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SDG11 on cities – what can its role be in foreign policy and sustaining peace?

14 March, 2019
Daria Ivleva, adelphi

SDG11 - City, urban, bangkok.jpg

© Dan Freeman/Unsplash

In an increasingly urbanised world, global resilience cannot be achieved without cities. Separating a local from a national or international sustainability issue is increasingly difficult – be it climate change, migration, or economic development.

42 of the world’s 100 largest economies are cities1. Local and subnational governments change the landscape of international relations by increasingly participating in global city networks and even signing international agreements2. At the same time, decentralisation does not necessarily contribute to peace and stability. Such a transition requires the right governance structures to be in place and calls for much stronger policy coordination between central government and decentralised structures. Cities face some of the most challenging trends: rising inequality, population growth, human mobility and natural disaster risks often converge in urban settings. But cities also have the potential to become laboratories for coping with these pressures in innovative ways.

The critical importance of cities for core foreign policy objectives

Around the world, cities become increasingly crucial for national security and stability. Where vulnerability, economic and political relevance and global pressures converge, fragile cities can pose a threat to the stability of entire countries. City fragility is not a steady state but occurs due to an aggregation of risks and stresses. Several factors can have a destabilising effect on cities, including the level of inequality, unemployment, crime, pollution, rapid urban population growth, conflict events, and natural hazards. Literature suggests that more cities are fragile than expected. While high levels of city fragility occur primarily in low-income and conflict-affected settings (especially in Asia and Africa), where the pace of urbanisation is fastest, urban fragility is also observable in medium and high-income countries. For instance, over half of European cities have a medium level of fragility3.

Cities already host more than half of the world's population, and much of the population growth will take place in urban settings in low and middle-income countries across the global South4. By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in cities5. These developments often go along with weak governance, poverty, inequality, and marginalisation, decreasing cities’ resilience to shocks and pressures. While the economic success of cities is often highlighted, the decrease in global poverty rates is accompanied by growing income inequalities in 75% of the world’s cities in the last two decades6. Many cities cannot provide enough jobs and livelihoods for growing populations. Moreover, much of the urban growth is expected in informal settlements (see target 11.1), where almost one billion people live today. Here, provision of basic rights and services like water, energy, and housing is even more challenging for municipal authorities, which affects many dimensions of the wellbeing of the inhabitants. There is emerging literature showing a relationship between political and economic exclusion experienced by the urban poor and the propensity to be recruited by criminal entities.

The concentration of the population, economic activity, and infrastructure also means that the impact of environmental change can be especially devastating in cities. Projections from the UN and other international bodies point to increased frequency and severity of natural disasters occurring in towns and cities (see target 11.5). The impacts of climate change are likely to be compounded by existing vulnerabilities in urban areas. This presents a significant challenge for the international development and humanitarian system; both in the scale and complexity of responding to urban development and disasters and in operating in an environment in which traditional humanitarian actors do not have significant experience and expertise. The built environment and urban planning can play an essential role in the fostering of inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities. For example, green urban planning (see target 11.7) has been shown to effectively support adaptation through controlling urban flooding. However, there is a lack of understanding of what these spaces should look like, how they should be developed, and who they should be created by and for whom, especially in fragile and conflict-affected urban settings.

Another significant trend that converges in cities is migration. While many developed countries are already highly urbanised, in developing countries urbanisation will continue due to rural-urban migration. We will see increased rural-urban movement within countries, for example, due to decreasing agricultural productivity, more labour migration, and more frequent or longer lasting circular migration patterns. Already today disasters and violence have caused 50 percent of a total of 51 million refugees and internally displaced persons to flee to urban areas7. With more people moving to cities, and with many cities already facing increased vulnerability to climate and disaster risks as well as experiencing existing social, economic and political fragility, these dynamics will be a major determinant of urban resilience. For instance, a disproportionate share of slum/shack dwellers are migrants8 and are exposed to more significant climate change impacts9.

Illustration: converging pressures in urban areas of Guatemala

How cities manage the converging pressures will be crucial for stabilisation and countering non-state armed groups. Rapid urbanisation in post-conflict societies with rural youth migrating to the cities is often linked to youth criminality and their increased vulnerability to illicit activities. In Guatemala, rural-urban migration is already putting a strain on the receiving urban areas. Many of the urban areas are largely dominated by youth street gangs (‘pandillas’ or ‘maras’) that create a culture of violence. While urban security and anti-crime policies are needed to address this, they are not enough. Connecting the urban poor and those on the periphery of cities to the urban economy, its institutions, governance systems, and services, will be the key to improving livelihood security (see targets 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, 11.a). Some cities already have valuable lessons to share. For instance, the city of Medellin - once one of the most fragile and dangerous cities of the world - has increased urban resilience by expanding public transport to connect formerly neglected areas with the rest of the city and reinstalling social services in these areas.

