ECC Platform Library

 

Don’t miss opportunities to make peace with the climate

04 November, 2020
Micheal Keating, EIP

Michael Keating, Executive Director at the European Institue of Peace (EIP), argues that peacebuilding and conflict resolution must not disregard the impacts of the climate crisis on livelihoods, social cohesion and conflict resolution.

Look, I know it’s important, but I haven’t got time for climate change. This was the frank response of a senior envoy to my question recently about the significance of extreme and unpredictable weather patterns to the long running conflict he was trying to resolve.

As a former UN Special Representative, I fully understand this reaction. Much of my time in Somalia was spent dealing with immediate political drama, responding to or trying to prevent eruptions of violence and security incidents, to humanitarian crises, and above all, to the very time-consuming business of trying to bring people together, facilitate discussions and mediate agreements, whether with local, national or international actors.

Given these imperatives, attending to climate change and environmental issues might seem an eccentric use of an envoy’s time. But, I would argue, it isn’t. Why?

Conflict is happening in a climate-changing world

Climate change and environmental degradation play an ever more consequential role in shaping the dynamics of conflict on the ground, in exacerbating its root causes, and in influencing geopolitical competition that swirls around civil wars, particularly in resource-rich regions.  Moreover, these issues are seen as more important to people experiencing insecurity.

It is now well understood that the climate is changing at a speed and scale that is unprecedented in the history of humanity. This is altering where crops can be grown, how much water flows in rivers, human and animal health, where people can live and make a livelihood. It is changing where storms hit, and how hard. It is shifting the demand for and the accessibility of resources such as oil and gas, but also those like bauxite, cobalt, coltan, lithium and nickel, that are in increasing demand in the digital era as the world transitions to cleaner forms of energy.

In many places, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and exploitation of natural resources - even more obviously than climate change - affect peoples’ sense of identity and wellbeing, ratcheting up concerns about their jobs, security and prospects.

I hear this from people wherever I go – and not just farmers and pastoralists but from city dwellers too, elders and young people, women and men, teachers and students, business people and journalists. Everyone, everywhere is now affected, and many more feel victimized.

Perceptions that the exploitation of resources is benefiting some at the expense of others and that powerbrokers are using government and security forces to protect their interests feed into a sense of injustice and, in many cases, to the appeal of extremist agendas.

It matters to mediators because it matters to conflict

To what degree are these issues relevant to conflict resolution actors, peace envoys and mediators? And if we think them important, what in practical terms should be done? The European Institute of Peace asked a cross section of them and captured their thoughts in a paper being issued on 3 November 2020: ”Making peace with the climate”.

This was an enriching exercise that underscored the growing relevance of climate, environment, and resource exploitation to conflict resolution. In a nutshell, these issues matter to mediators and many in the conflict resolution sector because they matter to conflict, whether in terms of exacerbating root causes, reducing violence, strengthening governance, or finding political solutions.

A tricky issue is determining what the practical implications are – not helped by the politicisation of the climate and security agenda, as evidenced by absence of consensus in the Security Council on the relevance and legitimacy of the topic, despite existential threats to entire countries. The purpose of this initiative was not to go there but to hear from people with senior level field experience.

Envoys and mediators are experts at exploring the world of the politically possible, trying to help protagonists develop creative solutions to seemingly intractable challenges. Many rich insights emerged; three things in particular stand out.

Three insights for conflict resolution

First, is the importance of having access to useful information in order to give climate change and environmental issues the priority they deserve. Envoys and mediators tend not to be climate scientists. We rarely have time to learn about the complex interactions at work.

This points to the need to bring climate and environmental specialists into political teams, not least to enrich political economy analysis. More technical support can also be provided from headquarters. The UN’s Climate Security Mechanism is a positive development which could be strengthened and replicated by others, including the EU.

The objective should be to strengthen nationally owned strategies and support practical steps to reduce violence and resolve conflicts, both in the longer term by joining the dots between political and development actors, and in the shorter term by focusing on conflicts that are already or could become violent.

The latter includes both disputes that are primarily around access to and control of resources, but also to explore ways to use this information to reframe seemingly intractable hard core political issues. These can be around inter-linked topics such as power sharing, access to and control of revenues, governance and accountability, the role of security forces, the rule of law and protection of rights. A challenge here is how to get useful information into the right hands at the right time.

Second, peace agreements need to be incentivised and then sustained by initiatives that yield tangible dividends, responding to what people prioritize in terms of their security and future which they see as increasingly shaped by climate and environmental changes.

International partners should be able to seek advice from mediators to develop ideas for ‘peace dividend’ goals both for demobilised combatants and for the broader population - initiatives  that  address the impacts of climate change. Greater focus can be given to marrying job-creating investment in clean energy, land and water resources with the conflict resolution agenda – for example by ensuring that resources for adaptation to climate change, or the mitigation of greenhouse gases, also support peace and reconciliation – and, at the very least, do not make the situation worse.  

Third, envoys and mediators can be a powerful voice locally and with regional players, calling for greater attention and action on the security impacts of environmental degradation and climate change.

This can be done in many ways, including by creating space for civil society, business and authorities that are focusing on these issues, and by helping them attract support. Envoys can articulate the issues and use their positions to communicate how climate change and environmental degradation affect the countries in which they are working, as well as engage national and local powerbrokers and networks of influence on the risks and opportunities.

The challenge is to match our deepening awareness of climate, biodiversity loss and competition for resources by practical steps that can help prevent and resolve conflicts and contribute to lasting peace. The message emerging for envoys and mediators is that not paying political attention to these issues is unwise. They deserve more support and encouragement to do so.

 

[This article originally appeared on eip.org and was published here on the Climate Diplomacy Platform with coutresy of EIP.]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Source
EIP

Topic
Conflict Transformation

Region
Global Issues

Topics

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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