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India’s Road to Paris Agreement Ratification and the Nuclear Energy Option

03 November, 2016
Dhanasree Jayaram

IndiaParisRatification.jpg

The country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin (left), shakes hands with UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson while General Assembly President Peter Thomson looks on
India ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. The country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin (left), shakes hands with UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson while General Assembly President Peter Thomson looks on in a ceremony held at the UN Headquarters on 2 October 2016. | Photo credits: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

After weeks of speculation, India finally ratified the Paris Agreement on October 2, 2016 which is also the anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, more popularly known as the “Father of the Nation”. This symbolic gesture by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team makes India the 62nd country (out of the 180 countries that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015) to deposit its legal instrument of ratification to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General.

The Paris Agreement states that it would come into force 30 days after 55 states, accounting for 55 per cent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, have ratified it. While the 55-state mark was crossed a while ago, the 55-per-cent-emissions mark had not been reached until India (4.1 per cent of the emissions) and the EU (on October 4) ratified the agreement. This means that the Paris Agreement will come into force on November 4, before the Conference of Parties (COP)-22 in Marrakech on November 7, 2016.

Stalemate about Climate Agenda at the G20 Summit

It is interesting to note how India reversed its stance on the Paris Agreement after the G20 Summit hosted by China in Hangzhou, earlier in September. At the G20 Summit, India refused to commit itself to ratifying the agreement by December 2016, citing domestic processes and its unwillingness to set a deadline for ending fossil fuel subsidies (which the zero draft of the communiqué has specified as 2025). Since India was not alone (countries such as Turkey were on the same side), it managed to avoid any mention of either of the deadlines in the 7000-word communiqué. However, within a couple of weeks India decided to ratify the agreement despite asserting at the G20 Summit that, although it was preparing to ratify it as soon as possible, it was not in a position to do so by the end of this year.

This change of mind is far from surprising, considering that the real reason behind India’s reluctance to agree to the terms set by the G20 countries like the US and China is being linked to China’s move to block its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in June 2016 (based on norms set by the grouping, according to China). For China, the presidency of the G20 Summit is a matter of prestige and it clearly wanted to push the agenda on climate change forward. It partially succeeded in doing so by jointly ratifying the Paris Agreement with the US. India, clearly annoyed by China’s actions against India, did not want China to put a stamp on its term by clinching the deal of an end to fossil fuel subsidies during its presidency. Neither did it “want the credit for the climate breakthrough to accrue to China, which was eager to announce a spectacular outcome at the end of the summit in Hangzhou” according to some sources. Sadly, these were the same countries that negotiated hand-in-hand as a part of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) against Annex-I (industrialised) countries at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, and subsequently shared similar positions on various issues at the COP summits thereafter.

The Paris Agreement and Nuclear Energy

While this provides more of a geopolitical context, it could be extrapolated to provide a deeper understanding of India’s position at the G20 Summit. On the face of it, one wonders what prompted India to link its NSG bid to the Paris Agreement ratification, considering nuclear energy has previously never overtly been on the agenda of COP negotiations. Even the Paris Agreement does not prescribe nuclear energy, but since it is non-prescriptive in terms of the nature and form of climate change mitigation actions/plans, it does provide flexibility to each nation state to choose them according to its national circumstances, thereby giving room for nuclear energy as a potential solution. While to say that the Paris Agreement cares only about the end result and not the means might be considered a sweeping statement, it does lean more towards this position on mitigation commitments, which was necessary to reach a consensus in Paris in 2015.

Logically, it might seem that there is no connection between the two developments, but India does take the nuclear option very seriously, as do France, the US, Canada and a few other nations. A White House Factsheet (released in November 2015) states, “As America leads the global transition to a low-carbon economy, the continued development of new and advanced nuclear technologies along with support for currently operating nuclear power plants is an important component of our clean energy strategy.” This clearly points towards the US’ thrust on nuclear energy as a tool for combating climate change. 

India’s Nuclear Energy Policy

The Indian establishment believes that nuclear energy has a key role to play in both its energy security and climate change mitigation strategies. In its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), India has pledged to reduce the carbon-emissions intensity of its economy by 33-35 per cent and source 40 per cent of its energy from renewable and clean sources, including nuclear, by 2030, with greater emphasis on tapping solar and wind energy sources. And as many experts argue, it will be impossible for India to achieve this target without using the nuclear energy option. Already, the government has announced that the country would “double coal production within four years even if private companies do not contribute to the effort.” This is not good news for the climate but in order to offset its impact, the government has introduced coal cess/clean energy cess to generate finances for clean energy projects. Therefore, it is also ramping up investments in and/or luring investors into the solar energy sector. Adani Green Energy unveiled the world’s largest (648 MW) solar power plant in Tamil Nadu.

