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Bonn climate talks: Key outcomes from the June 2019 UN climate conference

02 July, 2019
Josh Gabbatiss, Carbon Brief

Bonn Climate Talks 2019, UNFCCC, Paris Agreement, Loss and Damage

Bonn Climate Talks 2019, UNFCCC, Paris Agreement, Loss and Damage
The Keeling curve showing the accumulation of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere was displayed behind the SBSTA chair during the closing session. | © IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth (http://enb.iisd.org/climate/sb50/27jun.html)

A record breaking European heatwave provided a fitting backdrop to the latest round of UN climate change talks, in which delegates from around the world descended on Bonn for a two-week diplomatic effort.

The “intersessional” meeting takes place every year in the German city, midway between the annual conferences of the parties (COPs) which fall towards the end of the year. This year, with a “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement largely settled at the December COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland, the focus was primarily on hammering out a handful of contentious issues and laying the groundwork for the upcoming COP25 in the Chilean capital of Santiago. 

In her opening speech, UN climate change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa sent a clear message about the “climate emergency” the world faces, and emphasised the importance of nations dramatically increasing their efforts to cut emissions. But as temperatures soared to 37C outside the conference centre, the atmosphere inside also became heated as a group of nations sought to discredit a major report undertaken by the world’s leading climate scientists. 

Meanwhile, over the course of the meeting, progress was slow in devising a system for trading carbon credits internationally, and many observers expressed concerns that the wealthiest nations were not taking their responsibilities to set more ambitious targets and provide climate finance seriously.

Carbon markets

Going into the conference, the most high-profile issue up for discussion was Article 6, the only aspect of the Paris “rulebook” that remained incomplete at the end of COP24. This focuses on rules for voluntary international trading of “mitigation outcomes” such as emissions reductions. This section is seen as a critical part of the agreement as if it is handled badly, experts are concerned poor accounting could result in large amounts of extra emissions being produced, with ambition weakened as a result.

The goal at Bonn was to prepare a text for ministers to sign off at COP25, on a new trading system that would kick in beyond 2020 when the current one comes to an end, and as the Paris Agreement comes into force. This means replacing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Under the CDM, richer nations could meet some of their climate targets by paying for emissions-cutting projects in developing nations, but there have been suggestions that many of the carbon credits generated by this scheme are effectively worthless. One EU report concluded that most clean energy projects paid for by the scheme would likely have happened anyway. It estimated that only 2% of CDM projects had a high likelihood of ensuring emissions reductions were “additional” to other measures.

There are three key sections of Article 6 that formed the basis of discussions at Bonn, the first being Article 6.2, which covers country-to-country trading of overachievements on national climate pledges. In contrast to this direct bilateral trading, Article 6.4 – which is intended to replace the CDM – involves a mechanism which will be governed by a new, separate body. Finally there is Article 6.8, which covers non-market mechanisms that must be determined in the coming few years.

Speaking at a side event, Costa Rica negotiator Felipe de León summarised the importance of getting this process right:

Article 6 is one of those rare birds that within our system could actually do proactive harm – if those rules are not good enough they are basically giving us licence to print fake money, and if you allow people to print fake money they start paying their bills with fake money. And in this case, because geophysics doesn’t care about how clever our accounting mechanisms are, it will come back to haunt us.

A negotiator for the African Group, El Hadji Mbaye Diagne, agreed that while a functional market would be capable of raising climate ambitions, it had to be done right.

However, the technical and political complexity of the topic, and the breadth of opinion among different nations, mean progress has been slow in agreeing the Article 6 rules. […]

Ahead of the meeting, it was generally agreed that by the end of the session in Bonn, parties needed to leave with a clear draft text concerning the future of carbon markets. This would have been put in front of ministers to consider ahead of the next COP so that the summit in Chile could sign off the final Article 6 rules. Instead, delegates in Bonn were only able to agree that were still littered with square-bracketed – in other words unresolved – sections.

[...]

 

IPCC 1.5C report

Discussions around how to respond to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5C were perhaps the most controversial to emerge in Bonn. Additional meetings had to be scheduled as proceedings drew to a close, amid concerns that no satisfactory conclusion would be reached before the closing plenary.

The issues arose after a handful of nations led by Saudi Arabia raised concerns about the fundamental science underlying the report, which was commissioned by the UN to explore the differences between 1.5C and 2C of warming. Other countries, particularly developing nations and small island states who say 1.5C threatens their very existence, refused to accept these apparent attempts to undermine the IPCC’s conclusions. […]

While the IPCC’s report itself did not suggest policy changes, it made clear that to keep global warming below 1.5C – a target necessary to avoid many of its worst impacts – emissions would have to be cut by 45% by 2030. Such a global effort would require an unprecedented transition away from fossil fuels.

As part of the discussions, the small island states, as well as Latin American nations and the Least Developed Countries group proposed two workshops to guide nations’ responses to the 1.5C target, to be held in December and next summer in Bonn. According to Fuller, these sessions would have consisted of one to understand the mitigation and adaptation measures required by nations, and also the funding required to achieve them. Given its issues with the underlying science, Saudi Arabia also rejected this proposal. 

