What are the likely social and human consequences of climate change? Many of the world’s poorest places face a double-headed problem: climate change and violent conflict. This International Alert report finds that in fragile states the consequences of climate change can interact with existing socio-political and economic tensions, compounding the causal tensions underlying violent conflict. It argues that conflict-sensitive climate change policies can promote peacebuilding, whilst climate-proof peacebuilding and development policies can be effective climate change adaptation policies.
Climate change is already upon us. Hardest hit will be people living in poverty, in unstable states under poor governance. Understanding how the effects of climate change will interact with socio-economic and political problems means tracing the consequences of climate change. This process highlights four key elements of risk – political instability, economic weakness, food insecurity and large-scale migration.
States and communities need to adapt to handle the challenges of climate change. The most vulnerable communities with the weakest adaptive capacity are in fragile states:
- There are 46 countries in which the effects of climate change interacting with social, economic and political problems will create a high risk of violent conflict.
- There are a further 56 countries where governments will struggle to handle climate change. This creates a high risk of political instability, with the potential for violent conflict in the longer term.
- Most of the countries facing climate change and violent conflict cannot be expected to adapt alone. Some of them lack the will, more lack the capacity and some lack both.
- International cooperation is required to support local action, both as a way of strengthening international security and to achieve the goals of sustainable development.
- Enhancing the ability of communities to adapt to the consequences of climate change reduces the risk of conflict. Peacebuilding activities, addressing socio-economic instability and weak governance, enhance the ability of communities to adapt to climate change.
- Policies and strategies for development, peacebuilding and climate change are often disconnected and divergent. However, peacebuilding and adaptation are effectively the same kind of activity, requiring inclusive and transparent social engagement.
Recommendations for addressing climate change in fragile states include:
- Move conflict and climate change higher up the international agenda. This includes developing guidelines regarding adaptation and making adequate funding available.
- Research the indirect local consequences of climate change and develop and spread research competence through universities and networks. Improve knowledge and generate policy through dialogue at local, national, regional and international levels.
- Prioritise adaptation over mitigation in fragile states to address the consequences of of climate change to prevent conflict. Developing competence on adaptation needs to be part of good governance everywhere.
- Ensure National Adaptation Plans of Action are conflict-sensitive, taking account of the socio-political and economic context. Prepare to manage migration through research to identify likely migration flows.
- Link together international frameworks of action regarding the related issues of peacebuilding, development, adaptation and disaster management. Peacebuilding and development strategies should include adaptation to climate change.
- Engage the private sector and develop guidelines to help companies identify how their core commercial operations can support adaptation.