Towards a climate resilient state

Practice Note Conflict-Sensitive Responses to Climate Change in South AsiaBy Clémence Bessière

Over the last few years, various researchers started to document the inter-links between conflicts and environment degradation, highlighting the threat multiplying effect of climate change. It is now recognized that climate change consequences are likely to trigger violence and fuel conflict in fragile or conflict-affected states when they interact with other pre-existing features. Moreover, fragile and conflict-affect states are often too weak to cope with climate change effects.

In this context, contributing to build a peaceful state involves taking environment issues into account, while consequences of climate change need strong governance institutions to be dealt with.

The main challenge is now to translate those findings into practice. International Alert’s latest Practice Note ‘Conflict-Sensitive Responses to Climate Change in South Asia sets out some emerging lessons for policymakers and practitioners, highlighting three key factors required to shift the way climate change issues are currently addressed.

  1. Adopting a conflict-sensitive approach

Climate change adaptation policies need to be conflict-sensitive in order to minimise the negative effect they could have on security and social order and optimise instead their potential to promote socio-economic development, better governance, peace and stability.

Adopting a conflict-sensitive approach involves understanding the security, operational and social context and being aware of the impacts the interventions will have on this context. To do so, climate-related programmes should be people-oriented, take power distribution and social order into account, and avoid pitting groups against each other. This requires carrying out inclusive and participatory analysis of the actors and context causes and dynamics before any intervention.

  1. Promoting resilience and adaptability instead of adaptation as a set of techniques

To go further than the “do no harm” approach, conflict-sensitive adaptation also aims at improving the context in order to build the foundations for lasting peace.

Doing so requires promoting a “resilience-protection-response model” that would take all the aspects of vulnerability into account instead of seeing climate change adaptation as a technical exercise. Yet, the main responses to climate changes issues have been technical solutions while the impacts of the environment degradation on the political and social systems remain often unaddressed.

Shaping relevant adaptation policies would involve going beyond the direct biophysical consequences to link them to their impact on the political and social realities. It would require focusing on the linkages between development, peace and climate resilience in order to address the multi-dimensional aspects of vulnerability.

  1. Confronting interlinked problems with a cross-sectoral approach instead of compartmentalising and sequencing

Contributing to creating a “resilience-protection-response model” involves acting in a cross-sectoral way to contribute to build better governance institutions and to reinforce the relationship between the citizens and the state.

This requires another shift in the policy-making at the international level. Instead of compartmentalizing and sequencing policy areas, which is not efficient and lead to an issue of conflicting priorities, donor countries should accept the complexity and confront interlinked problems. The solutions to do so need to be flexible and cross-sectoral. For example, gender and climate change questions have to be addressed together, with governance institutions as the cornerstone of the approach. Given that women and men do not socially have equal access to environmental resources, climate change affects them differently. Efficiently promoting a “resilience-protection-model” would involve narrowing the differential vulnerability between social groups, which is linked to the institutions’ ability to level social inequalities.

Moving towards a climate resilient state goes beyond the environmental issue itself. It involves adopting a conflict-sensitive approach not only to prevent climate change adaptation policies from “doing harm” but also to re-shape the context in order to decrease vulnerability levels by consolidating governance institutions.

Rethinking peacebuilding, emergency and development policies in the light of this comprehensive approach requires deep evolutions from policymakers and NGOs and a better coordination between the various stakeholders.

International donors can take the lead of this shift, by making their funding mechanisms more flexible, promoting research and analysis before interventions, and addressing the various cross-cutting areas of peacebuilding and development in a comprehensive way instead of compartmentalising and dividing their funds between what they see as conflicting priorities. It also involves shifting from a short-term perspective to a long-term one and better addressing people’s needs while taking extremely care of improving national state systems capacities instead of bypassing them.

If implementing those recommendations is a profound challenge, the significant shifts in the World Bank approach expressed in the 2011 World Development Report may be seen as a great window of opportunity.

Click here for the full text of the Practice Note Conflict Sensitive Responses to Climate Change in South Asia.