Regions vulnerable to climate change - findings and methodological considerations


  • Hannes Sonnsjö

Publish date: 2011-12-30

Report number: FOI-R--3308--SE

Pages: 61

Written in: English


  • climate change
  • security
  • conflict
  • hotspot
  • vulnerability
  • environmental degradation


The impacts of climate change will not be evenly spread around the globe. Instead, several studies point to some specific regions that are argued to be particularly vulnerable or prone to climate change-related conflict ('hotspots') The overarching aim of this report is to describe these regions and to look at the underlying methodology used by those studies when identifying the regional hotspots.' Special attention is paid to the specific impacts of climate change that the studies considered, which security approaches they adopted, the time-frames or climate scenarios used and whether there are additional transformation processes or converging trends. The analysis is structured on four general themes: biophysical exposure, environmental degradation, socio-economic vulnerabilities and history of violence. In sum, based on their respective security implications deriving from the impacts of climate change, the resulting nine regions are examined: the Arctic, South-East & Eastern Europe, the Southern Mediterranean, the Sahel zone, Southern Africa, South-West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and South America. Regional analysis The Arctic: Security implications for the region are primarily found in the lack of clear territorial boundaries and user rights for the extraction of previously hidden resources, and the risk of a militarization of the disputes due to the conflicting interests of powerful states. South-East and Eastern Europe: Security implications for the region are primarily found in the potential for economic deterioration, since two important sectors - tourism and agriculture - are highly climate-sensitive. This could exacerbate existing ethno-political tension, as some parts of the population are forced to migrate as a result of e.g. food insecurity. The proximity to the European Union is often emphasised as an important factor for recognising the region as a hotspot. Southern Mediterranean: Security implications for the region are mainly found in shortages of water and food, the militarisation of water disputes, displacement of large populations and economic stagnation. The dependence on food imports make several of the countries in the region vulnerable to price hikes, which in turn could lead to civil unrest and riots. An area recognised as particularly prone to security risks is the Nile Delta, due to the number of bordering states and the population density along the river. Sahel zone: Security implications for the region are found in the prevailing socioeconomic vulnerability, where climate change will be an additional factor and a multiplier. From a human security point of view, a large proportion of the population living in the region are dependent on exports from cotton and cattlerearing which are both sensitive to changes in precipitation and temperature. Southern Africa: Security implications for the region are mainly the result of severe water stress affecting human security and well-being. There is also risk resulting from sea-level rise, since in coastal areas there are several large cities. South-West Asia: Security implications for the region are found in water and food shortages, and in socio-economic vulnerabilities, mainly the economic decline and stagnation even in resource-rich countries. Central Asia: Security implications for the region could come from both socioeconomic vulnerabilities, where a large proportion of the population is employed in climate-sensitive agriculture, as well as tensions between actors with conflicting interests regarding water use, such as for electricity production and irrigation. A post-Soviet legacy, experienced as a lack of institutional legitimacy and trust, also hampers the development of adaptive capacity in a number of the countries. East Asia: Security implications for the region are found in a wide range of challenges; for example, the expected sea level rise will threaten the dwellings of millions, while changes in the monsoon and a greater seasonal variability in precipitation would result in both droughts and heavy rainfall. South America: Security implications for the region are found in weak governmental capacity for managing and coping with water stress, soil degradation and the deforestation of Amazonas. A converging trend that exacerbates these challenges is rapid urbanisation due to heavy migration into several of the region's cities. Conclusions The security implications identified in the studies examined in this report are connected to several impacts of climate change, such as water stress, food insecurity and sea-level rise. Many of the studies acknowledge that the interplay between climate change and additional transformation processes are also an important security risk. Regarding the methodological approaches of the studies, an important distinction can be drawn between impact-driven analysis that emphasises biophysical exposure, on the one hand, and vulnerability-driven analysis that emphasises socio-economic factors, on the other. The tendency to focus solely on only one of those two approaches is an aspect that is often overlooked in the studies; doing so misses the realization that securit implications due to climate change are often the result of a biophysical exposure in combination with a weak societal capacity to adapt. Although it is important to understand the impacts of future climate change, it is equally important to acknowledge that societies also develop and change. Both need to be part of any analysis.