Peace@COP28: from momentum to legacy

After two weeks of discussions and negotiations, COP28 has come to an end. An agreement on transitioning away from fossil fuels has been adopted and peace was on the agenda like never before. Progress was made during the fortnight in Dubai, but communities experiencing the double burden of climate change and conflict need this momentum to turn into a real, tangible, material legacy.

Photo: Flickr/UNFCCC

The links between conflict and climate change have been well established and were far more in the spotlight at COP28 compared to previous years. The schedule of thematic days included peace for the first time, with numerous events, policy discussions and awareness raising activities coming together on 3 December.

The UAE, holding the COP28 presidency, used the 3 December Peace Day to issue a Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace, which was signed by 74 countries including the United States, China and next year’s host of COP29 Azerbaijan. The declaration called for new financial commitments to mobilise climate action in places affected by violent conflict and to ensure that such action is conflict sensitive. Alert has been calling for this through our recent position paper. Although non-binding and lacking in a solid follow up mechanism to hold signatories accountable and monitor their progress, the Declaration represents a significant step towards the outcome we, and our partners, are seeking: a major increase in conflict-sensitive climate action and finance being made accessible to those most affected.

Guarantees are needed to ensure the Declaration is matched by implementation. The Deputy General Secretary of the G7+ group of countries mentioned the idea of creating a taskforce to ensure delivery on this agenda, at a public roundtable meeting after the Declaration launch event, in which many peacebuilding organisations were active participants, including Alert. The Green Climate Fund, after a recent change of leadership, has committed to doubling its finance access to local communities in fragile settings, and put forward its new motto: simplicity, speed and access.

For International Alert, this was the first time we sent a delegation to a COP. We were joined by many from the Peace@COP28 community which is composed of 160 members from five continents and ranging from grassroots organisations to INGOs. Members were present throughout and used their peacebuilding experience to make the case for conflict sensitive climate action and finance, while making lasting connections across silos and sectors.

There is a clear need for coming together and pushing the international community to open their eyes and understand that climate finance is connected to people and the specific contexts they live in. Climate action and finance need to be understood as an opportunity for building sustainable peace. The goal is the same – avoiding catastrophic losses and damages and building preventative resilience that will allow us to stay within the Paris Agreement goals. This opportunity is co-beneficial. Without applying a conflict sensitive lens, the very people climate projects look to help could end up not being able to benefit from the project or, worse, be further hindered in terms of resilience building.

Indeed, people affected by climate change and conflict do not differentiate, they just have to live with it. Climate and conflict being dealt with separately belongs to the world of yesterday, and this needs to be reflected by donors, contributor countries and multilateral development banks in the way they distribute and plan their finance. Kenya, for example, is becoming a major hub of climate investment, but these investments risk alienating local communities and contributing to conflict if they don’t take local context into account. When global leaders discuss targets for climate finance, these are the practicalities on the ground that need to be considered. This is why climate finance needs to, at the very least, be conflict sensitive, but should be moving towards tackling the root causes of conflict, acting as an entry point to bring conflicting parties to the table over an issue that is of mutual interest.

These challenges will be repeated in different ways in every climate investment project in a conflict-affected country. We know that 70% of climate-vulnerable countries are at risk of or in a situation of conflict. The impacts of climate change are worsening, and conflict is still raging. Conflict is slowing down progress on climate and climate is exacerbating conflict. The two issues must be tackled in tandem. With this in mind, it’s important that peacebuilding moves beyond being part of the conversation, as it was at COP28, towards being a mandatory and integral part of global climate action.

What should be our role? What are the next steps? At Alert, like many other practitioner organisations, we have the added value of working with partners in conflict affected settings, meaning a trusting relationship has been built allowing for an in-depth understanding of local conflict dynamics where we operate. At events such as COP, most of the people sitting around the decision-making table and the experts advising them are talking about the numbers and how much climate finance can be pledged.

While this is very much needed, the way in which this finance will actually be delivered – the implementation side – seems to drop off the table. This is the gap we need to fill. For example, the new Loss and Damage fund will now have to deal with allocation. The fund was operationalised on the first day of COP, to which all developing countries are eligible with earmarked funds for LDCs and SIDS. The current pledges amount to around 800 million US dollars. As practitioner organisations we must build a strong evidence base to show how it is possible to work in conflict settings, and guarantee they do not fall through the cracks once again.

The fact that ‘conflict sensitivity’ was included within the Global Stocktake drafts, under the loss and damage section, highlights the importance of a conflict lens to be adopted in the allocation system. This language was unfortunately removed in the final adopted text, due to concerns around its meaning and it being considered unknown language within the UNFCCC.

The progress made at COP28 was the culmination of long-term work by peacebuilders, local communities and international partnerships to get peace on the agenda. The importance of conflict sensitive climate action has been widely recognised, but commitments and delivery are the next steps. The work now begins to turn this valuable momentum into a lasting legacy.