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7 June 2023

Climate change and hotspots of conflict around the world

by Marine de Guglielmo Weber, research fellow in the Climate, Energy and Security programme at IRIS, with the collaboration of Yente Thienpont, research assistant at IRIS. Coordinator and Scientific Officer : Julia Tasse, co-director of The Observatory, senior research fellow and head of the Climate, Energy and Security Programme at IRIS.

This note on the consequences of climate change on conflict hotspots analyses four regions: Central, West and East Africa ; the Middle East and North Africa, and Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific ; Latin America. These hotspots were determined on the basis of a climate-conflict indicator created by the Defence and Climate Observatory (see map), which highlighted their particular vulnerability to an exacerbation of conflict due to climate change. Each of the regions is studied through a general analysis of climate-conflict issues on a regional scalea focus point on a state or sub-region and a foresight scenario on a state or sub-region.



Climate change was particularly destructive in 2022. Rising temperatures in particular have led to an increasing number of extreme weather events and environmental disasters, among which storms and hurricanes (in the Americas, South Africa, South and South-East Asia), floods (in West and South Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe), mega-fires (South America, United States, Europe), droughts (Europe, Brazil, China, Horn of Africa) and heatwaves (India, Pakistan, Australia). Although the intensity of these phenomena is subject to considerable geographical variability, every state experienced the risks that climate change poses to its economic stability, political sovereignty, and the safety of its population. By deteriorating the living environment of human societies, climate change exacerbates existing fragilities, particularly political and socio-economic tensions. As a result, people’s vulnerability to climate change contributes, more or less directly, to the displacement of populations, the threat to people’s livelihoods, states’ destabilisation and violent conflicts outbreak (IMCCS, 2021). These security impacts in turn make populations more vulnerable to climate change, creating a vicious circle (United Nations University, 2020).

In this paper, we will examine the links between climate change and conflict, i.e., armed confrontation between states or between factions within a state, resulting from disagreement between actors who consider their objectives to be incompatible (Conflict Sensitivity Consortium, 2012). We will take the security approach to climate change as a factor that multiplies existing threats. Its security impact is all the greater in regions marked by factors such as competition for local resources; livelihood insecurity and population displacement; extreme weather events and environmental disasters; food price volatility; transboundary water management; sea-level rise and coastal degradation; and the undesirable effects of climate policies (Rüttinger et al., 2015; World Bank, 2018; 2021). In this sense, security impacts of climate change are considered to be sharper in countries that are already unstable, with a recent history of conflict (WMO, 2023) – although stable states can also be made more fragile by climate change (Sida, 2018).

The aim of this note is to provide a global and prioritised view of regions and countries most likely to experience an exacerbation of conflict as a result of climate change. To this end, the analysis will be divided into four parts devoted to the regions under study – West, Central and Southern Africa; the Middle East and North Africa, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific as well as Latin America. Each of these regions will be given a global analysis, a sub-regional focus, and a foresight scenario.


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