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With Argentina on board, the Escazú Agreement inches closer to reality

05 October, 2020
Andrés Bermúdez Liévano, China Dialogue

Community, Ecuador, mountains, environmental defenders, Escazu Agreement, Latin America

Community, Ecuador, mountains
Community in Ecuador | © Dario Valenzuela/unsplash.com

With Argentina's ‘yes’, the Escazú Agreement is one step away from coming into force. What’s its status in each country?

With the approval in Argentina last Thursday, the Escazú Agreement is one step away from becoming a reality.

As soon as Argentina submits its ratification to the United Nations, this regional and globally unprecedented treaty that seeks to improve access to public information, citizen participation and justice in environmental issues in Latin America and the Caribbean will be just one more away from coming into force.

This could happen very soon, since in the last month the ratification process also started moving in Mexico an Colombia, two of the region's main economies. Belize and Dominica also signed last week. All this has given new impetus following almost six months of paralysis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying social and economic crises.

As we did in April, we look at how Escazú is progressing in signatory countries.

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Brazil: Escazú stuck between government and congress

Brazil, which signed the Escazú Agreement under the previous government of Michel Temer, remains at the same point as it was six months ago. The government of Jair Bolsonaro continues to analyse it and has not sent it to congress for ratification, according to social and environmental organizations that followed the negotiations.

After it was first signed, the text was sent for analysis to three ministries: the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, and the Ministry of Transparency and the Comptroller General of the Union. It is not know whether these entities approved it or what comments they sent to the cabinet, which is responsible for presenting it to congress.

"There is no progress in Brazil on the Escazú issue - nor on any other environmental issue," says Rubens Born, a researcher at the Fundação Grupo Esquel Brasil.

Colombia: In congress as opposition emerges

Colombia, which was the last country to join, filed the Escazú Agreement to congress last July. The government printed a message of urgency, which should shorten the legislative time (by reducing it from four to three debates, since the debate within parliamentary commissions is combined). It will then be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, which could take a few months.

However, in public congressional hearings, critical voices have emerged against. The Council of Trade Unions, which brings together the main business associations, has opposed it, arguing that its norms were redundant and that it could bring legal uncertainty to investors.

"The spirit of the agreement is laudable, but Colombia must apply the laws that already exist, and for the private sector and farmers this agreement generates many doubts," said Jorge Enrique Bedoya, president of the Colombian Farmers' Society (SAC).

The government of Iván Duque - who initially opposed it on the grounds that it did not contain novel measures but exposed the country to international accountability - supports it, although a faction of his party is against it. In any case, these advances mark a strong turn in Colombia's position towards Escazú. Duque reversed his initial reluctance to sign after the massive protests at the end of 2019 against the government. This was one demand civil society insisted on in the spaces for dialogue created in response to the protests.

"The President's main environmental commitment was to ratify the Escazú Agreement. So far, all public entities, academia and civil society have strongly supported the Agreement. But it is also very important that the President shows his political leadership so that, together with the legislative branch and the support of all the governing parties, the message of urgency materialises and Escazú is approved before the end of the legislative period on December 16," says Lina Muñoz Ávila, professor of law and environmental management at the Universidad del Rosario.

Costa Rica: Stumbling in the judicial branch

In the country home to the city that hosted the negotiations and lent its name to the agreement, ratification suffered a sudden setback.

A week ago, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice dealt it a hard blow, deciding 6 to 1 against the agreement on the grounds it could affect the functioning of the judicial branch and generate additional expense. The ruling means that the agreement did not pass a constitutionality review and that, instead of going to the second and final debate in the Legislative Assembly, it will have to return to the first debate it already passed in February, and will also have to clarify the budget.

"With Chile's back turned and Costa Rica's ratification significantly delayed, the absence of both promoting States is causing immeasurable damage to the Escazú Agreement, [which is] the object of a disinformation campaign in Latin America aimed at misleading political sectors into believing that it will affect foreign investment," says Nicolas Boeglin, professor of public international law at the University of Costa Rica.

"There will be no Escazú Agreement for a while longer in Costa Rica," he adds.

Guatemala: Government slows down

Although the Guatemalan government gave visibility to the agreement from the moment it was signed, calling for socialisation workshops with the Minister of the Environment and high-level officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in August 2018, the process has since stagnated.

Two years later, the government has still not taken it to congress. When Jimmy Morales left the presidency at the end of 2019, the agreement theoretically continued in consultations in the Ministry of Environment and other public entities. The new president, Alejandro Giammattei, took office in January and has not referred to the issue.

"There are deep interests in the dispute between the environment, indigenous peoples and the private sector," an official from international community who asked to remain anonymous told Diálogo Chino.

Mexico: In the senate for debate

After a long process within government, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador finally sent the agreement to the Senate in mid-August. As the legislative period only began on September 1, until last week the house was winding up up the presidencies of three commissions due to discuss it.

"Unfortunately, it is not understood that foreign direct investment, so necessary for the country to grow, will not come if we do not have solid legal standards in environmental matters."

"We know that there is a very good perception about the eventual approval of the Accord in several factions and in the three commissions that will work on Escazú. As soon as they have the schedules of topics, we will have more elements to estimate times about when it could come out, but the messages from inside are very positive about the support that the Agreement has. Executives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Environment are also promoting it," says Tomás Severino, director of Cultura Ecológica, a civil society organisation.

