Climate Change, Water Conflicts and Human Security: Regional Assessment and Policy Guidelines for the Mediterranean, Middle East and Sahel

from United Nations University
Published on 31 Aug 2013 View Original


Climate change has and will continue to have far-reaching impacts on environmental, social and economic conditions, which people and governments will be forced to adapt to.
Increasingly, climate change and the associated increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and rising sea level is recognized as not only having humanitarian impacts, but also creating political and security risks that can affect national/regional stability and the welfare of people.

This has led to increased political interest in the influence of climate change on water availability and human security. Specifically, whether climatic and hydrological changes and increasing variabilities trigger and multiply conflict at various scales or induce cooperation between and within countries and how this affects human security remains contested.

There is a growing consensus in the climate change and conflict literature that climate change can be considered a threat multiplier for existing tensions. Besides climatic factors there are underlying causes such as poverty, weak institutions, mistrust, inequalities and lack of information and basic infrastructure that may also contribute to these tensions. In comparison, functional and well-adapted institutions can facilitate cooperation and conflict resolution and are therefore considered as threat minimizers that help to maintain human security.

Climate change may impact directly or indirectly on any of the dimensions of human security. People and governments can adapt to these impacts, but their capacity to do so varies; it is dependent on a multitude of factors such as access to assets, knowledge, institutions, power relations, etc. Due to the complexities within the natural system and its interlinkages to the social, economic and political spheres, a highly complex nexus has evolved that connects climate change, water conflicts and human security. However, this complexity has made it difficult for researchers to measure the effect of climate change on conflict and human security.

This report presents a comprehensive regional assessment of these questions in the CLICO study area – the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Sahel – in terms of climate change impacts, vulnerabilities, conflict/cooperation and human security at various scales and in a variety of contexts. The Mediterranean, Middle East and Sahel were selected because they are regions that are prone to extreme weather events, such as frequent droughts or floods, which are likely to be triggered by climate change and existing conflicts or tensions taking place at various intensities and scales. An improved understanding of the climate-watersecurity-nexus is therefore key to describing and assessing the vulnerabilities and adaptive capacity to climate change related hazards.

The CLICO project builds on interdisciplinary and crosscomparative research covering a variety of geographical scales and historical contexts to unravel social, political, environmental/ ecological and economic conditions in relation to the environment. Results of the various approaches (in-depth case studies, large N statistical analyses, assessments of transboundary adaptive capacities and transactions costs and policy analysis related to climate change adaptation) confirm observations that climate and hydrological factors, socio-economic, institutional and political conditions are all important drivers of human (in) security, but their relative importance depends on the specific context in which they interact. Adaptation plays a key role in determining whether climate change is likely to undermine human security. Adaptive capacity of individuals, groups or nations varies depending, for instance, on existing institutions and their functionality, knowledge and access to assets. Adaptation processes – either undertaken by individuals/groups or governed and led by the State – can both reduce and increase insecurities.

In this context, concepts such as “divergent adaptation” have been developed by CLICO researchers to analyse changes in the adaptive capacities of different actors or entities and evidence for maladaptation has been found. State-led adaptation remains an important issue for providing human security in many of the case studies. States can facilitate adaptation, particularly if people are unable to adapt on their own (e.g., in Alexandria). However, there may also be unintended and potentially negative consequences, particularly if adaptation policies or laws are insufficiently implemented. State-led adaptation can initiate far-reaching transformations of existing traditional adaptations while values or preferences between different states (e.g. involved in managing shared water) may vary as might the needs and preferences of people living in the area who are affected by the adaptation policies in place. A strong state can also influence or even suppress individual adaptive capacity. Adaptation can reinforce or widen inequalities of different social groups. Who bears the negative and positive consequences of adaptation and which dimensions of human security are prioritized seems to depend on power relations, existing marginalization of certain groups, as well as governance and institutional structures.

With regard to water-related conflict and cooperation slightly more cooperative than conflictive events have been found in the CLICO area. Diverse sets of “conflict-contexts” exist – ranging from still non existant but foreseeable conflict related to sea level rise and silent or masked conflicts, to frequent and sometimes violent conflicts.