Seven questions for the G7: Future climate fragility risks and what to do about them
Superforecasters are interdisciplinary experts proven to be skilled at accurately predicting future political and economic events. This is why, as the compounding effects of climate change on international peace and security become more and more clear, Weathering Risk teamed up with Good Judgment to identify and forecast seven questions the G7 should be asking to avert future crisis. The report covers critical issues such as the future of multilateral cooperation, food and water insecurity as drivers of instability, and the future of megacities and oil-producing countries in a changing climate. These areas demand close and consistent attention from policymakers throughout the decade ahead.
External events, such as a pandemic or war in Ukraine, have the potential to derail progress on the climate agenda for months - if not years. Yet, even as other crisis take center stage, it is vital that the compounding effects of climate change on geopolitics and future challenges do not move to the back burner. The G7 Foreign Ministers' Statement on Climate, Environment, Peace and Security demonstrates that the international community is beginning to understand the gravity of climate change impacts for global peace and security, and is uniting under common goals to tackle this issue.
With the purpose of supporting informed action by the G7, the report derives specific ‘low regrets’ and ‘no regrets’ actions that can be taken now to avert the worst. To stave off the most pessimistic predictions, the G7 needs to step forward, using its power, showing thought-leadership and living up to its full potential.
In this article, we put the report’s findings in context and explain how the G7 should respond.
QUESTION 1: How effective will multilateralism be in the next decade, in particular around the global climate regime?
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, countries must collaborate to transition the global energy system away from fossil fuels. Because global mean temperature increases are directly linked to increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they provide one measure of the effectiveness of multilateralism in light of the global climate regime. Superforecasters were asked to predict the Climate Action Tracker's (CAT) projected global temperature increase in 2031 for the year 2100. CAT is a scientific resource which measures government action on climate change against the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to “well below” 2°C.
The consequences of overshooting the 2°C target are severe. According to the IPPC, by 2100 in a 2°C warmer world, sea-levels are projected to rise by up to 0.87 meters. Extreme hot days will be 4°C hotter than in the pre-industrial period. Biodiversity will decline and many parts of the world will undergo ecosystem transformations.
The Superforecasters’ results paint a grim picture, showing an 84% probability that the CAT will project a temperature increase of more than 2.2°C in 2031 for the year 2100. They were pessimistic about the prospect of effective multilateralism to combat climate change and argued national self-interest would be the primary driver of climate policies. Energy transitions are more likely to be implemented for economic reasons, like falling costs for renewable energy, than to advance collective interests. They also argued the lack enforcement mechanism – a way of ensuring countries fulfil their commitments under the Paris Agreement – would undermine effective multilateral action.
Climate change action is the number one priority for the German G7 Presidency. Effective multilateralism will be critical to achieving the G7’s goal of accelerating global action. The Weathering Risk report therefore recommends the G7 countries should work together to strengthen the global climate regime, including by addressing complex issues likeloss and damage. They should also collaborate to develop anaccountability mechanism to strengthen enforcement of countries’ commitments to reduce emissions.
QUESTION 2: To what extent will climate change strengthen international solidarity?
Climate change will disproportionately impact countries with less resilience to its impacts, including those which have contributed the least to increases in global emissions. A key question is the extent to which countries will demonstrate global solidarity with people suffering the worst impacts of climate change. With this in mind, we use financing committed to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as a proxy for international solidarity. The GCF was established in 2010 as a funding vehicle to support climate mitigation and adaptation, particularly in vulnerable countries. Its initial goal was to secure more than USD 100 billion annually in climate finance post-2025. As of 2022, its portfolio has reached $10 billion. Superforecasters were asked: What will be the total financing committed to the GCF as of 31 December 2031?
Superforecasters said there was an 88% probability that total financing committed to the GCF would not exceed $55 billion in the next ten years. They argued, however, that climate finance would increase overall, only it would be directed to areas that advance donors’ interests. Countries may be more inclined to deliver climate finance through bilateral deals, which allow greater leverage, than donating to the GCF funding pool. Superforecasters also noted that the proliferation of climate finance instruments may introduce more competition with the GCF.
