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Understanding 10 transboundary climate risks: the need for global adaptation

The Global Transboundary Climate Risk Report, created by Adaptation Without Borders, provides insights on 10 transboundary and cascading risks that remain overlooked in climate policies. These climate risks represent not only a shared adaptation challenge, but also a global responsibility for adaptation action.

Published on 19 April 2023
Coastal town Venice impacted by sea level rise.

Venice, a coastal city impacted by sea level rise. Photo: Adam Sébire / Climate Visuals.

What types of ownership frameworks are needed to better define and allocate responsibilities and resources?

Collected evidence from case studies demonstrates a common lack of preparedness to climate risks across national borders

The insights emerging from this report challenge a narrative that has long been embraced in climate policy: that adaptation is a local challenge, while mitigation is a global concern. Yet climate risks cross multiple jurisdictions and sectors, calling for new forms of governance, ownership frameworks and coordination mechanisms across scales.

Through case studies, authors assessed 10 globally significant transboundary climate risks. The case studies look at transboundary effects in different sectors around the world, ranging from the Japanese car industry affected by floods in Bangkok to investors and companies in Europe affected by a hurricane in Mexico. From examining these cases, key questions emerged for the design of policy solutions and governance arrangements.

Overview of the 10 transboundary climate risks and case studies assessed in this report (see Figure A.1, p.11)

Overview of the 10 transboundary climate risks and case studies assessed in this report (see Figure A.1, p.11) Graphic: Authors’ elaboration.

In a world that is increasingly interconnected, these risks are transmitted through shared natural resources and ecosystems, trade links, finance and human mobility.

Key messages from assessing 10 globally significant transboundary climate risks

Terrestrial shared natural resources

The transboundary risks of climate hazards in shared river corridors can have far-reaching consequences, as direct damage of mass flows to agricultural lands and hydropower infrastructure result in a ripple effect on food supply, distribution of energy and livelihoods.

Managing global ocean resources

Current global frameworks are not equipped to deal with the permanent loss of fish stocks within national jurisdictions, while regional arrangements to compensate for shifting ocean resources have serious limitations. This illustrates a broader gap in policy and governance arrangements allowing bodies to adapt to and manage, for example, the movement of fish stocks to the high seas under climate change.

Agricultural commodities and food security

Extreme weather events are major triggers for food insecurity. These risks demand adaptive measures along every part of the agricultural commodity supply chain, from farm to fork. Therefore, we should build a global food system that is just and resilient, meeting the needs of billions of people as the climate changes rather than fuelling new crises.

Globally interconnected industrial supply chains

Many developing countries are highly vulnerable to climate change and disasters. This has exposed global production processes, including industrial supply chains, to new risks that are neither fully understood nor addressed.

Climate risks in the energy sector

A failure in any single part of an interconnected electricity network could generate cascading impacts, particularly if a transboundary network relies heavily on a single or limited number of energy sources. When disruptions to power supplies are coupled with extreme weather events, the socioeconomic damage can be massive, particularly for vulnerable people, and can exacerbate inequalities and adaptive capacities.

Transboundary climate risks and finance

Financial risks triggered by climate change can become transboundary as a result of the global nature of investments and the complexity of economic and financial networks. Therefore, losses from hazards that hit a firm’s productive plants in one geographic area could cascade across economic value chains and materialize in the portfolio of an investor located far from the original disaster.

Infectious diseases

Climate change has influenced the spread of vector-borne infectious diseases over the past decade, and it seems certain to significantly increase the health impacts of climate-sensitive diseases. For instance, projections show that under a scenario of 2.8℃ warming, 50% of the global population will be exposed to malaria vectors by 2050. Thus, integrated climate-informed disease surveillance and early warning response systems can anticipate risks and trigger prompt action to prevent the spread of transboundary diseases.

Human mobility

Climate and non-climate drivers interact and compound to influence and modify migration decisions, with impacts for both countries of origin and destination. In particular, seasonal and temporary labour migration under a changing climate can include indirect cross-border effects such as cascading impacts on remittance flows, a financial pathway of transboundary climate risks.

Livelihoods

Cross-border and cascading climate risks to livelihoods may particularly threaten the most vulnerable groups – those who are marginalized socioeconomically, politically and culturally – or areas with weak or contested governance. The assets, capabilities and activities people need to make a living and contribute to economies can be particularly affected.

Wellbeing

Managing transboundary climate risk is about recognizing the value and integrity of life in all parts of the world and that our wellbeing is founded upon the deep connections between all people and places. Therefore, placing wellbeing as the guiding objective for adaptation paves the way towards more ambitious and transformative adaptation policies at every level, from the local to the global.

Download the report

Learn more and download the full report from the Adaptation Without Borders website below.

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SEI Authors

Katy Harris
Katy Harris

Senior Policy Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Richard J.T. Klein
Richard J. T. Klein

Team Leader: International Climate Risk and Adaptation; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Profile picture of Magnus Benzie
Magnus Benzie

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

Frida Lager
Frida Lager

Research Associate

SEI Headquarters

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