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Liberia: Climate Change Adaptation Offers Peacebuilding Plan

21 December, 2016
Jonathan Rozen

For years the ocean licked the shores of Buchanan, Liberia’s second largest port city. The water eroded the shoreline and eventually began to swallow people’s homes and livelihoods. Under the mounting threat of climate change, the government of Liberia and the United Nations (UN) are working with global climate finance institutions to plan a nation-wide climate adaptation strategy to protect development gains and sustain peace.

In 2008, Liberia launched its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), responding to the already increasing “adverse effects of climate change.” Given that Liberia had only recently ended its civil war (1989-2003), this plan was in part developed to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and technical capacity to monitor weather patterns. According to a 2011 stocktaking report, Liberia’s NAPA brought the “first systematic adaptation actions taken in Liberia with a focus on coastal defense and agriculture,” yet there remained “no coherent existing national plan or strategy on climate change adaptation.”

In 2008, Liberia launched its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), responding to the already increasing “adverse effects of climate change.”

But the NAPA did set in motion projects for responding to climate change. One of the three priority projects developed a coastal defense system, which created a Breakwater Revetment System to act as a physical barrier against excessive wave action. UNDP also led a project on mangrove conservation in the west of the country, particularly in the town of Robertsport where traditional fish drying involves heavy use of mangroves.

“What we have done there is to introduce some improved [more efficient] ovens that we hope will reduce the pressure on the mangrove vegetation,” Moses Massah, Program Specialist on Energy & Environment with UNDP in Liberia, told me.

These adaptation projects, and others to improve climate resilient farming practices, were made possible through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which acts as a financial distribution centre for plans and projects to meet environmental challenges. Founded out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the GEF has served as a major financing institution for the projects and plans developed out of international climate meetings and agreements. The 2015 Paris Agreement, for example, restated developed countries’ 2009 commitment to jointly raise $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries’ climate adaptation and mitigation.

As the majority of Liberia’s existing UN-led adaptation projects come to a close in December 2016, the government applied for and received $2.2 million from another major financing institution for climate adaptation – the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The money will be used to support the Liberian government’s ability to continue preparing their first National Adaptation Plan (NAP). It is a “watershed moment for Liberia to develop medium and long-term adaptation measures for addressing climate change through country-driven approaches,” Urias Goll, Deputy Executive Director of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency, told me.

This planning comes at a time of transition for Liberia. The UN Security Council (UNSC) is considering the draw down of UNMIL, and a general election is scheduled for October 2017. While a strategic assessment mission concluded by the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations in September 2016 found “no credible imminent external threat to Liberia’s security,” it also said that, “peace remains fragile” and “long-term peace and security will hinge on a far broader range of reform processes.” As a capacity building process for the Liberian government, the NAP has the potential to promote stability during these transitions.

Liberia began putting together its NAPs process in 2015, in alignment with the NAP technical guidelines produced by the Least Developed Country (LDC) Expert Group in 2012. To support this, the $2.2 million grant from the GCF aims to improve the government on four areas:

  1. Strengthen institutional frameworks and coordination for climate change adaptation programming;
  2. Expand the knowledge base for increasing adaptation efforts, which includes economic impact studies and climate risk assessments on energy, waste management, forestry, and health;
  3. Improve the ability to integrate climate adaptation into planning and budgeting, which experts say is ambitious because it involves developing criteria to assess adaptation benefits for public investments; and
  4. Create mechanisms for scaling up adaptation investments and addressing financial gaps by improving adaptation investment plans by sector or geographic area.
The NAPA process has given Liberia a reference point for what kind of projects work well, but also for where gaps remain and how to begin responding to them.

Planning processes develop the knowledge of national climate vulnerabilities and costs, which is valuable for efficiently allocating further investment from funds like the GEF and GCF, as well as from bilateral donors and domestic resources. The NAPA process has given Liberia a reference point for what kind of projects work well, the coastal defense system for example, but also for where gaps remain and how to begin responding to them with their NAP. These plans are important for developing coherent and proactive responses that may reduce climate change’s ability to act as a “multiplier” of existing threats to social stability.

Liberia’s NAP will also be a learning experience. “If you have a good NAPs process, in about two years’ time you should have a much clearer idea of your priorities,” Rohini Kohli, Lead Technical Specialist for National Adaptation Plans at UNDP, told me. “You have to look at what you are already doing, gather evidence and learn from this, and see in some kind of systematic way which priorities should be scaled up, and if so, where and how.”

For countries that did not develop a NAPA process, precedent for successful adaptation projects may be lacking. But LDCs, through a NAPA and vulnerability and risk assessments, have established these frameworks. “They’re patchy and small scale, but it’s there,” Kohli continued.

While a NAPA process is not a requirement in order to request GCF support for adaptation projects, many low-income countries do not want ad hoc adaptation. They want a strategy and with it the technical support of the UN’s economists and planners to improve their domestic resilience building capacity. This, however, also involves promoting connections among different government ministries.

The EPA of Liberia, which after 2003 was tasked with “supporting the connection between good environmental governance and peace,” has been responsible for adaptation planning. This is typical, as environmental ministries are usually responsible for driving NAP processes. According to Kholi, however, finance and planning ministries must become much more involved because long-term adaptation requires sustained financing and feedback between ground-level projects and national economic and infrastructure planning. Climate action is not only an environmental issue – it’s an issue of sustainable development for sustainable peace.

As Per Thöresson, Vice-Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission noted to the Security Council in his December 2, 2016, report, the exit of UN peacekeepers from Liberia should be followed by “residual peacebuilding tasks” and the maintenance of international attention. “An immediate task is to ensure that the remaining UN presence is set up and resourced to respond to the continuous need for peacebuilding support,” Thöresson continued, encouraging the whole UN system to “intensify collaborative strategic planning.”

The threat to development gains posed by climate change means that plans like the NAPA and NAP should be considered beyond the immediate reduction of climate change impacts. Research conducted by ISS in Mozambique during 2015 identified the value of a broad cross-section of peacebuilding plans and processes that look beyond short-term needs and involve sustained international support.

Recognizing these lessons and the risks posed by climate change, implementation of Liberia’s NAP with cooperation from climate finance institutions offers an opportunity to plan and create an environment for sustainable peace.

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Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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