What does climate change have to do with conflict? Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed the key concerns that will exacerbate conflict in fragile states during climate change from the Initiative for Peacebuilding’s report on climate change, conflict and fragility. This post will reflect on the policy and adaptation recommendations for reducing conflict risk.

The report outlines five main policy objectives for reducing climate-induced conflict:

1)  Adaptation needs to be conflict- sensitive

2) Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof

3) Shifts toward low-carbon economies must be supportive of development and peace

4) Steps must be taken to strengthen poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks

5) Greater efforts are needed to plan for and cope peacefully with climate-related migration

Ensuring these policy objectives requires a fundamental shift in the way institutions are organized and the way inter-linkages between organizations are addressed. Institutions responsible for climate change adaptation need to be structured to maximize the participation of ordinary people and focus at the local level to hedge against uncertainty. This includes disseminating information in ways that ordinary people can understand and utilize.

The first step that is necessary is to undergo a large-scale systematic study of the likely costs of adaptation that includes both the social and political dimensions. This study needs to be done in tandem with thinking about how that money should be used, what governance and institutional changes must be made and considering the role of actors from development and peacebuilding communities, as well as the private sector in adaptation. These sectors must work with existing structures to create more adaptable institutions that are able to draw on shared research, ensure the right people know how to access the right information, interpret the information, communicate it in the field and are able to adapt and evolve to accommodate uncertainty. These new institutions must consider things holistically, by wrapping issues of climate change, conflict and governance, poverty and livelihood all together.

Discovering how power is organized within the current structures will help in the building of new structures that can alleviate the privileged access to economic and political opportunity, and ensure that the provision of goods and services does not become a corrupt money making scheme. Good governance means increased resilience to violent conflict or poverty. In many cases this will mean not merely how are institutions “presently organized (to) meet the challenges of climate change,” but rather “how should institutions be organized in order to meet these challenges?” It becomes a case of adapting development to adapt to climate change. Separating development and adaptation funding is fundamentally misconceived as cooperation across and between sectors is necessary for any real chance at success.

Many rich countries will be simultaneously shifting to low-carbon economies to meet demands on climate change adaptability. This shift must be peace-friendly and supportive of the adaptive development happening in poorer countries. For example, a switch to bio-fuel in richer countries caused food prices to rise by 30% in 2008, which directly caused violence in over 30 countries. This type of shift will be counter-productive.  Migration must also be dealt with in a responsible manner, with immigrants seen as an asset for local society rather than a burden in their new areas.

Internal incentives for receiving funding within existing donor institutions are frequently based around meeting quantitative targets rather than qualitative issues that might be more appropriate. Establishing rules, norms, guidelines and incentives that reward for innovation will better equip a country to manage uncertainty. Large-scale humanitarian responses will be necessary on top of the restructuring.

This report outlined the necessary adaptation needed in fragile states, but completely neglected that of powerful states, which are susceptible to climate conflict as well. One needs only look to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the southern US states six years after Hurricane Katrina to know that even rich states are often ill-equipped to deal with weather crises. If these crises are compounded and not isolated to one location within a nation, or result in large-scale destruction of entire areas, even rich states may be unable to deal with the crises that emerge. The expectations in richer states for action is higher, therefore state failure may be reacted to with all the more intense violence. Informing the public of options and creating local structures able to deal with uncertainty are necessary to hedge against this type of crises in richer states as well.


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