International Alert recently hosted a roundtable on Climate Change, Conflict and Effective Responses bringing together people from a range of think-tanks, NGOs and government departments to start a discussion on the complexities of responding to climate change in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.
The meeting followed the launch of International Alert's new report 'Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility', which looks at what is necessary so that money spent on climate change adaptation or mitigation in fragile contexts is effective and does no harm in volatile situations. Alert’s research aimed to raise questions about getting policies and institutions fit for purpose. Accepting that no single institution can provide all the answers, the dialogue was organised to start a conversation and build a coalition to piece together the gaps in the policy and institutional jigsaw puzzle. The end goal was not necessarily to answer all (or any) questions, but to identify the right questions to ask and to whom they need to be put.
The agenda began with a summary of Alert’s report by Secretary General and co-author, Dan Smith who highlighted the complexities of responding to climate change in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Smith underlined the urgency for policy makers to look beyond technical fixes and to address the interlinked political, social and institutional constraints to effective responses.
Janani Vivekananda, Alert’s Senior Policy Officer on Climate Change and Conflict, then briefly outlined some of the inter-linkages between climate change and violent conflict. She stressed that the core constraint to peaceful adaptation will not be the intensity of the hazard but poverty, weak governance, corruption and political marginalisation, and concluded that responses must thus adequately address these linked issues.
Her presentation was followed by Alex Evans, Fellow of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, who outlined some of the intricacies and political obstacles to effective adaptation: the non-specificity of climate models; the difficulty of attributing causes of climate change; the importance of indirect effects, such as the increased risk of conflict, yet the difficulty of tracing the consequences of consequences; the non-linear and unpredictable impacts; and the nature of vulnerability in institutions and communities. Evans also stressed the need for integrating adaptation as a feature of all areas of work.
Nick Mabey, Director of E3G – a not-for-profit organisation that aims to accelerate the global transition to sustainable development – provided the final input by flagging some of the realpolitik around the agenda for action. Mabey stressed that we need to be aware and honest about our vested interests (including national security interests) and work with them rather than deny that these underlie our good deeds. This links to the importance of knowing the limits and legitimacy of intervention. He added that it is vital to keep the range of interests to which climate change is being linked broad as otherwise it will risk to fall down the agenda.
The presentations were followed by an interesting discussion of the issues at stake. Some of the key themes that emerged from the discussions include the need to better understand how climate change will affect the political economy of development, in particular the national level elite policy, and how it responds to local reactions. It was also stressed that climate change is not currently perceived to be a priority in fragile and conflict-affected states, and that this mindset and false perceptions around the linearity of post-conflict processes need to be urgently addressed.
The group thought of itself as a ‘coalition of explorers’ with an honest acknowledgement of the incompleteness of information on climate change and openness to learn and seek answers. The participants agreed on keeping the discussion going and committed to a series of regular roundtables, starting with a meeting in February focused on the UK’s reform. They will also contribute to a mapping of existing climate change regimes, policies and processes that Chatham House has already initiated, which will be vital to identify gaps, good practice and spaces for reform.