This is the second edition of the Ecological Threat Report (ETR), which analyses 178 independent states and territories. Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the report covers over 2,500 sub- national administrative units or 99.9% of the world’s population.
The report assesses threats relating to food risk, water risk, rapid population growth, temperature anomalies and natural disasters. These assessments are then combined with national measures of socio- economic resilience to determine which countries have the most severe threats and lowest coping capabilities.
These are the countries most likely to suffer from increased levels of ecological-threat related conflict. The Ecological Threat Report also looks at the future, with projections out to 2050.
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The main finding from the 2021 ETR is that a cyclic relationship exists between ecological degradation and conflict. It is a vicious cycle whereby degradation of resources leads to conflict, and the ensuing conflict leads to further resource degradation.
Breaking the cycle requires improving ecological resource management and socio-economic resilience. The resilience and adaptability of the socio-economic system, referred to as the societal system, will generally determine the outcome.
Based on current trends, future prospects are not encouraging.
Both undernourishment and food insecurity have been steadily rising since 2015. This is the reversal of a long-established trend where undernourishment had been improving.
The factors causing this are complex, however, high population growth, lack of potable water and increasing land degradation are clear contributors.
Based on the current number of undernourished people and allowing for population growth, IEP projects the number of undernourished people to rise by 343 million people by 2050, to 1.1 billion. This is a 45 per cent increase.
The 2021 ETR identifies three clusters of ecological hotspots, which are particularly susceptible to collapse:
• The Sahel-Horn of Africa belt, from Mauritania to Somalia;
• The Southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar;
• The Middle East and Central Asian belt, from Syria to Pakistan.
The impact of ecological degradation on conflict is highlighted by the strong overlap between the countries with the highest levels of conflict, as measured by the Global Peace Index (GPI), and those with the worst ecological degradation.
Eleven of the fifteen countries facing the worst ecological threats are currently in conflict, and another four are at a high risk of substantial falls in peace. Examples include Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Burkina Faso and Pakistan.
Given the significant link between ecological fragility and conflict, addressing water availability, food security and high population growth in countries mired by conflict will improve prospects for lasting peace.
Highly resilient countries have the best ability to manage their natural resources while still catering for their socio-economic needs. Positive Peace is a proxy for socio-economic resilience and the attributes of Positive Peace allow for higher levels of adaptability.
This includes better water management, more efficient agricultural systems, and the capability to import food when local production is insufficient. No country with a high level of peace has an extremely poor ETR score, underscoring the relationship between ecological fragility and conflict.
On the other hand, 80% of the countries with the worst ETR scores are also among the world’s least resilient. This indicates that these nations may not be able to mitigate the impacts of their rapidly changing environment. The 30 countries facing the highest level of ecological threat are home to 1.26 billion people.
In summary, ecological threats will continue to create humanitarian emergencies and will likely increase without a sustained effort to reverse the current trend.
Ecological threats are becoming more pronounced and affecting more people than ever. Building resilience to these threats will increasingly become more important and will require substantial investment now and into the future.
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