12 December 2018

Climate change poses a multi-faceted and increasingly urgent security threat for fragile states. In their recent War on the Rocks article, Stretched Thin: When Fragile States Face Climate Hazards, Director of Strauss’ State Fragility Initiative Ashley Moran, Strauss Distinguished Scholar Joshua Busby, and Strauss Senior Fellow Clionadh Raleigh evaluate the policy implications of their global mapping project on overlapping fragility and climate risks around the world.

Their study is part of a growing body of research examining indirect pathways between climate stress and security outcomes, through factors like economic growth, food prices, and migration. They argue that “considering state fragility in this analysis is crucial because a government’s ability to manage economic and social processes can impact whether a population becomes more – or less – vulnerable to the climate risks it faces.”

The authors find that most highly fragile states have more than one million people or more than 10 percent of the population living in high-exposure areas, facing multiple overlapping climate hazards. The highest combined fragility and climate risks are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, with the remaining areas located across the Middle East and North Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and a few parts of South America. The authors discuss Nigeria as an example where combined fragility and climate risks have heightened populations’ insecurity by increasing their vulnerability to humanitarian emergencies and violence.

The study finds that, in states with high combined climate-fragility risks, fragility stems not only from deficits in state capacity but even more so from deficits in state legitimacy. They argue that this provides an opportunity to improve fragility and address climate risks simultaneously. By improving institutional responses to climate change, the government can simultaneously increase its legitimacy.

The authors highlight several opportunities for action in these states with compound fragility-climate risks:

  1. Addressing climate risks in fragile states could both enhance resilience and reduce fragility.
  2. Institutional reforms in states experiencing sustained conflict are critical to reduce state weakness and strengthen the government’s overall ability to respond to climate risks.
  3. Climate responses will have the best prospects for success when they are directed through areas of governance where the state has the strongest capacity to act.
  4. Prevention efforts should focus on shoring up the capacity of states with high climate risks before they also begin experiencing high fragility.

Moran and Busby discuss this and more also in a new podcast, Horns of a Dilemma: The Intersection of Global Fragility and Climate Risks

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