Fragile states face substantial and growing risks from climate change. Our recent study for USAID sought to identify precisely where and how these climate and fragility risks intersect around the world. In new briefs from USAID, we highlight the key findings and implications for policymakers.
Our Policy Summary: The Nexus of Fragility and Climate Risks notes key takeaways for policymakers at the global level. Notably:
- Most highly fragile states—where institutions and mechanisms for meeting public needs are already strained—have a large number of people or large share of the population living in high-exposure areas. These are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by the Middle East and North Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Several moderately fragile states have among the highest numbers of people living in high-exposure areas, posing grave risks to large numbers of people if fragility worsens and government response capacity declines in these countries.
- Fragility dynamics help us understand the indirect pathways between climate risks and potential conflict outcomes. Considering state-society relations and the dynamics of legitimacy and effectiveness enhances our ability to identify the indirect pathways through which climate vulnerability is compounded. Conversely, it also helps us identify where resilience efforts can benefit climate, environment, and conflict prevention goals simultaneously.
- State legitimacy—meaning public perceptions that the state is willing and able to meet public needs—is poor across nearly all states with high climate-fragility risks. State actions that respond to the public’s need for reduced climate vulnerability could thus simultaneously reduce both climate risks and the legitimacy deficits that often contribute most heavily to fragility in these states.
In Country Brief: Fragility and Climate Risks in Nigeria, we explore how compound climate-fragility risks take shape in the Nigerian context. More than 41 million people—24 percent of Nigeria’s population—live in high-exposure areas, facing diverse and extensive climate risks from storm surges along the coast, inland flooding and wildfires in the Niger Delta region, decreased rainfall in the Middle Belt, droughts and floods in the north, and riverine flooding across the country. The country faces high fragility in all four spheres of state-society interactions—political, security, economic, and social—struggling to deliver services, prevent corruption, ensure political pluralism, and maintain security. These fragility and conflict challenges have severely limited the state’s ability to respond to the country’s considerable climate risks.
Nigeria’s ongoing crises—conflict and famine risk in the North, rising violence between herders and farmers in the Middle Belt, and simmering tensions over management of natural resources in the Niger Delta—each show interactions between climate and fragility risks. The country is already pursuing climate actions through international frameworks for national adaptation planning. Yet for these to be successful, the country must reduce fragility across the board, as addressing its climate challenges will require 1) reforms to advance adaptation and resilience initiatives in the social and economic spheres, 2) effective political processes to serve as a conduit between public needs and state responses, and 3) a stable security environment in which to operate.
In Country Brief: Fragility and Climate Risks in Colombia, we explore how compound climate-fragility risks take shape in the Colombian context where risks are more concentrated. Colombia experiences very high climate exposure concentrated in small portions of the state and high fragility stemming largely from persistent violence. Colombians’ vulnerability in high-exposure places like rural Mocoa—where conflict displacement, unchecked deforestation, and unregulated settlement exacerbate flood risks—and coastal Barranquilla—where government response has not mitigated routine flooding—highlight what can happen when climate risks converge with mismanagement of those risks by a government affected by fragility.
Colombia’s experience shows how, even in countries with strong effectiveness in some spheres, capacity deficits in the security sphere can undermine the government’s overall ability to implement policies focused on preparing for (even near-term) future risks. This is particularly evident on cross-cutting issues like climate change that require integrated planning across sectors. This underscores the need for a coordinated approach in states with high compound risks to focus on reducing interrelated fragility and climate risks, lest improvement in mitigating one risk be undermined by lack of improvement in the other.
It is our hope that the data and mapping products from our study provide new tools for policymakers to analyze these risks and identify new opportunities for intervention.
The study team included the authors as well as Clionadh Raleigh, Todd Smith, Roudabeh Kishi, Nisha Krishnan, and Charles Wight.
Ashley Moran is Director of the State Fragility Initiative at the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin.
Joshua Busby is Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, a Distinguished Scholar at the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security.
Links to all of the publications from the project are available here, including the full report for USAID, the methodology, and the data. There are also longer country reports for Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Colombia in addition to the shorter briefs for policymakers featured on this blog post.