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Environmental Cooperation Marred by India-Pakistan Tensions

07 December, 2016
Dhanasree Jayaram

Since the Uri army base attack on 18 September 2016, in which 17 Indian soldiers were killed (called the “deadliest attack on the security forces in Kashmir in two decades”), relations between India and Pakistan have been at an all-time low. While India has provided ample evidence to establish the origin of the attack as Pakistan, the latter continues to be in denial. India has been on a diplomatic and political offensive ever since – attempting to isolate Pakistan globally, carrying out surgical strikes against “launch pads” for terrorists across the Line of Control (LoC) and re-examining some of the existing bilateral treaties, one of them being the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).

In a totally different but connected case, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been forced to keep on hold a big project meant to reduce the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in northern Pakistan, which also includes disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan – mainly due to objections raised by India.

The Indus Waters Treaty at a Crossroads

First, take the case of the IWT – this treaty has survived three wars (including the Kargil conflict in 1999). Although Pakistan has cried foul time and again over India’s dam constructions on the western rivers and their tributaries (allotted to Pakistan under the treaty), the two countries have never fought over the treaty. India can legally use the waters for certain consumptive purposes (such as 20 percent of the River Indus for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes). At the same time, there have been times when certain sections of the Pakistan Army have used the nuclear bomb rhetoric to warn India against any moves of obstructing the flow of rivers to Pakistan. This anti-India rhetoric has been embraced by terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba that allegedly has been responsible for many terrorist attacks in India, including the one in Mumbai in 2008.

Knowing very well that the waters of the Indus system constitute the lifeline of Pakistan, India felt, quite rightly, that this could be the most potent bargaining chip that it could use against the former. After all, one of the reasons why Pakistan is so paranoid about India’s activities on these rivers is because the country’s agricultural economy would collapse if they do not flow into its territory. In fact, if India chooses to revoke the treaty and divert the waters according to its requirements, Pakistan could be left without potable water in no time. Moreover, control over Kashmir is equivalent to control over the River Indus – this explains a part of the dilemma confronted by Pakistan as far as its demand for Kashmir is concerned. Being an existential issue, one would think it is the best tactic to bring Pakistan to the table and pressurize it to act upon cross-border terrorism originating in its territory.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi upped the ante by stating that “blood and water cannot flow together”, Pakistan’s worst fears were being played on. This is why Pakistan’s foreign policy adviser Sartaz Aziz said in the National Assembly that any move on India’s part to revoke the treaty would be treated as “an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan.” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, while speaking in the Open Debate of the UN Security Council on “Water, Peace and Security”, also took up the IWT to stress that “Pakistan denounces any such practice, real or threatened, as we believe it to be inconsistent with the precepts of international humanitarian law,” clearly taking another step towards internationalizing the issue, as it has done in the case of Kashmir too.

Pakistan also approached the World Bank as well as the International Court of Justice, demanding an early appointment of the judges to the Court of Arbitration to settle the disputes over two Indian projects on the rivers Chenab and Neelum. In response to Pakistan’s grievances with respect to the technical aspects of the proposed projects, the World Bank has now decided to set up a Court of Arbitration. It also acceded to India’s demand of appointing a neutral expert. While India has taken strong exception to this decision, as according to the Indian side, “the treaty states that while a Neutral Expert is examining the row, there can be no other mechanism for settlement of disputes”, the two parallel mechanisms are set to be implemented. Since both processes require cooperation from both countries, it remains to be seen how the disputes will be settled. To make matters worse, Pakistan might choose to over-exploit the rivers allotted to it as a pre-emptive measure, putting itself at further risk of environmental degradation and water crisis in the long term.

While one can be almost sure that India has no plans to unilaterally cancel the treaty due to numerous legal, economic and political reasons, what the Prime Minister mainly wants to address is the question of the possibility of exploiting the rivers “to the maximum” to meet domestic requirements. After all, India does not want to open a Pandora’s Box by setting any standards for the upper riparian country, which a country like China is already following by building dams on the River Brahmaputra and its tributaries – and this without signing any treaty with the lower riparian countries, India and Bangladesh. Also, one must not forget that the Indus originates in the Tibetan Plateau in China, and being the upper riparian, it also has a stake despite not being a party to the IWT. One wonders how a treaty could be reached and sustained for so long without making one major party accountable, which has a history of violating transboundary river water sharing norms.

