Climate Action

This is the link between climate change and conflict - and what can be done about it

The latest Ecological Threat Report looks at which countries are most at risk of catastrophic outcomes from ecological threats.

The latest Ecological Threat Report looks at which countries are most at risk of catastrophic outcomes from ecological threats. Image: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

Ewan Thomson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • The latest Ecological Threat Report looks at which countries are most at risk of catastrophic outcomes from ecological threats.
  • There are 27 countries - home to 768 million people - that have a volatile combination of low societal resilience and high risk of ecological threats.
  • A framework called HALO aims to “build a more holistic systems picture of societal issues” to help achieve better long-term outcomes for these countries.

“A problem well put is half solved,” according to philosopher and educator John Dewey.

The latest Ecological Threat Report (ETR) from independent non-profit think tank the Institute of Economics & Peace (IEP) seeks to present two particularly large and complex problems – identifying countries most at risk of catastrophic outcomes as a result of ecological threats, and predicting which ones are most likely to suffer from conflict and instability in future.

The ETR concludes that “without concerted action, current levels of ecological degradation will substantially worsen, thereby intensifying a range of social challenges, including malnutrition, forced migration and illness. Current conflicts will escalate and multiply as a result, creating further global insecurity”.

Statistic showing the average Ecological Threat Report score by region
Sub-Saharan Africa has the worst Ecological Threat Report score, with around 200 million people at extreme risk of water insecurity. Image: IEP
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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

The 2022, ETR policy recommendations revolve around first being able to define the multiple problems, then building a framework to solve them holistically. Local communities and international agencies will need to work together, building innovative programmes to safeguard against increasing ecological disasters.

These are the problems we face, and the proposed solutions, according to the latest ETR report.

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A lack of resilience

Highly resilient countries can manage their people’s needs and their economic resources better, and are less likely to suffer from adverse impacts if and when ecological events do happen. In other words, the more prepared a country is, the less the impact of conflict, ecological threats or climate change.

According to the latest Ecological Threats Report, more extreme weather events in low-income countries (LIC) with poor resilience lead to ‘disaster loops’.
According to the latest Ecological Threats Report, more extreme weather events in low-income countries (LIC) with poor resilience lead to ‘disaster loops’. Image: IEP

The ETR used its research to identify 27 hotspots — home to 768 million people — that have a combination of low societal resilience and high risk of ecological threats. Of those 27, an alarming eight countries recorded catastrophic scores in all four categories: Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen, home to around 146 million people.

The report focuses on four different threats that relate to increasing conflict, classified from low up to catastrophic: Food security, Disasters from Natural Events, Population and Water stress.

The ETR used its research to identify 27 hotspots — home to 768 million people — that have a combination of low societal resilience and high risk of ecological threats.
The ETR used its research to identify 27 hotspots — home to 768 million people — that have a combination of low societal resilience and high risk of ecological threats. Image: IEP

Food security

Statistic showing the food insecurity by region, 2020-2050. ecological threats report
Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion of its population living with catastrophic food insecurity, more than 14 times higher than the next region MENA Image: IEP

Regionally, food security has been getting worse since 2019 — amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic — after a period of increasing food security since 2012. The countries that saw the highest deterioration were Colombia, Syria, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Water security

Figure showing the number of countries with municipalities projected to be severely water stressed in 2040. ecological threats report
Europe is not immune to the effects of water stress, with 10 countries there forecast to have severe water stress by 2040. Image: IEP

Water stress can hurt economic development and food production, which can in turn negatively impact populations’ health and well-being, as well as create conditions for social tensions and conflict and, ultimately, displacement.

Population growth

Table showcasing the countries with the fastest population growth, 2020-2050. ecological threats report
All 15 countries with the fastest population growth are in sub-Saharan Africa. Image: UNIDESA

Much of the world’s expected population increases are in countries with low peace rankings. The 40 least peaceful nations will be home to an additional 1.3 billion people by 2050. With resources becoming more scarce, the chances of conflict increases with population growth, the report says.

Natural disasters

Graph showing the trend in the number of natural disasters, 1981-2021. ecological threats report
Asia-Pacific is the most impacted region for natural disasters, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and Central America & the Caribbean. Image: EMDAT

Natural disasters can lead to the loss of life, and the destruction of infrastructure, which can reduce future development potential. This is especially true for underdeveloped regions. The number of natural disasters have been on the rise since 2018.

Mapping the problems to find the solutions

This figure illustrates the complex cause-effect interactions between migration, conflict and ecological threats.
This figure illustrates the complex cause-effect interactions between migration, conflict and ecological threats. Image: Abel et al. 2019

The relationship between ecology, climate, conflict and migration is complex, but the IEP report says there is growing recognition of a link between them.

With this in mind, the IEP held seminars in 2021 with 60 leading experts from governments, think tanks, military institutions and development organizations to explore solutions to address the increase in ecological threats.

“In most cases governments, multilaterals and other institutions engaged in societal development initiatives do not address their initiatives systemically. This can create unforeseen consequences and lead to only partially successful outcomes, since there is not a wider understanding of the dynamics of that society,” the report concludes.

To achieve better long-term outcomes, there needs to be first a common understanding on what the current system is, how it works, and what the change needs to be. The IEP released a framework called HALO to help “build a more holistic systems picture of societal issues”.

Illustration of system analysis. Ecological Threats
Complex frameworks like HALO help to map out problems before policymakers design and implement solutions. Image: IEP

These problems may be connected and complex, but HALO and other initiatives are striking out on a path towards their solutions.

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