ECC Platform Library

Saving India’s Western Ghats: A Long-Drawn-Out Debate Surrounding Conservation and Development

18 November, 2016
Dhanasree Jayaram (ed.)

The Western Ghats, India

The Western Ghats, Water and forest.
The Western Ghats. Photo by: Navaneeth KN/Flickr.com [CC BY 2.0]

The Western Ghats are one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world and form an important watershed. In five Indian states, the mountain range is at the heart of environmental conflicts: Fragmentation and deterioration of forests, biodiversity loss, pollution, soil erosion and landslides, soil infertility and agrarian stress, depleting groundwater resources, climate change and introduction of alien species, caused by developmental and mining projects, have raised the alarm in recent years.

This article is based on a role play event developed by adelphi to complement the Exhibition on Environment, Conflict and Cooperation (ECC) and adapted to the case of the Western Ghats by Manipal University. The event is part of the Climate Diplomacy Initiative supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

The role play develops a fictional scenario in which the governments of two countries, a mining company, the local rural population and a separatist group have competing interests and claims over shared resources. Also, they have to deal with drought and the harmful impacts of mining, besides facing a changing climate. By slipping into the different actors’ roles, students can experience the connections between natural resources, environmental change and conflict. Participants can also simulate negotiations and engage in multi-party consensus finding. This form of collaborative learning makes clear how shared natural resources can be both a potential source of conflict as well as a point of departure for dialogue and cooperation.

adelphi inaugurated the role play in August 2016, in Berlin, with international high-school students as part of the Elbe Green Summer Session organised by AFS Interkulturelle Begegnungen e.V.

Arrayed along India’s southwest coast is a 1,600-kilometre-long mountain chain with forests older than the Himalayas: the Western Ghats. The mountains are one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world, housing a large number of indigenous species of plants and animals, and are a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site. Forming one of the four watersheds of India, the Ghats also attract large amount of rainfall and are at the heart of water conflicts in five states (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu). Fragmentation and deterioration of forests, biodiversity loss, pollution (air, water and soil), soil erosion and landslides, soil infertility and agrarian stress, depleting groundwater resources, climate change and introduction of alien species, to name just a few, caused by developmental and mining projects have raised the alarm in recent years.

In response to this visible environmental deterioration, the central government constituted two panels comprising environmental experts and other professionals from both governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGO), which recommended that certain landscapes be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA), where developmental activities would be banned or restricted. Reports released by both panels were rejected by the state governments. In September 2014, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), established for “effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources,” criticized the central government for not coming out with a clear and unambiguous stand on the issue and failing to accept completely the recommendations of either reports.

Following stiff opposition from the state governments in the Western Ghats region, the central government asked them to submit reports on the demarcation of ESAs, including ground surveys and objections, further delaying the draft notification for ESA in the region – prompting mine owners to seek conditional sanction from the judiciary to resume operations in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. All the states, except Tamil Nadu, have submitted their reports and all except Gujarat have recommended a decrease in ESA. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has initiated fresh consultations with the state governments to reach a consensus and, in the process, also interact with the locals before arriving at a final decision.

The Western Ghats continue to remain in the news as the stalemate over the ESA proposal is far from being resolved. The NGT has under its disposal many cases against projects in the Western Ghats region – the latest being against the Yettinahole Project in Karnataka, wherein the NGT has issued a notice to the MoEFCC, Karnataka government, Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL), Regional Office of the Environment Ministry and the tree conservation officer. Protests have also not died down on both sides of the debate (conservation and development), as political parties try to create mileage out of the issue by organising hartals (mass protests often involving a total shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, courts of law etc), as evidenced by the dawn-to-dusk hartal in Idukki district called by the United Democratic Front (EDF), the opposition party in Kerala, against the ruling Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) stance on the inclusion of certain number of villages in the ESA.

The state of socio-ecological affairs in the Western Ghats  

Being a breathing ground for several endangered species of flora and fauna, carrying out effective development in this region is a greater problem as there is no comprehensive solution that can guarantee total sustainability as well as no degradation. The balancing act between conservation and development has given rise to more conflicts in the region than a way out. For example, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been embroiled in an ugly legal battle over the sharing of water of the River Kaveri (Cauvery) that originates in the Western Ghats. This conflict remains unresolved despite the recommendations of a tribunal that oversees the sharing of the river’s waters and repeated judgements of the Supreme Court (SC) of India (apex court). Recently (in 2016), both states witnessed violence against people and public/private property belonging to the other state in the aftermath of a SC hearing. With the two governments enmeshed in this conflict  unwilling to negotiate on equal terms and accept any decision amicable to both parties, the Kaveri dispute is a long way from being resolved. At the same time, dam projects, as a solution for drinking water problems, are being pushed ahead.

