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SDC Climate change foresight analysis 2021: Global and regional risks and hotspots

This 2021 foresight report provides information about short- and medium-term climate-related risks and analyses these risks with regard to water, food, health and regional stability.
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Figure 2 from page 8 of the report: SDC Climate change foresight analysis Global and regional risks and hotspots Update 2021. (Click to enlarge)


Climate-related risks and hotspots are a result of a combination of climate change and variability, exposure and vulnerabilities of people and ecosystems and their ability to address those risks (readiness, adaptive capacity, etc.). Understanding them is essential to delivering projects and programmes that increase climate resilience and result in interventions fit for coping with climate change risks.

This foresight report* provides information about short- and medium-term climate-related risks that might influence the programme and strategic work of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and analyses these risks with regard to water, food, health and regional stability with a focus on short- and medium-term projections of 1–3 years. The report is the result of strategic reflections from SDC’s Global Programmes Climate Change & Environment and Food Security together with representatives of humanitarian aid and the different geographical units responsible for bilateral aid, on how SDC will increase its efforts to contribute to climate resilience in all its working areas in the future. While the report was produced for SDC, the analysis might be relevant to other organizations and actors undertaking work relating to sustainable development.

This report updates the first CC foresight report, which was published in early 2020, and takes into account the COVID-19 pandemic, up-dated risk assessments and new data from 2020 and early 2021

*download the full report from the right-hand column. A summary of the approach and key findings is provided below. See the full report for a detailed analysis of regional climate risks and hotspots.


The SDC climate change foresight analysis reports conduct a short- to medium-term analysis of climate-related risks with a perspective of 1–3 years. The climate-related risks are assessed with regard to food security, water, health and political stability.

Challenges in undertaking this analysis:

  • Slow onset events by definition occur slowly and sometimes gradually (e.g. sea level rise, glacier retreat). For such changes we can interpolate that they are ongoing at the same or even at higher pace and hence implications for a 1–3-year period are very likely.
  • High frequency and intensity of climate extremes in the present or recent past and a projected increasing frequency and intensity of such events in the future (IPCC perspective 2030) does not mean that frequency and intensity of such events will be necessarily higher in the short term. But we can assume that current extremes and related damages have an implication on the short-term risk environment as they may negatively influence vulnerability in upcoming years and the ability to cope with future shocks as people are still recovering from past events (e.g. current extreme drought influencing agricultural yields and food security in the near term or recovery from tropical cyclones lasting for years).

Assumptions and methodological implications of this analysis:

  • The current risk situation and hotspots are strongly influencing the risk situation 1–3 years out, hence it is crucial to identify and understand the current risk situation and hotspots.
  • The ND-GAIN Index (, summarizing a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience, is in our view a good base for describing current climate-related risk on a general level and in a comprehensive manner.
  • In the short-term (1–3-year) perspective, changes of such non-climatic factors (e.g. land use changes, political turmoil, population increase, etc.) are more relevant for the whole risk situation than any changes on the climate side, and are the main drivers influencing the capability to cope with climatic change events if they occur.
  • To a certain extent we can analyse past or current events or trends to make a rough forecast of near-term risks. This is the case of current extremes, where we assume that they have a longer-term effect on future risks (e.g. extreme droughts or floods).
  • Climate variability is more relevant for our time horizon than projected climate change and hence it is important to understand current variability. Nevertheless, we consider the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and IPCC special reports as important information sources to identify relevant current risks and impacts and observed changes by region.
  • Surveys on perception of risks are interesting sources of information for assessing future risks as they have a forward-looking perspective by nature. There are, however, very few such data sources (e.g. WEF Risk Report, Perception of political instability indicator).

Key findings

In 2020, non-climatic factors dominated the risk landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great disruption, affecting life-supporting sectors all over the world. The magnitude and unequal nature of the current crisis have resulted in an enormous setback to recent development gains, with large impacts on vulnerability. The 2021 CC foresight has largely confirmed the assessment of the 2020 analysis, with the COVID-19 pandemic amplifying and accentuating the prevailing risk situation and vulnerabilities especially in the areas health, food and regional stability. Several climate-related hazards have collided with the outbreak of COVID-19.

Below are the key findings of the report. For a more detailed analysis of regional climate risks and hotspots see the full report.

  • Overall, hotspots with high climate-related risks are identified in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa (in particular the Horn of Africa and parts of the Sahel region), Syria, Yemen, the Hindu Kush, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Haiti. Those areas show interlinkages between various climate-related and non-climatic stressors, and a high vulnerability in all life-supporting sectors.
  • Specifically, high climate-related risks are found in arid and semi-arid areas; in low-lying coastal areas and cities; in high mountains; and in downstream areas where changes in cryosphere strongly affect water resources.
  • Furthermore, regions affected by recent compound or sequential events are especially at risk, such as East Africa, which was hit by a heavy locust outbreak followed by floods in 2020, and Central America, where major hurricanes caused deadly floods and landslides.
  • Countries with persisting conflicts and high fragility often have high climate-related risks such as Yemen, Syria, parts of the Sahel (Lake Chad Basin, Central Mali) and Afghanistan.
  • In almost all regions with high climate-related risks, non-climatic drivers have a stronger effect on current risks than climate variability and change.

Suggested citation:

Steinemann, M., Guyer, M., and Füssler, J. (2021) SDC Climate change foresight analysis: Global and regional risks and hotspots Update 2021. INFRAS: Zurich

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