Considering these risks, our report recommends the G7 should seek to strengthen international solidarity, starting by delivering their climate finance pledges. They should also establish an agreed definition of climate finance, its delivery channels, and how it should function. To increase the integrity of the GCF, the G7 should also strengthen monitoring and evaluation related to climate finance.
QUESTION 3: How and where will climate change fuel instability across fragile settings around the world?
Experts warn that climate change impacts, like droughts, heatwaves, and natural disasters, could destabilise communities and increase the risk of conflicts in fragile contexts. But given that these effects are hard to measure, we used displacement – being forced to leave one’s home or region – as a proxy measure of fragility. Displacement links fragility to climate impacts: Environmental change and armed conflict are both significant drivers of displacement. Superforecasters considered five regions from the International Crisis Group's '10 Conflicts to Watch' list and were asked to estimate which would see the highest percentage of displacement between 2022-2031.
Superforecasters saw two groups of countries – (1) Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and (2) Ethiopia and Somalia – as most likely to see the highest level of displacement. They argued climate change would accelerate primary drivers of displacement, for example history of armed conflict, environmental pressures, and weak governance. This is evident in CAR, where a spike in conflict in December 2020 caused more than 200,000 people to flee their homes with currently more than 25% of the population being displaced. Countries like CAR and DRC are particularly vulnerable to fall into the ‘conflict trap’: Having experienced at least five years of war in the last 25 years, they are more likely to relapse into violence, forcing more citizens to flee their homes.
More than 84 million people are currently displaced globally, with the vast majority in low-income, scant infrastructure and (post-) conflict countries. Climate change will exacerbate the drivers of displacement, leaving more people without livelihoods, traumatized, and at greater risk of gender-based violence.
Germany has noted as part of its G7 agenda the need to “tackle climate change as a driver of poverty, hunger, gender inequality, conflict, and displacement”. To help prevent climate change from fueling instability, our report recommends the G7 should systematically integrate climate security into peacebuilding. This includes investigating how to address climate, peace, and security linkages and developing inclusive and intersectional conflict-sensitive strategies to address climate security risks. These should be incorporated into multilateral fora and institutions, strategies, policies, and programmes.
QUESTION 4: How much and where will food prices fuel instability across fragile settings around the world?
Food insecurity is a key mechanism by which climate change exacerbates instability and increases the risk of conflict. Changing weather patterns and the increasing frequency of droughts and floods threaten agricultural production, leading to volatility in the availability of crops and in the price of food. Evidence shows that spikes in food prices increase the likelihood of political unrest, as occurred in the lead-up to the Arab Spring uprising. Future developments in international food prices are therefore key to understand how climate impacts have cascading effects, through food prices, on stability. Superforecasters were asked to estimate the Cereals Price Index in real terms of the UN´s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for December 2031. The FAO Cereals Price Index tracks monthly changes in the price of wheat and cereals and is intended as a proxy for international food prices.
Superforecasters see only a 10% probability that the FAO Cereals Price Index would exceed 150 in real terms in 2031, but many foresee at least one spike in the next decade. They argued low-income countries, where people spend a greater proportion of their incomes on basic foodstuffs, will be hardest hit by volatility in food prices and are more likely to see unrest.
Since the Superforecasters conducted their analysis, Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused profound disruption to global food markets. Linked to this shock, the FAO Cereals Price Index had an average of 170 points in March, up 24.9 points since February, its highest level since the inception of the measure in 1990. These extreme prices could increase the risk of political unrest in already fragile regions.
Enhancing food security is a policy priority of Germany’s G7 Presidency. Our report recommends the G7 works to prevent and mitigate the risk that food price spikes, like those we are seeing now, fuel instability in fragile settings. This requires investing in climate-smart agriculture, prompting sustainable and resilient food supply chains, and strengthening safeguards against price spikes.
QUESTION 5: As climate change impacts intensify, where and to what extent will megacities in low- and lower-middle-income countries become more fragile?
The global population is becoming increasingly urbanized. There are currently 28 ‘megacities’ – cities with a population of over 10 million – and by 2031, several more will have emerged. A key question is whether rapid urbanization, inequality, and the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters will increase fragility in megacities. Urban fragility describes contexts where governance arrangements have broken down and authorities are unable or unwilling to deliver basic services to citizens. Superforecasters were asked to assess a list of 11 megacities and estimate how many of them were more likely to have a higher fragility index score in 2031 as compared to 2015.
