International Alert’s fifth dialogue on climate change, conflict and fragility, held on 27th January 2012 in London, explored the connections between climate change and community level security, drawing on new research from West Africa and South Asia. During the discussion, participants explored the practicalities of linking top-down policies with on the ground realities in communities already facing complex risks to their human security.
The concept of “climate diplomacy” is increasingly gaining traction within the policy discourse. Slowly, there is acknowledgement that not only can climate change have a negative impact on peace and stability, but that the plethora of international forums, aid streams and programming around climate change also provide a positive space for interactions between hostile parties to advance their interests peacefully. Better understanding of the risks as well as the opportunities posed by climate change requires a connection of national and international policy processes with localised research findings and it is through exploring both ends of the issue that we can address the “missing middle” necessary for context-appropriate policy responses.
Deepening and operationalizing the understanding of how to respond to climate change and security risks in fragile states is an urgent priority, and one that can only be worked out through dialogue between the climate change, security, development and peacebuilding sectors. As such, policy-makers alongside experts from the security, climate change and development sectors were brought together to share thoughts on the emerging security implications of climate change and to explore appropriate practical policy and institutional responses. Grounded in field experience, participants explored the practical challenges of tackling “low-carbon” and “climate-resilient” development paths which supposedly do no harm in fragile contexts; how to build stability overseas whilst also factoring in climate change; and how responses to climate change can yield a peace dividend.
Marisa Goulden of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (University of East Anglia) presented the findings of their research in the Niger River Basin and International Alert’s Adviser on Climate Change and Conflict Janani Vivekananda shared case studies from Alert’s research in South Asia. The subsequent discussion explored opportunities for additional sustainable development benefit and additional stabilization benefit from reducing climate change vulnerability and how national and regional climate change, development and peacebuilding policy address these multiple challenges.
- The lack of knowledge and subsequent misconceptions surrounding the security dimensions of climate change: There is a need to understand the political nature of climate change; there is no purely technical fix/response to climate change, and this needs to be understand by all actors working on climate change, particularly those in the technical teams.
- The lack of capacity: Institutions and personnel involved aren’t equipped to take on complex and multi-layered challenges. Further, relevant institutions need to be better equipped to respond to complex tensions that arise in difficult environments between multiple political demands.
- Understanding the politics: Efforts to deliver climate-sensitive development in fragile states are structurally hamstrung by mechanisms and frameworks that are not appropriate to fragile contexts. These obstacles will require a shift in the behaviours, systems and practices of institutions charged with managing and delivering aid in fragile states. With this shift, there needs to be an understanding of the political nature of climate change responses from the outset.
- Governance in fragile states: All participants agreed on the imperative to improve collaboration with governments and elites who may only have partial legitimacy as well as the need to better understand how to work with the private sector and civil society as alternatives to working solely through the national government.
- Finally, there was consensus on the importance of ensuring that climate change responses pro-actively foster strengthened relations between states and citizens. These relationships need to be grounded in responsibility and responsiveness which means moving beyond seeing climate change as just responding to the natural hazard, but to also addressing the root causes of fragility.