International efforts to improve urban governance

On the global level, several frameworks now exist along with the 2030 Agenda that offer some real opportunities to promote resilience: the Sendai Framework for Action, the New Urban Agenda and the UN Peacebuilding Commission’s Sustaining Peace Agenda. The international community needs to maximise the synergies between these frameworks and to close the gaps with regards to cities, sustainability challenges, and fragility. Foreign policy can help promote this, putting urban fragility risks on the agenda.

Integrated perspectives and approaches to urban development and planning and management that cut across thematic silos and maximise synergies between different sectors will be the keys to improving urban resilience (see target 11.b). Sustainable and resilient urban development requires municipal authorities to plan in a long-term, inclusive and integrated way to overcome silos. It is important to take into account the people, the problems, and the trade-offs that come with ‘nexus’ approaches. However, in fragile cities, these processes or capacity to implement these processes are often absent or weak, so financial and technical assistance in this area is needed (see target 11.c). At the same time, humanitarian and development agencies might also need to make their approaches more integrated and suitable to the urban level.

Global and national efforts to address conflict and fragility risks must be transposed to the urban scale, as highlighted by SDG11. For this, dynamic multi-level approaches involving all key stakeholders in processes relating to urban development are imperative (see target 11.3). In the humanitarian realm, the need for greater localisation was recognised at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. It will require a transformation of the way in which the UN system and many donor agencies operate, and it will need greater contextual knowledge of city actors – mayors, urban dwellers, municipalities and urban conflict dynamics. Sustained engagement with civil society and local communities – with an acknowledgment of the highly heterogeneous nature of urban communities and recognising the multiple identity interests an individual or group may hold – will be particularly valuable in urban environments.

Foreign policy can help leverage the potential of city networks to contribute to sustainable development effectively. In recent years, the number of international city associations has proliferated (more than 125 at present), including ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Cities Alliance and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40)10 . While their work in the areas of sustainability and climate was for a long time the most visible, topics such as peacebuilding are gaining traction – a recent study found that 10.6% of networks engage with this topic. Expanding the focus of city networks to address issues related to security, resilience, and fragility more broadly could be beneficial11. The Municipal Alliance for Peace in the Middle East, which fosters cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian municipalities, is an example of such an effort.

Conclusion

Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable as mandated by SGD11 is a tremendous opportunity to contribute to peace. Foreign policy should both look at urban fragility risks in detail and seek to leverage municipal agency to build resilience. For this, connecting policy processes in different sectors, coordinating action on multiple levels of governance and adapting approaches to urban settings, putting a strong emphasis on inclusion of vulnerable urban dwellers, remains imperative.

 

[This article originally appeared as part of adelphi's policy brief "A Foreign Policy Perspective on the Sustainable Development Goals" (2018) and it's comprehensive annex.]

 

Sources:

  1. Toly, Noah J. and Sam Tabory 2016: 100 Top Economies: Urban Influence and the Position of Cities in an Evolving World Order. Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
  2. Tavares, Rodrigo 2016: Forget the nation-state: cities will transform the way we conduct foreign affairs. Accessed online on 10 October 2018: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/forget-the-nation-state-cities-will-transform-the-way-we-conduct-foreign-affairs/.
  3. Muggah, Robert 2016: Where are the world's most fragile cities?, Accessed online on 05 July 2018: http://news.trust.org/item/20160912112924-6sk7n.
  4. UN 2014: World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. Accessed online on 05 July 2018: https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html.
  5. FAO 2017: How to Feed the World in 2050. Accessed online on 05 July 2018: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf.
  6. UN-Habitat 2016: World Cities Report. Nairobi: UN-Habitat.
  7. De Boer, John 2015: Resilience and the Fragile City, Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, 4(1): 1-7.
  8. IOM 2015: World Migration Report 2015. Migrants and Cities: New Partnerships to Manage Mobility. Geneva: IOM.
  9. UN DESA World Economic and Social Survey 2013: Sustainable Development Challenges. New York: UN DESA.
  10. Tavares, Rodrigo 2016: Forget the nation-state: cities will transform the way we conduct foreign affairs. Accessed online on 10 October 2018: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/forget-the-nation-state-cities-will-transform-the-way-we-conduct-foreign-affairs/.
  11. Acuto, Michele and Steve Rayner 2016: City networks: breaking gridlocks or forging (new) lock-ins? International Affairs 92 (5): 1147-1166.
ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Adaptation & Resilience
Cities

Region
Global Issues

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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