With the exclusion of dams for drinking water and industrial water supply from the ambit of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, the rampant construction of dams throughout the Western Ghats is causing massive deforestation. The regions in which these dams are being constructed fall under the Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) 1, according to the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel’s (WGEEP led by ecologist Madhav Gadgil, also called the Gadgil Commission, set up by the central government) recommendations, wherein construction of large dams is not to be allowed. If these projects are undertaken on a larger scale, the Western Ghats are set to lose 6,000 hectares of forest cover. According to some estimates, these projects in the Western Ghats could trigger the displacement of more than 30,000 tribal peoples in Maharashtra, rendering it a social problem as well.

The region harbours a significant tribal population, such as in Karnataka, which includes the Malekudiyas, Siddhis, Soliggas and Halakkis among others. In the politics of development, these tribes who have considered the land their home for ages now, are the affected stakeholders. As the stakes of development rise, when the central government talks of rehabilitation proposals, they do not seem feasible because such measures need a multi-fold backing as the displaced people need to sustain themselves too. Although the provisions of the Recognition of Forest Rights Act exist, basic facilities such as education and healthcare are still lacking in many parts of the region. However, these lands are mineral-rich and have therefore been at the centre of controversy for long due to the lack of compensation and resettlement packages on account of mining and other extractive activities.

Environmentalists have been rallying to raise awareness regarding the loss of forest cover and other issues pertaining to the Western Ghats for a long time. When the Gadgil Commission’s recommendations were made public, these caused massive protests across the five states, especially in Kerala, where strikes organised by political parties hit normal life in upland districts. Protesters called the Gadgil report anti-farmer and alleged that it would drive out forest dwellers. The original report by Gadgil does not mention any such moves and instead recommends that the tribals and other forest dwellers who reside in the Western Ghats region be provided financial assistance to help them switch to organic farming methods. In fact, this report revolves around the assertion that most members of the cultural landscape in the Western Ghats region are benefited by preservation of the natural landscape.

In the light of the protests that erupted as a response to the report, another expert panel was set up – this time under the chairmanship of space research scientist Kasturirangan – that came up with another set of recommendations. The Kasturirangan panel, also called the High Level Working Group (HLWG), mellowed the recommendations to a great extent by, as they said, taking into account human habitation and peoples’ livelihoods in the region – giving equal weight to both human and nature. It identified only 37 percent of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive. Moreover, the panel called for incentivizing green and sustainable practices in the region, rather than banning development outright. The result would reduce the area of the Western Ghats identified as ecologically sensitive by nearly half. In fact, Goa Foundation (an NGO) filed an appeal before the NGT, contesting the rejection of the Gadgil report by the MoEFCC. It argued that the Kasturirangan committee had diluted the recommendations of the Gadgil report and that the new report would not help in stopping environmental degradation in the Western Ghats. Still, certain state governments remained dissatisfied. For instance, Karnataka accepted the Kasturirangan report’s recommendation of stopping mining but not quarrying and sand mining in the ESA.

In Kerala, the story does not end at these two reports. The regulations laid down by the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act (that empowers the Forest Department to take over EFL from private owners) have also caused confusion in the minds of people, particularly the farmers who feared that their lands would be taken away from them if the ESAs were converted into an EFL and that they would not be compensated. The issues of plantation farmers and hydel power projects (especially the Athirapally power project) are the biggest roadblocks in implementing the ESA proposal in the state. The Athirapally hydel power project would not have been given the green light if the Gadgil report had been enforced According to the Kasturirangan report, it can be carried out, but with certain conditions by which the flow of waterfalls would not be affected. However, the project faces severe opposition from the tribal community in the project area, who claim that the project would result in their rights being infringed upon under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

On the tribal issue, both reports actually fail to reach any consensus on the fate of these communities, even while addressing the environment versus development debate. The 2006 Act on forest rights of tribal communities and traditional forest dwellers, allows them to cultivate the forest land on which they have depended for their livelihood for generations. But as the Gadgil report states, “Forest land should not be used for non-forest purposes.” This contravenes the said rights provided to tribes and traditional forest dwellers. Also, there are thousands of leasehold farmers who cultivate and secure livelihood from forest land and this clause would be detrimental to them too. The Gadgil report says that public land should not be converted into private land. But there are tens of thousands of peasant families, including tribes, possessing agricultural land for decades in the Western Ghats region but they have been denied land documents; many thousand families are prevented from remitting land tax. They are small and marginal peasants belonging to a new generation of settled farmers who have migrated to high ranges, or poor tribal families.

