Thursday, November 11, 2010

What does climate change have to do with conflict?

Rebecca Sargent at a piece of conflict has been reading CLIMATE CHANGE, CONFLICT AND FRAGILITY - Understanding the linkages, shaping effective responses, a report by Dan Smith and Janani Vivekananda of International Alert. (It's from November 2009 and a copy of it has been waiting on my hard disk for me to read it for quite a while now. But why not check out Rebecca's take on it right away?)

Part one - Exacerbation of conflict in fragile states during climate change
One needs only see the example of the Haitian earthquake, the current flooding in Pakistan or even the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in the southern US to know that extreme weather can have an effect on peace and security in an area. [...] Current international negotiations on reducing global warming and responding to climate change almost entirely ignore the aspect of this heightened risk of conflict. [...] Managing water supply is vital. Not only is it necessary for human life, but water shortages also affect agriculture causing increased food insecurity, especially for the poor. [...] Water shortages and food insecurity often lead to violent conflict where poverty, weak governance, political marginalization and corruption reign supreme. [...] Migration of people increases the likelihood of conflict, as newcomers are seen as an unwanted burden that compound social pressures or even transfer conflict from one location to another. Attempting to block immigration with regulations and physical barriers may exacerbate the conflict risk.
Part two - Policy and adaptation recommendations for reducing conflict risk
Good governance means increased resilience to violent conflict or poverty. [...] 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.
Rebecca's final comment isn't from the report:
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.

"This report explores the complexities of responding to climate change in fragile and conflict affected contexts. It highlights the interaction between the impact of climate change and the social and political realities in which people live and stresses that it is this that will determine their capacity to adapt. To be effective, the goal of policy responses must be to address the political dimension of adapting to climate change, and the underlying causes of vulnerability where the state is unable to carry out its core functions. The report sets out five policy objectives and some key observations on getting the institutional structures right in order to achieve this goal. The reports findings urge policy makers to look beyond technical fixes and to address the interlinked political, social and institutional constraints to effective responses."
Figure 1, page 10, chapter 2.3 "Climate change in fragile states".
The report exists in a context of development aid hence to some degree focus on how foreign aid from rich countries should change. From the Conclusion:
It is wrong to imply that henceforth there will be old-style development with adaptation on top. [...] it seems likely that much and probably most expenditure on adaptation will simply be indistinguishable from expenditure on development because the activities will be fused.
The over all conclusion is summed up in five bullet points:
  1. Adaptation to climate change needs to be conflict-sensitive.
  2. Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof.
  3. A low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace.
  4. Poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks must be strengthened.
  5. Climate-related migration should be planned for and coped with peacefully.

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