Addressing the linkages between climate, conflict and natural resource management

Reflections from practice in Kenya and Central Asia

In recent years, there has been an increase in international attention on the exposure of vulnerable populations to intertwined climatic impacts and conflict risks. The broad practice and policy space around ‘climate security’ is evolving rapidly. At International Alert, through our on-the-ground programming and close partnerships with local organisations, we are seeing increasing evidence of the compounding and destabilising effects of climatic change and environmental degradation on conflicts related to the availability of natural resources.

This paper presents insights and learning from recent work in northern Kenya and Central Asia addressing the links between climate, (in)security, conflict and natural resources. For more than 15 years, we have been working at the crossroads of climate, environment and conflict by improving research, analysis and responses to climate and natural resource-related conflicts. Here we share our reflections on how a peacebuilding organisation can work effectively on climate adaptation and natural resource conflicts.

Our experiences in Kenya and Central Asia highlight several areas for reflection by practitioners around developing climate security interventions, as well as mainstreaming conflict and gender sensitivity into climate action more broadly.

  • In developing climate security initiatives as a peacebuilding organisation, we identified a clear need to establish shared narratives among stakeholders on conflict and climate change. Climate security initiatives need to make use of the relevant climate science, but critically also acknowledge and understand people’s perceptions, fears and stories about climate change and how its links with conflict and security are perceived. Creating space for actors in conflict-affected areas to come together to engage on these issues helps build consensus on climate-related conflict and security vulnerabilities and risks and start identifying ways to address the climate, natural resource and conflict nexus.
  • In our efforts to mainstream conflict and gender sensitivity into climate change adaptation programmes (our own and those of others), we have identified several factors that support this process effectively. Building conflict sensitivity into the project logic from the outset of an initiative is key, as is prioritising community-centred and locally-led approaches. Multiple, complimentary strategies are needed for effective gender mainstreaming, particularly if it is to go beyond simple inclusion.
  • Supporting and empowering local female leaders and representatives of groups such as women’s organisations to advocate for this is key for the legitimacy of gender-inclusive messages in highly patriarchal spaces. Longer-term approaches are needed to find ways to address the dynamics of conflict, power imbalances and exclusion of women and other marginalised groups such as young people (defined in policy terms as those aged between 18 and 35). Climate change adaptation can contribute to transforming the structural causes of conflict and exclusion.
  • Our findings, however, also highlighted the enduring challenges that we, and hopefully others working in this space, will find ways to address in the future. The technical topic of climate change and its effects on natural resources can provide an entry point for dialogue. Yet, since the effects of climatic changes are happening in highly politicised conflict contexts, including around contested and scarce natural resources, it remains challenging to take the outcomes of this dialogue to the political level where there is power to effect wider political and sustainable changes towards peace.
  • A further challenge is how communities can sustain their meaningful participation and impact where effective mechanisms for participatory and inclusive governance are lacking. While it is possible to support communities to engage on these issues, they are often working in contexts of weak governance characterised by inefficient or even absent institutions and state services, corruption and clientelism.

It is these questions and challenges that International Alert and others working in the growing field of climate security hope to find ways to address.

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