Building Climate Resilience in Conflict-Affected States: A Neglected Agenda

Grace Keyes

Sharing insights in multiple formats is an approach students are developing in the Environmental Studies Program at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.  Grace Keyes, a Voinovich Scholar and Environmental Studies certificate student, provides the latest example with her post “Building Climate Resilience in Conflict-Affected States: A Neglected Agenda” on the Wilson Center ’s New Security Beat .  Reposted below, Keyes’ writing in this policy friendly form gives readers easy ways to further explore these complex climate change and security research topics.  Keyes will be visiting the Washington-based Wilson Center next month as part of the Voinovich School’s transboundary conservation and peacebuilding study abroad program in the Balkans .


Building Climate Resilience in Conflict-Affected States: A Neglected Agenda

By Grace Keyes

Climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts face many obstacles in fragile and conflict-affected societies. Instead of writing off these situations, however, International Alert’s Janani Vivekananda, Janpeter Schilling, and Dan Smith  suggest approaching aid and development differently  to proactively build resilience and simultaneously advance climate, development, and peacebuilding goals.

The interlinked challenges of climate change, poverty, and conflict legacies are recognized by academic and practitioner communities. But too often the focus has been limited to unpacking causal connections  between climate change and the outbreak of violent conflict. While this emphasis garners significant attention ( and much academic infighting ), it largely fails to engage on the practical questions of how to respond effectively to climate change and poverty in conflict-affected states.

The concept of resilience, Vivekananda et al. write, is critically important in this context, as it connects disparate government and development efforts in service of society as a whole. Understanding the “intermediate” factors that already make a society vulnerable to conflict – poor governance, geopolitics, poverty, inequality – is vital to creating positive development, adaptation, and peacebuilding policies.

Context Is Everything

Understanding the  local variation  of societies, the “contextual complexities,” should be the first step  for any resilience-building operation, the authors write. Local and national-level dynamics need to be considered in tandem to understand how changes in one place might affect elsewhere.

Experience  in Nepal  provides useful lessons. Nepal is one of the  most vulnerable states  to climate change and environmental risks in the world. An  International Alert case study  explores how aid designed to combat food insecurity there ended up undermining adaptive capacity. Rice paddies were created in communities that previously relied on other forms of agriculture, consequently creating a dependency and expectation for more due to the positive social implications that come with having rice in the diet. The shift to rice farming also increased the demand for water.

The study highlights how this change combined with climate-induced changes to rainfall has resulted in water shortages. The reduction of a specific resource in a setting already undergoing environmental change affected community resilience in a negative way. Greater contextual awareness of the implications of such a fundamental change to agriculture might have enabled the government and local communities to avoid such a “ backdraft ” effect.

Cross-Discipline Analysis

Climate change brings with it a new degree of uncertainty and unpredictability. Informal or formal institutions that embrace the  complexities and flux  will help societies do the same.

To adjust, Vivekananda and colleagues suggest better collaboration to break down existing institutional barriers and stovepipes between institutions. Multidisciplinary and integrated development efforts increase the likelihood of coherent  climate  and  conflict-sensitive  approaches to development, peacebuilding, and humanitarian actions. In turn, collaborative efforts are more likely to build long-term resilience, as communities rarely face a single risk in isolation, as highlighted in the Nepal case.

Academic fields, they suggest, should work towards common risk analyses. This integration entails the identification of possible negative outcomes, such as conflict; the determination of origins of said negative outcomes, such as political instability or environmental change; and shared evaluation amongst disciplines about how to fix the problem.

Vivekananda et al. work through the negative cycle that can emerge when climate change leads to conflict. Existing fragility can increase vulnerability and human insecurity, potentially leading to conflict. Identifying what makes a society fragile in the first place will provide more transparency regarding what will improve resilience.

For example, they cite a report produced by the humanitarian NGO  Mercy Corps  on conflict and severe drought in Ethiopia. Southern Ethiopia is home to some of the most vulnerable people to climate change: pastoralists. The report found that access to resources was one of these groups’ fundamental challenges. “Improving social cohesion and local institutions for conflict mitigation enhances access to natural resources,” they wrote, and “pastoralist groups with greater access recover more quickly from drought.”

The importance of integrated responses was also highlighted in  A New Climate for Peace , a new report produced on behalf of the G7 by adelphi, the European Union Institute for Security Studies, International Alert, and the Wilson Center. The report says that by integrating efforts to address climate change, the international community will be better equipped to mitigate its interconnected risks while realizing important co-benefits. Recommendations include making climate change a foreign policy priority for all G7 members and using their clout to create a global resilience agenda.

Read the entire post on the New Security Beat .

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