An extra negotiating session on Wednesday failed to reach an agreement. As a result, the French chief negotiator Paul Watkinson, who chairs the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) that oversees this area, took the text to a closed meeting that evening. By the time of the closing plenary, an “agreement” had been finalised, although not a popular one. A "watered-down" five paragraph version of the document was produced that included a reference to the IPCC report being “the best available science”, and no longer emphasised “uncertainties”, but also removed any formal inclusion of its findings in future UN negotiations. 

Many nations made their displeasure felt at the closing plenary. The Environmental Integrity Group of delegates arrived in T-shirts saying “science is not negotiable”, and Ian Fry, the lead negotiator from Tuvalu, took the floor to state the “existential threat” facing his country and say the report should be “welcomed, accepted and not negotiated”. Despite making protestations about the number of delegates taking the floor, Watkinson too emphasised the importance of science to the UN climate process after announcing the agreement.

Raising ambition

With the years of negotiations that have followed the 2015 Paris Agreement coming to a close, next year will be the start of the vital next stage: implementation. Countries are due to update their NDCs in 2020, and it is widely accepted they must significantly ramp up their ambition, particularly if there is any hope of hitting the 1.5C target discussed in the IPCC’s report.

The need for developed nations in particular to take this mission seriously was emphasised by Fuller, in his capacity as a representative of small island states. He tells Carbon Brief:

Based on the IPCC report, we only have 11 years to cut emissions by 50% if we are going to achieve that 1.5C target. We only have that window of opportunity to revise the NDCs.

[...] The German conference was (therefore) seen as an opportunity to discuss these efforts, and issues relating to climate pledges and finance were a key topic of discussion in the corridors. The UN has already reported that it expects 80 countries, including big-hitters such as China, to signal an increase in ambition in New York. Such progress will be necessary because existing NDCs are insufficient to meet the Paris limit of “well below 2C”, and nations are not even on track to meet them. Over the course of the conference, 28 countries including the UK, Nigeria and Brazil presented their current efforts to their peers, providing an arena for scrutiny. Meanwhile a booth run by the World Resources Institute (WRI) recorded pledges from nearly 30 developing nations to strengthen their NDCs next year. Notable by their absence from this booth were representatives from the industrialised nations who account for the vast majority of global emissions.

While talks were underway in Bonn, hopes for renewed ambition suffered several blows from beyond the walls of the conference centre. After initial optimism that EU leaders would agree to target net-zero emissions by 2050, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland blocked the deal - though though the EU could still agree to raise its ambition later in the year. […] 

Overall, the hoped-for choreography towards a successful round of ambition-raising next year has only partially fallen into place. […]

Climate finance – a topic that tends to receive a lot of attention in UN negotiations – was not a key part of the formal discussions at Bonn. […]

Loss and damage

Another key focus at the event was "loss and damage" - how to deal with the impacts of climate change that can neither be avoided by cutting emissions, nor defended against by investing in adaptation measures. This is a sensitive topic, particularly for developing nations that stand to lose the most as a result of sea level rise, desertification and other threats. In Bonn, parties were expected to reach agreement on the "tems of reference", including scope and expected outputs, for a review of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) This was first established six years ago at COP19 in Poland as a means of dealing with the impact of climate change in vulnerable developing countries, including both extreme and slow-onset events.

Loss and damage is a highly politicised issue that has hampered UN negotiations in the past. Though the formal review of the WIM is set to take place at COP25, a major division has emerged between developed and developing nations over what it will cover. Developed nations only want to consider past events, while developing nations want it to also look forward and identify ways to mobilise more support for loss and damage in the future.

Parties came to an agreement on how they planned to undertake the review, but Meyer says this will still be “a big issue in Santiago”, given the significant differences of opinion that remain.

[…]

Looking ahead

Several technical issues remain unresolved following the conference in Bonn, which will have to be picked up at the COP in Santiago. Besides aiming for agreement around challenges such as Article 6 market mechanisms and loss and damage, these will include devising common timeframes so so that nations’ climate pledges cover the same lengths of time from 2031 onwards. Parties also decided to postpone discussions about the second periodic review of the long-term goal of the UNFCCC, amid reports of divisions between developed and developing parties on the topic. [...]

Success in these complex areas at the COP will partly be dependent on the ability of the Chilean presidency to set out a clear vision for COP25. With two more IPCC reports – on land use and the cryosphere - expected in the coming months, there will also be pressure on supportive nations and the presidency to give them a better welcome than the 1.5C report and provide space for their inclusion in formal UN climate processes. […]

One key announcement that never materialised at Bonn was the location of next year’s COP26. The event will be a critical moment in the climate calendar, coming as the Paris Agreement finally takes hold and nations must confirm their strengthened NDCs.

The UK, in partnership with Italy, is thought to be the favourite to host the event, with confirmation initially expected towards the end of the Bonn summit. However, with Turkey still in the running, the decision was delayed and is now expected to be resolved around the time of the New York event.

 

[This article originally appeared on carbonbrief.org.]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
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Topic
Climate Change
Climate Diplomacy

Region
Global Issues

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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