Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of water-related hazards on human populations. This has generated security concerns and calls for urgent policy action. However, the simplified narrative that links climate change to security via water and violent conflict is wanting. First, it is not confirmed by empirical evidence. Second, it ignores the varied character and implications of hydro-climatic hazards, the multi-faceted nature of conflict and adaptive action, and crucial intricacies of security. Integrating for the first time research and findings from diverse disciplines, we provide a more nuanced picture of the climate-water-security nexus. We consider findings from the transboundary waters, armed conflict, vulnerability, and political ecology literatures and specify the implications and priorities for policy relevant research. Although the social effects of future hydro-climatic change cannot be safely predicted, there is a good understanding of the factors that aggravate risks to social wellbeing. To reduce vulnerability, pertinent democratic and social/civil security institutions should be strengthened where they exist, and promoted where they are still absent. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.