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Nearly a billion people are facing climate change hazards globally, with the Asia-Pacific region housing twice as many people living in areas with high exposure than all other regions combined, says the new annual Global Peace Index (GPI) released on Wednesday by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). Another new study finds: Intensifying climate change is estimated to increase future risks of conflict.

The key points of the GPI report include:

  • Climate risks in Australia include cyclones, rising sea levels, drought and desertification
  • Global peace and the economic impact of violence improved for the first time in five years
  • Despite some improvements, South Asia still has the second lowest GPI rank

The GPI said an estimated 971 million people — including more than 2.4 million Australians — live in areas with high or very high exposure to climate hazards including cyclones, floods, bushfires, desertification and rising sea levels. Of this number – 971 million – 400 million (41 per cent) reside in countries which already have low levels of peacefulness.

The top 9

The top nine countries facing the highest risk of climate hazards were all Asian nations with the Philippines topping the list, followed by Japan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

Many of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region also have weaker coping capacities for natural disasters.

The Pacific Islands

The Pacific Islands are going to be massively impacted by rising sea levels. These countries would be the first affected because of their proximity to the equator.

Australia

In Australia, the main risks come from hurricanes and cyclones in the north, rising sea levels in the south and east, as well as drought and desertification, which is already affecting thousands of farmers.

Exacerbated conflict and migration

The report ranks 163 countries by measuring internal safety and security, militarization and ongoing conflict, which included climate change risks for the first time this year to evaluate links between climate hazards and violence.

It found climate pressures could adversely impact resource availability and affect population dynamics, which can impact socioeconomic and political stability.

The large flows of refugees due to climate crisis can increase instability and the impact of terrorism on host nations.

Nigeria, Haiti, South Sudan

There are several countries where climate change has caused or exacerbated violence. These include Nigeria, Haiti and South Sudan.

In Nigeria, desertification has led to conflict over scarce resources.

In Haiti in the aftermath of multiple hurricanes and earthquakes, conflict spread.

In South Sudan, the drying of Lake Chad has exasperated tensions.

Displacement due to climate crisis

In 2017, over 60 per cent of total displacements around the world were due to climate-related disasters, while nearly 40 per cent were caused by armed conflict.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 265 million people have been internally displaced by natural disasters since 2008, with the Asia-Pacific region the most heavily affected.

Farmers in Australia

Climate-induced migration is expected to continue to escalate, and in a region facing the highest risk, Australia could be heavily impacted.

Farmers in Australia have begun migrating south to greener pastures, as droughts and desertification devastate northern regions.

The reports said:

In order to address these challenges, there will need to be much greater cooperation both within and between countries. Countries with high levels of Positive Peace are better able to manage climate-induced shocks and tend to have higher environmental performance than those with lower levels of Positive Peace.

Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict

A new study report published on June 12, 2019 in the journal Nature said:

Intensifying climate change will increase the future risk of violent armed conflict within countries.

The new study – “How much does climate change affects the risk of armed conflict: As global temperatures climb, the risk of armed conflict is expected to increase substantially” – assesses the current understanding of the relationship between climate and conflict, based on the structured judgments of experts from diverse disciplines. The experts agree that climate has affected organized armed conflict within countries. However, other drivers, such as low socioeconomic development and low capabilities of the state, are judged to be substantially more influential, and the mechanisms of climate–conflict linkages remain a key uncertainty.

Climate influenced 3%-20% armed conflict

Synthesizing views across experts, the study estimates climate has influenced between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk over the last century and that the influence will likely increase dramatically.

In a scenario with 4 degrees Celsius of warming (approximately the path we’re on if societies do not substantially reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases), the influence of climate on conflicts would increase more than five times, leaping to a 26% chance of a substantial increase in conflict risk, according to the study. Even in a scenario of 2 degrees Celsius of warming beyond preindustrial levels – the stated goal of the Paris Climate Agreement – the influence of climate on conflicts would more than double, increasing the risk to a 13% chance.

Climate change-driven extreme weather and related disasters can damage economies, lower farming and livestock production and intensify inequality among social groups. These factors, when combined with other drivers of conflict, may increase risks of violence.

Finding consensus

Researchers disagree intensely as to whether climate plays a role in triggering civil wars and other armed conflicts.

To better understand the impact of climate, the study involved interviews with and debates among experts in political science, environmental science, economics and other fields who have come to different conclusions on climate’s influence on conflict in the past.

The experts, who also served as co-authors on the study, agree that climate has affected organized armed conflict in recent decades.

However, they make clear that other factors, such as low socioeconomic development, the strength of government, inequalities in societies, and a recent history of violent conflict have a much heavier impact on conflict within countries.

The researchers do not fully understand how climate affects conflict and under what conditions. The consequences of future climate change will likely be different from historical climate disruptions because societies will be forced to grapple with unprecedented conditions that go beyond known experience and what they may be capable of adapting to.

Adaptation strategies

The study explains that adaptation strategies, such as crop insurance, post-harvest storage, training services and other measures, can increase food security and diversify economic opportunities, thereby reducing potential climate-conflict linkages. Peacekeeping, conflict mediation and post-conflict aid operations could incorporate climate into their risk reduction strategies by looking at ways climatic hazards may exacerbate violent conflict in the future.

However, the researchers make clear there is a need to increase understanding of these strategies’ effectiveness and potential for adverse side effects. For example, food export bans following crop failures can increase instability elsewhere.


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