International Alert was recently invited to speak at the GLOBECRAFT Conflict and Climate Change Symposium hosted by the Geneva School of Diplomacy on 7 – 9 September 2009. The symposium brought together experts from the security, climate change, development and humanitarian relief sectors to discuss the emerging security implications of climate change. Participants ranged from high-level climate scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, directors and advisors of relevant UN bodies and NGOs, to government ministers and CEOs of climate-related corporations.
International Alert’s Climate and Security Advisor, Janani Vivekananda, spoke on three panels over the three days, addressing the issues of ‘geopolitics of climate change’, ‘the regional face of climate change’ and the ‘opportunities for linking peacebuilding and climate adaptation’. Janani outlined the different knock-on consequences related to climate change and how these dynamics may lead to social destabilisation and violent conflict, but at the same time called on the participants not to oversimplify the causal linkages between climate change and conflict.
Janani stressed that in light of the current discourse on climate security, where climate change is increasingly seen as a military threat, it is important to understand climate change as a threat multiplier rather than a new type of conflict in and of itself. As such, responses to climate-security risks should look beyond the physical impacts of climate change and take account of the role of governance in building community and institutional resilience to cope with those impacts without resorting to violence. Alert believes that responses to climate security must take into account the interconnected root causes of people’s vulnerability: poverty, weak governance, political marginalisation and corruption, rather than simply focusing on technical adaptation and military means. Whether looking at climate-related migration or resource stresses, issues of aid effectiveness, coordination and the role of governance should be considered when addressing the double-headed risk of climate change and conflict.
The symposium was timed to coincide with the UN High-Level Event on Climate Change, hosted by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at UN Headquarters in New York, which took place one day before the opening of the general debate of the sixty-fourth session of the UN General Assembly. The symposium’s communiqué was transmitted directly to the Secretary-General and Heads of State and Government in advance of the high level event. It is hoped that Alert’s input into the symposium and the subsequent communiqué will help underline the importance of governance and peacebuilding rather than simply technical adaptation and military responses in dealing with climate security.