EU policies needed to address climate change and conflict

The European Union started to address the possible impact of climate change on international security in 2008, namely in the joint document of the EU High Representative and the European Commission on ‘Climate Change and International Security’1. The United Nations, including its Security Council, also devoted attention to such issues. Further empirical evidence and conceptual analysis is needed to address this policy concern, and assess whether and how climate change impacts represent 'threat multipliers' which cause or exacerbate conflict, and whether paths towards cooperation have been and can be implemented to tackle common problems arising from scarcity of resources.

Among the regions most affected by tensions over water resources are the Mediterranean countries, the Middle East and the Sahel2 (the MMES region). The three-year research project, CLICO (Climate Change, Hydro-conflicts and Human Security), brings together for the first time some of the world’s leading researchers in water resources, vulnerability, and peace and security studies to explore solutions to address water resource tensions.

Fourteen cross-disciplinary teams of researchers from Europe, North Africa, the Sahel and the Middle East are studying eleven cases of hydro-conflict and climate change vulnerability ranging from Niger, Sudan, the Jordan and Nile basins, to Cyprus, South Italy and the Sinai desert. The situations facing these regions range from drought and competition for water to flooding and the risk of rising sea levels. The research also analyses a large and unique dataset on hydro-conflicts vis-à-vis climatic, hydrological and socio-economic variables to determine the part that climate change has played in these conflicts.

Some of the in-depth case studies highlight, for example:

  • Cyprus – Average precipitation has fallen by more than 20% in the last four decades, and in the summer of 2008 Cyprus imported water with tankers from Greece.
  • Alexandria – A 0.5 metre rise in sea level could inundate 30% of the city, which could displace at least 1.5 million people.
  • Spain/Morocco – Droughts are leading to intense competition for water between agriculture, cities, tourism and the ecosystem in both Spain and Morocco

The exact links between climate change, water quality and availability, socio-economic vulnerability, security and conflict, or cooperation, are not straightforward. While climate change poses some clear threats to human security, and can exacerbate social tensions as well as intra- and inter-state conflict in relation to access to vital resources, there are cases where co-operation trumps conflict. For example, regional cooperation on the management of important river basins (including Jordan and Nile) has been the focus of several international treaties: a question addressed by researchers is whether such cooperation will be resilient to climate change impacts or might be threatened. Also, conflict between farmers and nomadic tribes in the Sahel prompted policy responses that facilitated migration routes for the herders, and reduced their vulnerability to droughts. However, attention needs to be paid to cases where domination may be masked as cooperation.

Other outputs from the CLICO research include:

  • A statistical analysis of domestic water conflicts and their drivers in the region.
  • Analysis of trans-boundary treaties and how they handle climate change and uncertainty.
  • Policy proposals for the UN, EU and Member States for strengthening human security and adaptation to hydro-climatic changes. In this regard, CLICO is mapping existing policies to find out what types of policies, legal and other instruments and institutions at national, regional and international levels are needed to ensure adaptation, security and peace in the face of global and regional hydro-climatic change. It also aims to devise an analytical framework to help develop improved links between existing, or new, policies.

CLICO participates in CLIWASEC (Climate Induced Changes on Water and Security), a cluster of collaborative research projects funded by the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities and the Environment Research Programmes under the EU's 7th Framework Programme. For more information, please visit:


1 See:

2 The Sahel is a zone of climatic and biogeographic transition between the Sahara Desert in the north and the savannah to the south, and covers parts of the countries of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

CLICO - Climate change, hydro-conflicts and human security (duration: 1/1/2010 – 31/12/2012). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 4 “Europe and the world”, Research area 4.2 “Conflicts, peace and human rights”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).


Contact: Giorgos Kallis,; Christos Zografos,