COP26: How to address risks to peace and stability in a climate changing world

To comprehensively address peace and stability risks in a climate changing world, enhanced understanding and action are required.

von and , 4.11.21

The evidence is clear: Climate change significantly reduces our ability to prevent conflicts and sustain peace. However, these risks have not been sufficiently addressed in multilateral political fora. As the world leaders gather at the COP26 in Glasgow to define global action on climate change, we use this moment to raise awareness about why climate-related risks to peace and stability should not be omitted from both discussions and action.

The adverse effects of climate change inhibit peace by undermining human security and increasing the impacts of other drivers of conflict and fragility. A prominent example of these dynamics is the Syrian case: Scientists have shown that preceding the onset of violence, droughts of unprecedented scale have worsened pre-existing fragilities in rural areas, which then cascaded to cities via migration. The resulting increase in violence triggered large-scale international displacement, with more than one million people searching for safety in Europe. In Afghanistan,  a war has been raging for decades, colliding with and amplified by climate change impacts. Flash floods and landslides from glacier melting, droughts and temperature extremes are destroying livelihoods of significant parts of the society in a country with more than 80 per cent of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture, creating fertile grounds for tensions. In the Sahel region, the farmer-herder violence has flamed up with intensity and scope over the past decades, claiming roughly a third of all fatalities. Recent findings confirm what we have so far known only from anecdotal evidence – climatic stress increases competition over scarce resources and thus amplifies tensions between farmers and herders.

Climate change impacts on conflicts have only recently found entrance in multilateral political fora. Discussions within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) started in 2007. Since then, the UNSC has recognized climate change as a factor contributing to instability in various contexts, including the Lake Chad Region, Mali, Somalia and Sudan. Prominently, as a joint initiative of DPPAUNDP and UNEP, the Climate Security Mechanism has been established in 2018 as one of the first formalized approaches to strengthen UN capacities to systematically analyse and address the complex associations between climate-related impacts and conflicts. In 2020, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) recruited the first UN Climate and Security advisor within the framework of a UN peace mission. And during a high level open debate of the UN Security Council in September 2021 several Council Members requested a thematic resolution on climate and security. 

Starting this week, world leaders gather at the COP26 in Glasgow to define global action on climate change. For the first time, NATO is attending the climate negotiations – a signal that the international security community is increasingly concerned about climate-related peace and stability risks. Numerous organizations are raising awareness of the need for enhanced multilateral collaboration to break the silos between the climate and the peacekeeping communities during the COP26. For example, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) together with partners from the EU and ICRC co-organized an event, emphasizing the necessity to strengthen multilateral action and support operational responses. As a follow up, Germany, adelphi and the Munich Security Conference hosted a high-level event, where several countries highlighted the need for concrete action to address the risks. 

Especially since conflict affected countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change, climatic risks to peace and security should be prominently set on the agenda during the UNFCCC negotiations. More specifically, they need to feed into the strands of climate change mitigation, adaptation and climate finance:

– Achieving the Paris Agreement targets set in 2015 is of utmost importance to keep future climate change impacts, including conflicts, at the lowest possible levels. To reach them, National Determined Contributions (NDCs) demonstrating countries’ commitments to climate action, have to become more ambitious.

– We further need to strengthen the support of climate change adaptation and resilience-building measures, particularly in fragile contexts. To this end, additional climate finance for developing countries and particularly for adaptation efforts, currently lagging far behind the mitigation funding, remain a priority.

– Processes to access funds for climate action need to become more flexible and accessible to all relevant stakeholders. For example, fragile areas remain systematically neglected from funding of climate action, giving rise to a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing climate and security vulnerabilities. Also, substantial contributions of indigenous people in environmental protection and sustaining peace are thus far not sufficiently reflected in terms of funding and thus, also programming.

When it comes to the implementation of climate action, it is crucial to ensure that well-intended projects are not unintentionally undermining peace and stability. As an example, mitigation measures such as building large-scale renewable energy plants and adaptation measures such as the relocation of populations are often accompanied by changes in land-use which can reinforce pre-existing or create new vulnerabilities, if not conducted in a conflict-sensitive manner.

To comprehensively address peace and stability risks in a climate changing world, enhanced understanding and action are required. Multidisciplinary approaches to improve the knowledge of existing and unfolding risks, as well as multilateral efforts which generate synergies towards concerted action are a promising way forward. With the establishment of the Group of Friends on Climate and Security in 2018 and by launching the Weathering Risk initiative, Germany has taken important steps in this direction. The new government should continue to work towards ambitious, multilateral solutions. 

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