Paraguay: Government’s absolute silence continues

In Paraguay, the controversy that led President Mario Abdo Benitez to withdraw the bill from Congress last December continues to affect the agreement. Nine months later, the government has not presented it again, although in February national newspaper ABC Color reported that the Foreign Ministry was ready to take the text back to Congress in March.

The more visible face of that opposition, however, has changed somewhat. If the crisis began when Archbishop Edmundo Valenzuela said that the environmental agreement would legalise so-called "gender ideology" – a vague concept coined by conservative sectors to encompass progressive gender policies – opposition is now the preserve of rural businessmen and libertarian politicians who fear it will affect production.

In the midst of this state silence, its promoters have been explaining the value it could have for businesspeople.

"Unfortunately, it is not understood that foreign direct investment, so necessary for the country to grow, will not come if we do not have solid legal standards in environmental matters such as those proposed by Escazú," says Ezequiel Santagada, director of the Institute of Environmental Law and Economics (Idea).

"Escazú is no longer only necessary to guarantee the right to a healthy environment, but also to open markets. In the long term, those who oppose it will end up accepting it because of the global economic dynamic itself. In the meantime, we will lose time and the environment will be depredated more than it would be if Escazú were ratified and soon to come into effect in Paraguay," he adds.

Peru: Debate started, but faces disinformation campaign

In Peru, another of the countries that led the negotiations, the agreement has been put back on track after being sidelined by last year's political crisis, which led to the dissolution of congress and the election of a new one.

That discussion, however, has been hampered in public hearings by the opposition from some sectors who claim it would affect national sovereignty. "It means in practice that 53% of Peruvian territory, which is the Amazon, would be subject to radical legislation that is different from the rest of Peru," said former foreign minister Francisco Tudela, arguing that many socio-environmental conflicts around legal exploitation of oil and gas could end up in international tribunals.

The government of Martin Vizcarra has been largely invisible during the debate. This is despite the fact it sent filed the agreement with Congress a year ago recommending its approval, accompanied by favorable reports from the Ombudsman's Office, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Minister of Agriculture.

That is why the foreign ministry’s current position, having previously approved it and called meetings to promote it, has caused surprise. The new minister Mario López publicly asked "not to ratify it yet [because] there is no consensus". His predecessor, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, sent a letter to Congress warning that the agreement could generate new international obligations for the country.

In the absence of solid support from Vizcarra, civil society has moved to respond to concerns of critical sectors and to combat disinformation on the agreement with educational primers.

"The virtual spaces dedicated to talking about Escazú have increased a lot, from academic to regional, and are organised by civil society," says Fátima Contreras, a lawyer with the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA).

Dominican Republic: Awaiting the new president

In the Dominican Republic, where discussions slowed down due to the pandemic and presidential elections, ratification depends on the new government that took office in mid-August.

Several environmental organizations wrote to new President Luis Abinader last week, complaining about his predecessor's delay in the ratification process and asking him to activate it. As far as they know, the next step is for the foreign ministry to send it to the Executive’s legal team, which must then send it to the constitutional tribunal. There, its constitutionality will be reviewed before it heads to congress.

"The organizations are requesting permission from the authorities because this Thursday we are going to the Count's Gate, the emblematic place where the cry of independence was given, calling on the Senate of the Republic and the Constitutional Court to ratify it," says Euren Cuevas, executive director of the Institute of Lawyers for the Protection of the Environment (Insaproma).

"We have met with senators and deputies and they have said that they are in a position to approve it".

The reluctant won’t change their minds

Last Saturday, just two days after Belize joined, the window for countries that have not yet signed closed. That means that new countries that have not signed it – such as Chile, El Salvador, Venezuela or Honduras – could do so, but through a different mechanism of accession directly at the UN in New York.

Chile confirms it won’t join the agreement it led

In Chile, the government of Sebastián Piñera continues to oppose an agreement whose negotiation he ironically led (along with Costa Rica) in his first term (2010-2014). Despite this opposition, Piñera had avoided giving clear public explanations of his refusal to sign until last week, when, three hours after defending his environmental commitment at the UN, his government said in a public document that Escazú is "inconvenient". Among his arguments are that socio-environmental conflicts could end up in the courts and that it exposes the country to international lawsuits.

El Salvador: President Confirms his opposition

President Nayib Bukele referred last week to his refusal to sign the agreement, arguing that he agrees philosophically with its contents but not with "some clauses". "I very much like the spirit of the agreement (...) but, as El Salvador, we would like to make modifications to two specific articles," he said, without specifying which ones and stressing the importance of productive sectors such as housing construction.

Honduras: Total silence from the government

The government of Juan Orlando Hernández has not wanted to sign the agreement, despite maintaining that consultations with various sectors continue. In the midst of this lack of clarity about the process, many social and environmental organisations have insisted on the importance of the agreement for communities, which today have no voice in decisions that affect their territories. "Only when they see the company's machinery and personnel arrive, do they realise that there is a concession. Escazú allows communities to have information about the project before that happens," argued Clarissa Vega, director of the Environmental Law Institute of Honduras (Idamho), on Radio Progreso.

 

[This article originally appeared on diaolgochino.net.]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Source
Topic
Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Region
South America

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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