Superforecasters saw a high overall likeliness that megacities in low- and middle-income countries would be more fragile in 2031 than in 2015. This means a growing proportion of people will live in contexts where basic services are scarce, where they are vulnerable to climate hazards, and potentially exposed to violence. The increasing intensity of climate impacts threatens to increase fragility in these urban settings.
A policy priority of Germany’s G7 Presidency is to ‘shape the urban lives of citizens (…) in a sustainable manner’. Our report therefore recommends the G7 works together to prevent increasing fragility in megacities. This includes (1) investing in climate-smart projects in urban centres to build climate resilience, (2) supporting conflict-sensitive disaster risk management projects and (3) drawing lessons from building inclusive climate resilient cities.
QUESTION 6: Where will stresses on water governance increase security risks?
Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of droughts, placing increased stress on water resources around the world. Water resources, which support a range of communities, could be subject to greater competition with the potential to dissolve into local or intrastate conflict. For example, the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) currently being built at the headwaters of the Nile will reduce water supplies to Egypt downstream. According to one study, this could lead to “the largest water stress dispute in modern human history”. Superforecasters were given a list of regions and asked to assess where changes in water availability and access would next cause a deadly conflict before 2021.
Superforecasters assessed that countries are unlikely to use water as a direct justification for conflict. They said there was a 59% probability that none of the regions in question would experience interstate conflict as a result of water disputes. Nevertheless, fragile regions with weak governance, poor infrastructure, and fragile institutions are more likely to experience water-related conflicts. Superforecasters also suggested there was a 17% likelihood that Egypt, Sudan, and/or Ethiopia could experience conflict over water, given the presence of the GERD.
The G7 has a role to play in preventing water pressures from increasing insecurity. This includes promoting institutions and best practices for water governance and enhancing cooperation in transboundary basins.
QUESTION 7: Will oil-producing countries remain stable in a decarbonising world economy?
The value of fossil fuel assets could decline in the future as the world seeks to decarbonize the global energy system. This prospect poses a risk to countries whose economies are strongly reliant on oil exports. In Venezuela, for example, oil revenues represent 99% of export earnings and its GDP shrunk by two-thirds between 2014 and 2020 when global demand for oil declined. A sudden drop in oil rents could undermine the ability of oil-exporting countries to deliver basic services and lead to social discontent. Superforecasters were therefore asked how many of the major oil-producing countries that make up the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will have a change of government by extraconstitutional means by 2032? ‘Extraconstitutional’ refers to mechanisms like a mass uprising or popular revolution.
According to the Superforecasters, rapid decarbonization will not be a primary driver of instability in oil producing countries before 2031, in part because oil usage is not expected to fall fast enough before that point. Instead, the main drivers of instability in these countries will continue to be pre-existing instability, corruption, and weak governance, all of which could be exacerbated by adverse effects of climate change
Germany has signaled its intention to use the G7 presidency to “strengthen the role of the G7 as bridge-builders and mediators for peace and security”. Our report recommends the G7 work towards peaceful decarbonization, including by assessing and reducing risks, such as stranded assets, but also geopolitical impacts stemming from the energy transition, and engaging partners in a well-governed transition.
Stepping up action
The G7 countries have an important role in finding solutions to the most pressing issues facing the globe. The rise in conflicts and decline of the international rules-based global order in the past decade has thrown into stark relief the importance of peace and security. Germany’s decision to emphasize climate change and a sustainable planet as a priority for its G7 Presidency and the recent statement on Climate, Environment, Peace and Stability by the G7 demonstrates that global leaders understand the importance of climate and environmental change for peace, security, stability, and geopolitics.
The G7 has demonstrated engagement on climate security issues, for instance with A New Climate for Peace report and efforts to implement its recommendations. As crises deepen, it is time to step up action. The results from the new Weathering Risk report should prompt discussion about how to mitigate climate security risks in future. The grim picture painted in the report is still evitable. If G7 nations leverage their power, lead by example, and constructively engage partners, they have it in their hands to avoid the worst outcomes. This includes enhanced collaboration, integrative policies, and early intervention. Our recommendations provide a starting point for what the G7 can do to prevent the worst climate-related security risks from occurring, in an increasingly dynamic and fragile world.