Introduction: Global Issues
Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures, and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts.
Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters, and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.
Inter-regional and supra-regional hotspots:
- Land grabbing: International investments to secure land and hence food production in foreign countries have produced significant tensions around the world. Typically, investors from developed economies acquire land by contracting with developing country governments, sometimes bypassing stakeholders such as the local populations who often do not have formal entitlements to the land at stake.
- Growing resource demand: Population growth and shifting consumption patterns due to rising incomes in emerging economies put additional strains on resources. Competition both over energy and mineral resources has sharply increased and is at times accompanied by local or international tensions that sometimes turn violent at the local level.
- Arctic energy resources: The warming climate has triggered a scramble for extensive fossil fuel resources in the Arctic seabed that are forecast to become increasingly accessible as the ice melts. A number of countries have issued competing claims over the region.
- Migration: Water scarcity and soil degradation will increasingly affect agriculture and hence livelihoods particularly in the Sahel zone, adding to migration trends usually directed towards Europe. Natural disasters and sea-level rise add to such pressures in many other regions. There have been demands for a global agreement to clarify the status of environmental migrants who are currently not covered by international law.
- Global Commons: Some goods cannot be managed by single countries or even regions on their own. The oceans and their fish reserves or the air with implications for global climatic changes are just two examples with potentially large benefits for inter-regional or global cooperation.
Climate change risks
- Water scarcity and droughts as a result of changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures, exacerbated by the disappearance of glaciers and freshwater reserves.
- Natural disasters, such as floods and storms, which can destabilize -fragile- states, cause loss of human life as well as cause high economic and social costs
- Rising sea levels threatening the very existence of smaller island states and the often densely populated coastlines
- Food conflicts as a result of water scarcity, natural disasters and rising sea levels that all contribute to a worsening of agricultural conditions and cultivable land.
- Extinction of endangered species, which lose their natural habitat as a result of the changing climate
- These risks can lead to distribution conflicts, challenge global governance structures and make adaptation measures necessary
Socio-political and socio-economic challenges
The global socio-economic scenario is crucial for understanding environmental cooperation. It is substantially shaped by large economic disparities not only within, but particularly between countries – the rich global North and the poor global South. The latter additionally faces major challenges due to poor governance. These disparities affect power and trade relations with implications for the management and the allocation of revenues from natural resources. Poor governance, often expressed through indicators such as corruption, lack of accountability, and regulatory quality, compromises adaptive capacities and hence increases vulnerability.
Most of global environmental cooperation takes place within the framework of the United Nations (UN). Dedicated specialized institutions and programmes include
- the United Nations Environment Programme
- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- the Food and Agriculture Organization, including the Committee on World Food Security
- the Convention on Biological Diversity
- the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, including the Hyogo Framework for Action
- the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
- the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation
- the United Nations Freshwater Convention (although it has not yet entered into force)
Institutions with a broader mandate such as the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council have also recognized the conflict potential and the possible security implications of climate change.
Besides UN institutions and programmes, there are various institutions with a more narrow geographic focus, such as the Arctic Council, which can help address the implications of the melting Arctic.
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