Climate and fragility

Rt. Hon. Baroness Anelay introducing the meetingLast week, a G7 commissioned report co-authored by International Alert called A new climate for peace: Taking action on climate and fragility risks was launched in London at a high-level event hosted by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Minister of State at the FCO Rt. Hon. Baroness Anelay welcomed the report’s key ideas and timely recommendations ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December, when it is hoped that a global agreement on the issue will be reached.

The Baroness pointed out that climate change is no longer the prerogative of environment ministers and experts. It is the ultimate "threat multiplier" and should be, if not already, a top foreign policy priority.

Her words were echoed in a statement by John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, who endorsed the report, saying: "The analysis starkly demonstrates that climate change can increase the risk of instability and conflict across the globe."

Among the panel speakers at the FCO on 23 June were two of the lead authors of the report Dan Smith, Secretary General at International Alert, and Lukas Rüttinger, Senior Project Manager at adelphi. Citing examples from drought in Syria to flooding in Thailand, they discussed how the impacts of climate change interact with other stresses to increase risks to peace and security in fragile contexts.

The report identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks, including local competition over resources, livelihood insecurity and migration, extreme weather events and disasters, the dangers of rising sea levels and coastal degradation, volatile food prices and provision, and the unintended negative effects that could result from climate policies being implemented.

These are multidimensional risks, so the combination of them can overburden already weak states, spurring social upheaval and sometimes violent conflict.

According to the report, working to protect food security, reduce the risks of worsening extreme weather events and disasters, and reshape water sharing agreements could play a huge role in countering future conflict and instability.

Historically, shared water resources have led to cooperation more often than they have led to conflict. However, a number of agreements around water sharing between countries are no longer valid. Water agreements have been based on water flow and water usage that is changing under climate and demographic pressures.

"Investing in resilient water infrastructure and improving water management is needed as climate variability disrupts the conditions underlying water-sharing agreements," said Dan Smith.

The report lays out concrete recommendations that governments can take to make fragile and conflict-affected regions more resilient. However, there are no "ready-to-use solutions" to tackle such complex climate-fragility risks, argues the report. But starting with understanding the complexity of how environmental and climate settings interact with socio-political and economic patterns will help governments and donors frame better policies and programmes to build resilience in fragile states.

According to Smith, as the problem is already unfolding, "it is not about trying to solve the problem, but more about managing risks and reducing them as much as we can".

Three key sectors require action: climate change adaptation, development and humanitarian aid, and peacebuilding. Single sector action won’t work in addressing compound risks. We need to make institutional adjustments that enable integrated approaches across these sectors, from early warning, to planning, to finance, to implementation. This will help us move from simply managing crises to avoiding them.

You can download A new climate for peace in full or summary here and read John Kerry’s full statement on the report here.

Photo © FCO