It is to be noted that the most polluting ‘red’ category industries (like fertilizer plants, oil refineries, tanneries and copper smelters), as per the Kasturirangan report, can be established outside the ESA (67 percent of the Western Ghats), while ‘yellow’ category industries can be set up anywhere in the Western Ghats. The only activities that are barred within the ESA are mining, quarrying and sand mining. These activities are banned in the protected areas anyway. The methodology adopted by the HLWG declares this agenda unmistakably clear and loud. According to this, the “natural landscape” needs to be considered for conservation, while in the rest of the area, referred to as “cultural landscape”, any kind of developmental activity is permissible. In other words, of the 164,280 square kilometres of the Western Ghats, as defined by the HLWG, only some 60,000 square kilometres (37 percent) have been set apart for conservation, and in turn to be declared as an ESA. And, it is to be noted that this includes national parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, world heritage sites and other protected areas. Such kinds of conclusions should be reviewed further for an apt and viable solution.

Finding solutions and reaching consensus

While reaching a solution on the conflicts related to the Western Ghats seems to be a very difficult task, a certain degree of consensus can be reached on a few issues that affect all in the region and where solutions are implementable in terms of feasibility. The governments and other concerned stakeholders need to provide accurate information to the people so that players with vested interests cannot spread rumours to incite violence in order to further their own ends. The mining mafia has played a role in mobilising general sentiments against the Gadgil report.

On top of these two committees, the Kerala Government formed another committee to review the Kasturirangan report and it has recommended that “the inhabited areas, plantations and agricultural lands in the Western Ghats region be excluded from the scope of ESA.” This bureaucratic logjam must end and steps to protect the eco-sensitive areas of the Western Ghats need to be taken. Water-sharing issues will have to be dealt with in a more cooperative manner than is currently being done, as the focus now lies on division of waters and not co-development. As far as energy requirements are concerned, if not on a large scale, a shift from the conventional sources of energy production is important and should be initiated at the primary level so as to sustain and promote it further. Such projects have been successful, as seen in the case of solar energy projects in towns like Kanhangad, Kerala.

On the social front, proper documentation of tribal and other backward and poor communities should be produced so as to segregate households and families during the implementation of projects (with their consent), giving a mutually accepted compensation securitised by a legal expert, an ecologist and a representative of a trusted local NGO, along with the tribal representatives so as to avoid any kind of exploitation in both legal and monetary terms. The local governments (grama sabhas and panchayats) have to partake in the final decision-making on the recommendations of reports or the draft notification (and its implementation). The best option, however, for the MoEFCC would be to get the summary of the reports of the WGEEP and HLWG translated into local languages and sent to the local governments in the Western Ghats region and seek their feedback. An overall objective approach of study and scrutiny should be initiated for further discussions involving all the key people in a true democratic manner.

A democratic process of identifying and demarcating the ESAs should be undertaken in order to avoid the mistakes committed by both Gadgil and Kasturirangan – the former took a completely ecological point of view while the latter’s methodology, as many (especially farmers) would argue, was highly “unscientific”, which is why many sensitive areas (such as Kuruva islands and Edakal caves in Wayanad) are excluded and many areas where no stipulated criteria were satisfied have been included. Aerial surveys have mistakenly marked plantation areas as forests. Both reports have declared numerous heavily populated habitats as ESAs though the suggested criterion is a population density below 100 persons per square kilometre.

Hence, the MoEFCC must take steps to have a detailed survey with the involvement of the local people to identify and demarcate the ESAs. The government must also issue land pattas (a legal document issued by the government in the name of the actual owner of a particular plot of land) to deserving peasant families in possession of agricultural land. Instead of depending on surveys submitted by the state governments, the MoEFCC should take into consideration the recommendations of the two panels (Gadgil and Kasturirangan), based on another review conducted by a joint committee of experts, environmentalists and government officials (local, state and national). Additionally, based on the survey of industries, polluting ones need to be barred or restricted, but those critical for livelihood/employment and basic facilities should not be scuttled completely in the name of conservation. At the same time, big power projects need to go through strict environmental impact assessment procedures.

The Centre – MoEFCC – is not in a position to make a decision that caters entirely to conservation or on other hand, the states’ demands. In the end, it is about finding solutions to the problem of power shortage, paucity of drinking water, poverty and unemployment, without forgetting the fact that ecological biodiversity needs to be recognized as an integral part of the human and cultural landscape as well as the natural one. Everyone agrees that one must strike a fine balance between conservation, preservation and development and ensure that they can go hand in hand; but this is easier said than done.


Contributors: Shariq Ahmad Khan, Nadeem Ahmed, Anirban Paul, Rakshan Kalmady and Nachiket Tekawade (pursuing Bachelor’s in Journalism and Communication, School of Communication, Manipal University, Karnataka, India)

Guided by: Ms. Maitreyee Mishra, Assistant Professor – Senior Scale, School of Communication

Compiled and edited by: Dhanasree Jayaram, Project Associate, Manipal Advanced Research Group (MARG), Manipal University

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

Article
Topic
Climate Change
Conflict Transformation
Minerals & Mining
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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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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