Although in 1960 it might have been the right decision to reserve 80.52 percent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system for Pakistan, in 2016, the situation has drastically changed with increasing demand for water on the Indian side (in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh). The Indian establishment has two sides to look at while taking any decision as far as a review of the IWT is concerned. On the one hand, there is a strong domestic constituency that believes that the treaty is highly biased against India and is responsible for a huge amount of economic losses in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has in turn exacerbated anti-India sentiments and violence in the Kashmir valley. Ahead of local/state assembly elections in the Indian state of Punjab, water has emerged as one of the biggest electoral issues, so much so that Prime Minister Modi in his latest public rally raised this issue; “The water on which India has its right is flowing into Pakistan. I am committed to stop that water and bring it to our farmers in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India.”

At the same time, the government is under increasing pressure to take a tough stand against Pakistan after the failure of its repeated overtures towards it, taking into consideration two cross-border terrorist attacks on military installations in 2016 (the other being Pathankot Air Force Station) and continuous ceasefire violations. Interestingly, there is yet another angle to this story wherein the constitutionality of the treaty itself has been challenged by some, who claim that it is unconstitutional since it was signed by the then Pakistan President Ayub Khan and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rather than the Indian President. Therefore, the Government of India is under pressure from several quarters to revise or at least revisit the treaty but this, in the end, may not result in any concrete steps to do so.

Geopolitical Tensions Hijack Climate Diplomacy

Whilst the IWT could become a victim of geopolitical tensions, there is another story that unfolded in Songdo, South Korea, where the 14th meeting of the GCF board was held from 12-14 October 2016. At the meeting, the Indian representative raised strong objections to a GLOF risk reduction project in northern Pakistan, even while ten other mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries worth US$ 745 million were approved. A project to be undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was blocked by the Indian representative, citing technical reasons – that the “project’s success was predicated on there being no glacial outbursts during the five-year tenure of the project, which was unlikely considering the frequency of glacial bursts in the region.” Since all the developing country projects were being handled at the board meeting as a package agreement, India’s move to block Pakistan’s project would have put others in jeopardy.

India’s behaviour came as a shock to other representatives, who understandably concluded that this was on account of the ongoing tensions between the two countries. India, being one of the three board members representing the Asia-Pacific region, had a crucial role in advancing developing country interests. In the end, India was isolated with the project being granted conditional approval, but it managed to effectively put the project on hold until an independent feasibility assessment is conducted and the report of this assessment satisfies the board.

The fact remains that a large segment of the project lies in the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan region. It might be under the administrative control of Pakistan on the map, but India’s official map still lays claim to this portion as, from an Indian perspective, it was occupied by Pakistani forces in 1947-48. What irks India even more is the presence of China in this region due to the illegal ceding of Shaksgam Valley by Pakistan to China in a 1963 border agreement between the two countries, rendering the Kashmir dispute trilateral rather than bilateral. Therefore, there are three different players with stakes in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and it was impossible for India to fathom a project that leaves India out, especially since Pakistan’s proposal did not mention India at all.

It was impetuous on India’s part to block the project, especially since it is looked upon as a responsible power in issues of global governance. After taking a series of right steps, such as ratifying the Paris Agreement and signing the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, India does not want to find itself branded a naysayer again only due to geopolitical reasons. The best way forward would have been to let the issue pass despite valid objections based on sovereignty and technical feasibility. After all, at the GCF board meeting, India is representing not only itself but a larger group. At the same time, barring the technical standards followed by GCF projects at the national or regional levels, it is surprising that a project aimed at reducing the risk of GLOF could be concentrated in just Pakistan and not take into account the fact that this is a common phenomenon in the entire Himalayan region. India, being a constant victim of GLOF, cannot be completely left out of the equation and provoking it by not mentioning it at all, is rather unbecoming.

This scenario presents a classic case of a clear divide between the normative and empirical aspects of environmental security research. Normatively, it perhaps makes sense to regard environmental and climate diplomacy as a means for overcoming political hurdles and mutual mistrust; and as a tool of conflict resolution or transformation and achieving peace and stability at the regional and/or international level. After all, environmental issues are seen as complex problems that require multi-layered and transboundary solutions, wherein cooperation is a necessity. However, one must realize that unless there is political and territorial stability (particularly in terms of bilateral relations), environmental and climatic initiatives are a non-starter or bound to fail, or at best could have only short-term success. The underlying argument remains – mutual trust is a prerequisite for long-term success of climate and environmental diplomacy.

 

This article is written as a part of the adelphi-MARG project Climate Diplomacy, supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Dhanasree Jayaram is Project Associate, Manipal Advanced Research Group (MARG), Manipal University, Karnataka, India

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Adaptation & Resilience
Water

Region
Asia

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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