Still, this will not be enough to ‘sustain’ yet another objective of this government, which is “100 per cent electrification for all by May 1, 2017.” It must be noted that, according to this objective, a village is considered “electrified” if the basic infrastructure (distribution transformers and lines) is set up, even though a real electricity connection or supply is not provided to the households. Furthermore, if the public places in the village and 10 per cent of its households have electricity access, it is deemed electrified. Therefore, the objective might be achieved, but to take it to the next level, wherein uninterrupted power supply is assured to all the households and the different sectors that contribute to the growing economy, and where this supply is sustained – this will certainly not be an easy task. This is where nuclear energy, with all the baggage associated with it, becomes more or less an inevitable choice.

India’s Road to NSG and Climate Diplomacy

As a part of its larger energy security strategy, India has signed civilian nuclear deals with several countries, including the US, France and Australia. While the US Company Westinghouse has started preparatory work on site in India for six nuclear reactors, Australia (possessing 40 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves) has agreed to start supply of uranium to India “in a relatively short span of time.” With French collaboration, India plans to build six nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. Like Australia, Japan too had major reservations about signing any nuclear agreement with India since the latter is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), but sources reveal that Japan is well on its way to ink a civilian nuclear agreement with India when Modi visits Japan in November.

From these instances, it is apparent that nuclear energy inevitably finds a prominent place in India’s climate diplomacy with the rest of the international community. Therefore, it could be inferred that India’s commitment to the Paris Agreement is contingent to a large extent on its ability to exploit the nuclear energy option. One of the ways in which its nuclear trade and commerce could be enhanced is through the 48-member NSG, which ironically was formed to deny India access to nuclear technology, from an Indian perspective. While the jury is out on what India could gain from membership in the NSG, one factor that is consistently being considered is India’s commitment to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Although the current agreements with various countries (signed as a result of the 2008 NSG waiver granted to India) could fetch some of the desired results, there are some technologies that could still be denied to India if it remains outside the NSG. It also provides “greater certainty and legal foundation to India’s nuclear regime” as in the future India does not want to be hostage to any rules of transaction set by the grouping.

Even though India ran its nuclear energy industry almost single-handedly – without any foreign support in terms of fuel (uranium) or technological assistance – if it wishes to have 14.6 GW nuclear capacity on line by 2024 and 63 GW by 2032 (along with supply of 25 per cent of electricity from nuclear power by 2050), it needs investments from external sources as well as uranium imports. This has placed India in a precarious situation. So much so that one of the alleged reasons why India initially kept the option of waiting till December to ratify the Paris Agreement, was so that it could still enter the NSG if a special plenary of the grouping is held before the end of 2016.

India’s Commitment to Climate Action

While India’s entry into the NSG remains uncertain, as China flexes its muscles, the former has chosen the right path of being a part of the solution by ratifying the Paris Agreement. It goes without saying that if India had taken a hardened position, it would have found itself in the company of a group of states that would miss the boat. A case in point is Japan, which did not anticipate that so many countries as well as the EU would ratify the agreement so soon; and instead gave priority to ratification of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal among twelve of the Pacific Rim countries. It came as a surprise to many states that the EU ratified the agreement so quickly. Now that the Paris Agreement has come into force, those who do not ratify it before COP-22 may find their roles limited in terms of their ability to influence negotiations regarding the specifics of the agreement.

As a result, without much dilly-dallying after the G20 Summit, the Indian government held its cards close to its chest, evaluated the global response so far (which was overwhelming) and decided to take the plunge so that it does not get isolated, since the agreement could have come into force anyway without India’s ratification, when a few other states also ratify. To add to this, India also played a proactive role in bringing the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol into existence on October 14, 2016, which is aimed at phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), making it “the first legally-binding climate treaty of the 21st century.” The global warming potential (GWP) of HFCs is hundreds to thousands of times greater than CO2 and considering that India is the second largest manufacturer of HFCs among developing countries with the largest being China – in fact, only these two developing countries manufacture HFCs – it weighed its options (based on reciprocity) and reached an agreement (based on differentiated treatment).

When it comes to achieving the goals set in its NDC, the road ahead might not be easy for India, regardless of whether or not it expands the share of nuclear energy in its energy basket. However, it has set foot on the path towards a new era of global/multilateral climate governance and expectations are high!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

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

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Climate Change
Climate Diplomacy
Energy

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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