Climate change, conflict and fragility: time for action, less talk

  • By Katie Peters, ODI
  • 21/04/2015

At ODI it has been a pretty hectic start to the year; supporting negotiations on the Sendai Framework in Japan, launching the Knowledge Manager consortium for one of the world’s largest funded global resilience programmes, Building Resilience and Adapting to Climate Extremes and Disasters (‘BRACED), and desperately trying to finish a new set of analysis on the financing of disaster risk reduction in fragile and conflict affected states…

Today I find a convergence of all this work as I read about the new G7 commitments to take action on climate fragility:

Climate change will stress our economic, social, and political systems. Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, the risks to the stability of states and societies will increase. The sharpest risks emerge when the impacts of climate change overburden weak states. Climate change is the ultimate “threat multiplier”: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict.’

The report, commissioned by G7 members, makes clear that unless we effectively address climate change, conflict and insecurity may ensue. Indeed, for some time now I have advocated for increased attention to the potentially negative consequences of climate change for conflict and insecurity. The G7 members recommend greater connectivity in climate and peacebuilding policy, programming and funding. While I agree with the sentiment, it also frustrates me: the recommendations simply don’t match with what is achievable in reality. While I support the ambition for greater connectivity between action on climate change and disasters with action on conflict and peacebuilding, one critical obstacle is hardly touched upon – politics.

The Sendai agreement is a case in point. The idea of including conflict in the Sendai Framework was all very well in theory, but it does not align with the political positions or the commitment of many states to make such integration explicit in policy realms.

I was in the Sendai Framework negotiations (until gone 3 am most nights). The key issue for me was inclusion of conflict into the overarching introduction section. This in itself would never have been a controversial issue if this were a technical document. A technical document would draw on the IPCC chapter on human security (and the evidence of links with climate change), it would draw on the growing body of experiential literature that shows how communities are feeling the pressure of climate changes and that this results in negative implication on inter-community conflict. But the Sendai Framework is not a technical document; it is the product of a political process.

I understand that politics infuses all we do. I did not however (perhaps naively) anticipate such an uphill struggle to get conflict and fragility recognised as an underlying driver of natural hazard-related disasters. Indeed, in the final hours of the negotiation the one remaining reference to conflict as an underlying driver of vulnerability was removed. Along with other champions of this issue, I was disheartened and angry. So, it does make me wonder how feasible the suggestions for greater policy coherence are, as the G7 report implies.

The reality is that the resilience agenda, for all its positive influence, has failed us on one critical issue: the siloed funding architecture, which characterizes the humanitarian-development-climate policy landscape acts, as a disincentive for more coherent and integrated action on the ground. This has been a criticism of mine for some time now - you can’t have resilience to specific issues or sectors (e.g. climate resilience, or disaster resilience). Resilience in its very essence is about taking a systems approach, recognising the complexity of the world in which we live. It is a disservice to ‘resilience’ to then apply it to one part of that complex system.

So what next? Despite the Sendai Framework not explicitly recognising conflict and fragility as critical underlying drivers of risk, action on climate change and disasters is still needed, including in countries more difficult to work in who experience these kinds of governance challenges.

And all is not lost, from a different entry point, ongoing regional consultations for the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) set to take place in 2016, have provided opportunities to continue highlighting the links between climate risk and humanitarian crises. At ODI, we’ve been preparing reports on the future trends and trajectories  that the humanitarian community needs to get to grips with now, if it is to continue to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Information on the projections for and likely impacts of climate change and variability have been part of this, and welcomed by the WHS Secretariat and OCHA regional coordinating bodies.

On another front, BRACED, is underway. BRACED will work across 13 countries -- the majority of which are or have at some point in their recent past experienced conflict and fragility – to support climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction over the next 4 years. I am part of the Knowledge Manager, a consortium of agencies with expertise in research, monitoring and evaluation, learning and communications. We’re going to be a ‘critical friend’ to the partners implementing BRACED projects in the Sahel, East Africa and Asia as they seek to understand better what works in building resilience to climate and disaster extremes.

As a critical friend it is necessary to point out that BRACED is a good example where, despite a large amount of climate funding being spent in complex governance contexts, the application of well tested tools such as conflict sensitivity were not mandatory for projects. Some (but not all) implementing partners have chosen to adopt Do No Harm and conflict sensitive approaches. This is an example where climate funds – with indicators of success determined as the number of people supported to become more resilient to climate change and disasters – missed an opportunity for encouraging greater integration. But, if we can be astute, there is potential to achieve co-benefits for adaptation and peace.

So, as I prepare a new report looking at the funding for disaster risk reduction in fragile and conflict affected states (very little, I have to say), BRACED gives me hope that we can do better to address some of the gaps identified in the G7 report; it provides an opportunity to better understand what it means to undertake climate action in fragile and conflict affected states, and to strengthen the evidence base on how co-benefits for adaptation and peace can be leveraged simultaneously.

Katie Peters, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute and Deputy Director of the BRACED Knowledge Manager


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