sea and the north-western regions, and leaving other parts of the country with only sparse rainfall (about 200mm), which occurs at irregular intervals (Soltani, et al., 2012; Garshasbi, 2013).

Water scarcity in Iran is further exacerbated by growing and unsustainable water consumption. The population of Iran has grown continuously (from roughly 38.67 million in 1980 to 81.16 million in 2017), putting increasing pressure on Iran’s water resources (Worlddata 2017). Development of hydroelectric dams to satisfy Iran’s growing demand for electricity, agricultural intensification and evaporation due to inefficient irrigation techniques exacerbate pressure on water resources. In 2014, 132 small and large dams were under construction in Iran in addition to the 316 dams already present in the country.

Moreover, there is a lack of incentives for farmers to increase efficiency in water use, due to high water and energy subsidies. Many farmers use private wells (often without permission), which they just dig a little deeper as soon as they fall dry, resulting in a further decrease in water level. Since the Islamic revolution and, with it, the US-led embargo, the Islamic regime has stressed independence in food provision, leading to over extraction of water in Iran’s agricultural sector, which accounts for 92% of the country’s water consumption (National Intelligence Committee, USA, 2012). Estimates suggest that Iran has already used most of its groundwater reserves (Madani, 2014).

A legacy of water intensification and -mismanagement
Historically, water consumption in Iran has rapidly intensified following a push for water-intensive cash crops (mainly cotton) in the 1930’s. During the 1960’s and 1970’s the country introduced land reforms, which included the development of the industrial sector in or near major urban areas. These largely ignored hydrological concerns. Giant facilities (like the Mobakareh steel mill near Esfahan) were built on desert ground despite their significant impact on scarce local water resources.

The Islamic Revolution (1979) and the Iraq-Iran-War from 1980-1988 devastated the country, which, in combination with the sanctioning of the Iranian regime by western countries and especially the US supressed technological advancement and protracted the development of critical (water) infrastructure. As a result, water treatment remains poor in many areas. Structures are inadequate, and technology is often outdated in smaller cities and rural areas (Foltz, 2002).  

Corruption is a major problem; especially in lower governmental bodies, leading to inefficient water management and sometimes arbitrary appointments of officials. In addition, water resources are sometimes diverted to serve the interests of influential politicians rather than according to societal needs (Madani, 2014; Motahari et al., 2018). Academics that denounce and fight against these problems are harassed and sometimes even arrested (Kahn, 2018).

Water crisis and political crisis
Concerns over dwindling water supply and grievances over resource mismanagement in Iran are straining state-citizen relations and fuelling existing tensions. Over the last 20 years, events of civil unrest have been linked increasingly to water-related issues. For instance, repeated protests have been witnessed around Lake Urmia west of the city of Tabris, which is seriously affected by dam construction and groundwater over-extraction. Teargas and rubber bullets were used by security forces (Azarmehr, 2011). Comparable crackdowns on water-related protests by farmers occurred in March 2018 around Esfahan and in the province of Khuzestan, following a corruption scandal around the diversion of rural water resources towards the constituencies of influential politicians (Dehghanpisheh, 2018). Protests over water have become a regular feature of the country’s political landscape (e.g. see Zeit Online 2018).

Protests in the wake of the 1999 drought
Most notably, water-related grievances have been highly visible since the early 2000’s, when a major drought revealed the poor condition and vulnerability of the Iranian water sector. Affecting the country from 1999 to 2001, it led to massive evacuations of villages and nation-wide water shortages. Already burdened groundwater reservoirs lost more water, leaving wells dry and preventing farmers from compensating for poor rainfall.

This highlighted serious infrastructural weaknesses and a lack of modern technology in rural areas. Moreover, available surface water was distributed unevenly due to corruption and lack of professionalism in the relevant administrations. Hundreds of thousands of farmers lost their jobs, livestock died, and millions of tons of crops were lost. Lake Hamoun, formerly the largest water body in the country, dried out completely by September 2001. Local fishermen lost their entire livelihood and whole regions were left relying only on brackish groundwater (Foltz, 2002).

Measures taken by the government such as water rationing and power cuts were met with violent demonstrations. Following this episode, which highlighted poor water management and a lack of political commitment, water issues have increasingly become a matter of public discontent and tensions in Iran (Foltz, 2002).

Regional context and possible impacts of climate change
The Iranian water crisis feeds into- and is further compounded by diplomatic tensions between the country and its neighbours with whom it shares transboundary water resources. Examples of transbounday conflicts include a dispute with Afghanistan over the Helmand River and Harirud River (see case study on water disputes between Iran and Afghanistan), conflicts about the Caspian Sea with other riparian nations, as well as around the Euphrates-Tigris system, which Iran shares with Turkey, Iraq and Syria (see case study on conflicts in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin).

Relations in other regional aquifers have, so far been largely peaceful. However, Iran’s important withdrawal of groundwater resources holds potential for rising regional tensions, as the country shares numerous aquifer systems with other nations: Turkmenistan (Sarakhs aquifer), Azerbaijan (Lenkoran/Astara aquifer, Leninak/Shirak aquifer), Armenia and Turkey (Leninak/Shirak, Nakhichewan/Astara and Djebrail aquifer), Russia and Georgia (Nakhichewan/Astara and Djebrail aquifer) (Madani, K. 2014).

