Last week’s communiqué from the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Lübeck included a statement on climate change and security. In welcoming a report, A New Climate for Peace, to which my organisation International Alert contributed, the communiqué moves the issue forward and declares it to be worthy of high level political attention. Unfortunately, what is to be done is not so clear.
Climate change and insecurity
A New Climate for Peace, of which I am one of the co-authors, is a joint project of the Berlin-based think tank adelphi, International Alert, the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, and the European Union Institute for Security Studies. The full report comes out in May.
The core message is that climate change is having a multi-faceted impact on many states, societies and communities. It exerts a pressure they cannot tolerate for long. Compound risks emerge as the impact of climate change interacts with other political, social and economic problems. Climate change makes it hard to build resilience in the state or even in local communities, while the fragility of the state makes it hard to adapt to the impact of climate change. To address this problem, a new approach is needed integrating sectors that are currently separate, energised by clear political leadership to develop international cooperation, based on dialogue about a shared challenge and shared goals.
This is not a rehash of positions in the tired old controversy about whether climate change causes armed conflict. With this report, presented to the German Foreign Minister, and with the G7 Foreign Ministers’ welcome for it the next day, it is possible to say that the debate has decisively moved on.
The issue, if we want some jargon, is human security and insecurity. A background of armed conflict or weak governance or political instability – or all in combination – in short, a situation of fragility is not conducive for building resilience against the negative impact of climate change. Likewise, the pressure of climate change makes the tasks of reconciliation, managing conflicts non-violently and building a peaceful state even harder than they are in the absence of that pressure.
Seven compound risks
The report – 150 pages long in final draft – pulls together the best recent research and adds the results of its own inquiries in vulnerable countries. It collates the evidence and focuses on seven compound risks:
- Local resource competition can lead, as pressure on natural resources increases, to instability and even violent conflict in the absence of effective dispute resolution.
- Livelihood insecurity is a likely result of climate change in some regions, which could push people to migrate or turn to illegal sources of income.
- Extreme weather events and disasters will exacerbate all the challenges of fragility and can increase people’s vulnerability and grievances, especially in conflict-affected situations.
- Volatility in the prices and availability of food, arising because climate variability disrupts food production, have well documented effects on the likelihood of protests, instability, and civil conflict.
- Transboundary water sharing is a source of either cooperation or tension, but as competition sharpens due to increasing demand and declining availability and quality of water, the balance of probability tilts towards increased tension and conflict.
- Sea-level rise and coastal degradation will threaten the viability of low-lying areas, with the potential for social disruption and displacement, while disagreements over maritime boundaries and ocean resources may increase.
- The unintended effects of climate policies are a further source of risk that will increase if climate adaptation and mitigation policies are more broadly implemented without due care and attention to consequences and negative spin-offs.
Responding to risk
The best and, long term, the sustainable way to diminish the threat posed by these climate-fragility risks is to slow down climate change by reducing carbon emissions. That’s the task for December’s climate summit in Paris – formally, the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But changes to the climate are already underway, so there has to be a separate and additional response to climate-fragility risks, starting now and carried through for – in the best case – some decades at least.
Three key sectors require action – climate change adaptation, development and humanitarian aid, and peacebuilding. But single sector action won’t work against compound risk. Virtually by definition, integrated approaches are necessary. Further, the problem faced does not respect national boundaries and is in any case too big and too complex for a single government to handle, so the response needs also to be internationally cooperative and coordinated.
A response to the vicious cycle contained in each of the seven climate-fragility risks will not work if it relies on responding to each crisis as it arrives. What people in the hardest hit countries need is assistance in mounting and implementing a long-term and sustained preventive response. That’s how we move from managing crises to avoiding them.
The current menu of action
A New Climate for Peace looks at the current international policy architecture for addressing the compound risks. There is plenty of activity but:
- Climate change adaptation plans rarely address fragility and conflict comprehensively.
- Development and humanitarian aid does not routinely take account of the need for climate-proofing and still has problems absorbing conflict sensitivity.
- Peacebuilding similarly tends to leave climate change aside as somebody else’s problem.
What needs to be done
Many things can and should be done. It is not hard to identify them. The report insists that it will only happen if there is strong and clear political leadership. With the G7 governments in mind, it identifies entry points for developing a coordinated, integrated approach:
- Within G7 member governments, remember that integration begins at home and make climate-fragility risks a central foreign policy priority.
- Improve coordination among G7 members by coming together for a new dialogue.
- Set the global resilience agenda by bringing the new integrated approach to global and multilateral discussions and institutions.
- Extend the dialogue by listening to and working with a wide range of actors, including in countries affected by fragility.
- And to embody this new approach, as areas in which it could be implemented, the report identifies five action areas:
- Strengthening global risk assessment by covering all aspects and making the results available and accessible;
- Improving food security to minimise food price crises, thus minimising their conflict consequences;
- Improving disaster risk reduction by absorbing conflict sensitivity into planning and training;
- Checking and strengthening the institutions and agreements that can help settle transboundary water disputes;
- Recalibrating development strategies and international development assistance so as to give greater priority to building local resilience.
But where to start?
There is, then, no real difficulty in identifying what action to take and how to do it. The likely objection to the list of action areas is only that it is incomplete. The challenge is, how to start?
Here is what the G7 communiqué says:
“We therefore welcome the external study, commissioned by the G7 Foreign Ministries in 2014 and now submitted to us under the title “An New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks” …
“We agree on the need to better understand, identify, monitor and address the compound risks associated with climate change and fragility…
“We have decided to set up and task a working group with evaluating the study’s recommendations up to the end of 2015 in order for it to report back to us regarding possible implementation in time for our meeting in 2016.”
Start here – we’ve been invited to
It is not exactly a clarion call for path breaking action. It lacks the necessary political juice. But it is an open invitation to keep pressing.
The first part of the case – that there is a major global problem – has now been made and is grounded in solid evidence. With this, virtually as a corollary, goes the second part of the case: business as usual is not an option, change is needed.
The third part of the case – there are many things that can usefully be done to alleviate and manage the compound climate-fragility risks – has also been made.
It is the fourth part of the case – now is the time – that has to be made and has to persuade. Let’s get to it.