Climate change – and adaptation to it – will occur in a globalized, hyper-connected world. A rapid expansion of trade and communications networks has delivered benefits to millions of people worldwide, including enhanced access to capital, resources, technology and ideas, greater choice, employment and economic growth.

But hyper-connectivity also creates pathways via which people and systems are exposed to new challenges and risks. In the 21st century, what happens in one country can have significant impacts thousands of kilometres away, disrupting financial flows, supply chains, business operations and global commodities markets. The examples keep adding up: the 2008 financial crisis, the global food crisis, the Fukushima nuclear incident, the Bangkok floods of 2011, Hurricane Sandy.

Assessments of how climate change will affect specific countries, sectors or organizations need to take account of this global interdependence. The focus of adaptation efforts to date has been on risks at the national and sub-national levels, but in a globalized world, it is becoming clear countries may also face climate risks that originate outside their borders. In particular, wealthier countries that do not consider themselves to be very vulnerable to climate change impacts may find they are exposed to a large number of indirect impacts from abroad.

Most of the time, when we refer to climate change impacts, we mean direct impacts – sea level rises and the coast floods, for example, or rainfall declines and crops dry out. By indirect impacts we mean impacts that are observed or expected in one place, but are brought about by climate change or extreme events somewhere else: for example, if a soya crop failure due to drought in Brazil leads livestock feed prices to skyrocket in Europe. In this sense, indirect impacts are an important international dimension of climate risk.

This brief describes a text analysis of 25 countries’ most recent National Communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that focused on whether and how indirect impacts were addressed. Findings from a case study of the UK are also presented.

Download the discussion brief (PDF, 560kb)