Climate change is an important factor to consider in this context. Experts predict climate change will have a significant effect on Iran’s natural hydrological systems such as the Karkheh aquifer or the aquifers below the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan through intensifying weather events linked to the hydrologic cycle around these aquifers (Zarghami, M. et al., 2011; Jamali, S: et al., 2015). Similarly, impact assessments predict negative effects on crop production and yield if current trends in global temperatures carry on (Gohari et al., 2012). Such developments could exacerbate water related tensions, not only within Iran but also between Iran and its neighbours.  

Resolution Efforts

Fully aware of the continuous and growing crisis, the Iranian government has initiated a number of countermeasures. A ‘National Drought Warning and Monitoring Center’ (NDWMC) and an ‘Aid and Rescue Program’ (2003) were established, providing emergency relief for affected people. Furthermore, Iran’s 4th five-year-development plan intended to drastically increase agricultural insurance funds to insure at least 50% of Iran’s crop yield (FAO, n.d.; FAO, 2014)

Increased investment in water infrastructure
The Iranian government emphasizes the development of desalination and wastewater treatment facilities, to increase the amount of available water for household consumption, industry and agriculture. These measures helped increasing the percentage of treated wastewater by 10% between March 2016 and December 2017 (Espley, 2018). Iran’s metropolitan areas, in particular, are increasing their wastewater treatment potential and are seeking foreign investments. In December 2015, for example, the Tehran Province Water and Wastewater Company (TPWWC) solicited a 223 Million $ financing commitment from Chinese investors for two wastewater treatment projects in the south of the city (Espley, 2016).

In 2015, Iran had 15 desalination plants in operation with 23 further plants in various stages of planning and construction. These are expected to increase Iran’s desalination capacities by a factor of five (Gorjian & Ghobadian, 2015). Large pipelines are built to transport the newly obtained water from the coast to dry regions in Iran’s southern inland. One of the biggest projects, a 428 Million $ pipeline from the Persian Gulf to the central dry provinces of Kerman Yazd and Esfahan, is expected to be completed by 2019. However, its future is uncertain as it faces considerable opposition, especially from the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry is sceptical about the project, which could affect the Persian Gulf’s highly vulnerable ecological system, and so far no environmental impact assessment has been conducted (Tehran Times, 2018). Pursuing the project also risks igniting protests by environmental activists.

Raising awareness and promoting water saving techniques
Since 2013, Hassan Rohani’s government is seen as more environmentally aware by some observers (Espley, 2017). It has not yet started any new dam projects and made efforts to bring back highly qualified Iranians from abroad to support Iran’s technological development, including the modernisation of its water sector. In public TV, the frequency of public service announcements about the need to save water and how to do so in private households is increasing. Furthermore the government sponsors documentary films about natural water resources, Iran’s flora and fauna and the threat of human interference to the natural environment (Laylin 2018). Measures taken under Rohani’s presidency also include the Ministry of the Environment urging religious leaders to include calls for environmental awareness in their sermons (Foltz, 2002). In 2019, Iran will host its 15th International Water and Wastewater exhibition (Islamic Republic of Iran – Ministry of Energy, 2019).

International cooperation and knowledge transfer
The Iranian government encourages knowledge transfers and international cooperation and has tried in particular to use opportunities during the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - Iran’s nuclear deal - to introduce new technologies to the water sector, for example through establishing the German-Iranian Water Partnership (German Water Partnership).

Furthermore, the government encourages foreign investments and international development cooperation, such as a joint venture between the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and the Iranian Department of Environment (DOE): The Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Program aims to work with village cooperatives and trains farmers in modern farming and irrigation techniques (Laylin, 2018). The government has published a list of 150 water and wastewater related construction projects (treatment, distribution networks) with support from foreign investors and partners (Espley, 2017).

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
Population growth Country Percentage change by year Year Iran 3.9046 1979 Water scarcity Country Interval Year Iran 4.99446 1979

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Water users (Iran)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Iran
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
1 Cooperation The Iranian government cooperates with the United Nations and other international partners to train agricultural producers in more water efficient techniques and acquire better technology for the water sector. The JCPOA has offered opportunities to introduce new technologies to the water sector, for example through establishing a German-Iranian Water Partnership
3 Improving infrastructure & services The Iranian government started a large number of water-related infrastructure projects to modernize the water sector. Many desalination facilities are built in coastal areas to increase the amount of available freshwater which is distributed to dryer inland regions through newly built pipelines. Furthermore, the government invests and encourages investments in waste water treatment facilities, especially in large metropolitan areas, such as Tehran.
1 Improving actionable information The Iranian government established the National Drought Warning and Monitoring Center to improve its capacity to rapidly respond to drought risks through early warning systems.
2 Coping with uncertainty The government has realised the growing vulnerability of the agricultural sector to extreme weather events and has therefore started to assist farmers with crop insurance among other measures.
2 Promoting social change Iranians are encouraged to save water through state-sponsored advertisement and documentary films. The environmental department is working together with the clergy to promote environmental awareness in seminars and prayers.
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.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
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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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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