A new report published by UNU-EHS synthesizes the research and findings of the three-year CLICO project on climate change, hydro-conflicts and human security. The report found that political, economic and social factors played a larger role in triggering water-related-conflicts than climate change-related factors.
The report explores the effects of climate change on conflicts and human security in three regions: the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Sahel (MMES). Eleven case studies were conducted in a variety of sites in these three regions, including Tahoua region in Niger, North and South Sudan, the Sinai desert, the Jordan and Nile Basins, Cyprus, Sarno in Italy, the Ebro-delta in Spain, and the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean in Spain and Morocco, Seyhan in Turkey and the city of Alexandria in the Nile delta. These regions were chosen because they are prone to natural disasters, such as droughts and floods as well as landslides and sea level rise, which are likely to be intensified by climate change. CLICO researchers compiled climate outlooks summarizing the range of climate change predictions and climate related hazards for each of the case studies.
Additionally, these regions experience existing conflicts or tensions that take place at various scales. For instance, in the Jordan valley basin study site, water control is disputed between Palestinians and Israelis. Uncertainties and vulnerabilities caused by socioeconomic and political factors, as well as climate change, characterize many of the chosen case studies, making them suitable for investigating the impact of climate change on human security and conflict. To account for the diversity of conditions in the case studies, CLICO researchers applied a wide range of methods and tools ranging from observations, focus group discussions, expert interviews and workshops to small and large scale household surveys, discourse analyses and complex hydrological modeling.
Besides the case study approach, the CLICO researchers pursued a large N-study of domestic water conflicts in 35 Mediterranean and Sahelian countries and analyzed the adaptive capacity and conflict resolution mechanisms of transboundary institutions. Relevant policies were also compiled, analyzed and evaluated to find suggestions for improving existing policy frameworks that deal with human security implications, conflicts and climate change adaptation.
For all case studies, the CLICO report details how human security or insecurity prevails in hydro-climatic contexts and how they have changed or might change in the future. Climate and hydrological factors, socio-economic, institutional and political conditions are all important drivers, but their relative importance depends strongly on the specific context in which they interact. Adaptation plays a key role in influencing this interaction. The CLICO report found that large-scale state-led adaptations often had unintended and potentially negative consequences. Several case studies uncovered maladaptation, in which states pursue adaptation policies that actually increase the vulnerability of segments of their population. In other instances, as exemplified by the Niger case study, regions and sites exhibit divergent adaptation in which an increase of adaptive capacity for one group comes at the expense of adaptive capacity for another group.
Following a devastating landslide in 1998 in Sarno, one of the municipalities in Italy’s Campania region, the government initiated a massive response strategy through an engineering project to stabilize the mountain ridge and to channel further mudslides. However, it was expensive and ignored exposure to landslides in surrounding areas. Relocating people away from danger zones would have been a much more effective response. In this case, the CLICO research found that following a disaster, States often prefer to invest in large-scale infrastructure projects as they are perceived as politically popular and facilitate the circulation of funds.
The findings suggest that small-scale interventions of social rather than technical nature, such as subsidized insurance as a part of strong social security nets and early warning systems, building on local institutions, social structures and networks, are more effective in reducing vulnerabilities. However, state-led adaptation remains an important mechanism for maintaining or improving human security in many of the case studies and given the pace of climate change, efficient governmental support and guidance of individual adaptation efforts may become even more vital. Particularly in situations where people are trapped in unsafe conditions and are unable to adapt on their own or structural barriers hinder adaptation, substantial changes in higher-ranking structures and facilitation through the states may be needed.
Through all these approaches the CLICO project investigated whether the effects of climate change present a threat to human security by introducing new conflicts, exacerbating existing social tensions and intra- and inter-state conflicts or if they represent a catalyst for cooperation. For instance, the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean (IBRM) located between Spain and Morocco, showcases increasing cooperation on water management between two countries, which could be threatened by water scarcity and natural hazards induced by climate change.
The project found that in many cases, socio-economic, institutional and political factors were more likely to influence conflict and cooperation than climate or hydrological factors. In particular, the large-N study unraveled that democracies are likely to have more water conflict than autocracies, however, autocracies are more likely to experience violent water conflicts.
Many more results and recommendations for policymakers can be found in the comprehensive 250 page report that is authored by Julia Kloos, Niklas Gebert, Therese Rosenfeld and Fabrice Renaud from UNU-EHS’ Environmental Vulnerability and Ecosystem Services Section (EVES) and Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Management and Adaptive Planning Section (VARMAP).
For more detailed information, the case study profile and all publications, please click here.