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Nearly a billion people are facing climate change hazards globally, with the Asia-Pacific region housing twice as many people living in areas with high exposure than all other regions combined, a new report has revealed.
In the annual Global Peace Index released on Wednesday, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) said an estimated 971 million people — including more than 2.4 million Australians — live in areas with high or very high exposure to climate hazards including cyclones, floods, bushfires, desertification and rising sea levels.
The top nine countries facing the highest risk of climate hazards were all Asian nations with the Philippines topping the list, followed by Japan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.
IEP founder and executive chairman Steve Killelea told the ABC that many of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region also have weaker coping capacities for natural disasters.
In Australia, the main risks come from hurricanes and cyclones in the north, rising sea levels in the south and east, as well as drought and desertification which is already affecting thousands of farmers, he said.
The report — which ranks 163 countries by measuring internal safety and security, militarisation and ongoing conflict — included climate change risks for the first time this year to evaluate links between climate hazards and violence.
It found climate pressures can adversely impact resource availability and affect population dynamics, which can impact socioeconomic and political stability.
Killelea listed several countries where climate change has caused or exacerbated violence including Nigeria, where desertification has led to conflict over scarce resources, Haiti in the aftermath of multiple hurricanes and earthquakes, and South Sudan, where the drying of Lake Chad has exasperated tensions.
In 2017, over 60 per cent of total displacements around the world were due to climate-related disasters, while nearly 40 per cent were caused by armed conflict.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 265 million people have been internally displaced by natural disasters since 2008, with the Asia-Pacific region the most heavily affected.
Climate-induced migration is expected to continue to escalate, and in a region facing the highest risk, Australia could be heavily impacted.
Farmers in Australia have begun migrating south to greener pastures, as droughts and desertification devastate northern regions.
Overall, the report found global peace improved for the first time in five years and the economic impact of violence also fell, although the world remains less peaceful than a decade ago.
Military expenditure, violent protests and violent crime all decreased globally this year, particularly in Asia.
While the percentage of GDP spending on defence forces decreased in two out of every three countries over the past decade, the US and China have continued to rapidly increase their military spending.
“Although peace has improved … a deeper analysis finds a mixture of positive and negative trends,” Killelea said.
Afghanistan replaced Syria as the least peaceful country after the downfall of the Islamic State, and Iraq also improved marginally, while Yemen fell into the bottom five for the first time.
Peacefulness in the Asia-Pacific region improved by 3 per cent, but the region also experienced a higher number of refugees, terrorism and higher levels of internal conflict.
Australia fell one place in the index to rank 13th due to an increase in militarisation — namely weapons imports — military expenditure and nuclear and heavy weapons, and the incarceration rate in Australia also rose.
“Given government policy [military expenditure and incarceration] are more likely to increase … we might see Australia drop one or maybe two places in the next few years,” Killelea said.
Despite a terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques that left 51 people dead in March, New Zealand maintained its rank as the second most peaceful country in the world.
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