This article was first published by newsecuritybeat.org.
In a recent article for New Security Beat, Colin Walch made the case that the abandonment of some communities in Mali to deal with climate change on their own has created “fertile ground” for jihadist recruitment. In a similar argument, Katharina Nett and Lukas Rüttinger in a report for adelphi asserted last month that “large-scale environmental and climatic change contributes to creating an environment in which [non-state armed groups] can thrive and opens spaces that facilitate the pursuit of their strategies.”
These are important findings and relevant studies that point to the multifaceted security risks that result from climate change. They moreover confirm that climate change does not act as a cause of violence, but as a meaningful threat multiplier. But, as I recently argued during a Wilson Center discussion, we also need to move beyond a singular focus on risk.
We need to put opportunity and peace back at the center of environmental peace and conflict research and practice. In fragile states, we need to strengthen our efforts to identify the potential that climate action has to overcome fragility and improve people’s lives, not just focus on threats. This requires both a better understanding of what works on the ground and clear global leadership.
So what builds peace? This was a core question during the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development this spring during discussions about the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as “Agenda 2030,” and how they relate to peace and conflict. The answer from panelists was unanimous: include local communities in the development processes.
The evidence base for the effect of significant local involvement in climate, development, and peacebuilding projects is substantial. Recent research that pays close attention to the links between socioeconomic, political, as well as ecological processes offers valuable pathways for climate action that could address the threats to people’s livelihoods that terror groups exploit in order to bolster recruitment.
We need to move beyond a singular focus on risk
As Walch persuasively shows for Mali, it is the breaking down of local institutional structures that provides opportunities for jihadist recruitment. Research by myself in Nepal, as well as Prakash Kashwan in India, Tanzania, and Mexico, shows that good climate mitigation policies can also build such institutions up, or at least help in the emergence of new local governance structures.
In Nepal, I tested whether the provision of environmental services helps in the facilitation of the peace process after civil war. Looking specifically at climate-sensitive small hydropower projects designed to bring electricity to rural villages, this research showed not only substantial socio-economic successes – e.g. regarding empowerment for women, better access to education, and increased economic opportunities – but an increase in community cohesion and strengthening of local governance structures. The results indicate that climate policies can play an important role in facilitating the growth of local institutions and addressing peoples’ vulnerability and fragility (even if, as in this case, it was somewhat unintentional and raises other political issues).
Likewise, Kashwan shows in his recent book, Democracy in the Woods, that REDD+ forest policies in India, Tanzania, and Mexico depend on the inclusion of local communities to be successful. He argues that “when local people do not benefit, forest conservation efforts tend to be unsustainable.” He moreover points to the important role of institutional architecture and what he terms “mechanisms of intermediation” – that is, venues that help citizen groups, civil society organizations, and social movements engage in political and policy processes.
Kashwan lays out the argument that national leaders and dominant political parties that must compete for popular support are more likely to fashion local interventions that pursue conservation of forested landscapes without violating the rights of forest-dependent people than leaders and political parties that are not accountable to constituents.
This may seem somewhat intuitive, but it has important implications for local governance structures. Kashwan argues that state and non-state agencies, including international agencies, can foster and reinforce the responsiveness of government by strengthening the skills of community groups and civil society organizations at the local level. As their capacities for organization and advocacy improve, they are able to better represent their concerns, including during negotiation over natural resource rights, as in the case of inter-ethnic grievances in Mali.
Are We Ready for Yes?
This research offers valuable examples that climate action can mitigate not only the effects of climate change, but have wider impacts that deliver positive returns in all manner of ways, like reducing the opportunity for terrorist groups to recruit vulnerable and marginalized people to their cause.
Climate action can deliver broader positive returns
As SIPRI’s Malin Mobjörk and Dan Smith argue, “this requires clear leadership and explicit institutional change strategies” at the highest levels. For example, as Camilla Born from E3G argues, by providing an institutional home for climate security issues at the United Nations.
At all levels, it is imperative that we emphasize the positive potential of sustainable policies beyond risk assessments, especially for fragile states, where there will always be risks, but great opportunity too. The Environment Strategy of the United Nations Department of Field Support, published in April 2017, points in the right direction as it encourages UN peacekeeping operations “to seek a positive long-term legacy through the development of specific environment-related projects that may benefit societies and ecosystems over the long term.”
The new UN field support policy, the Sustainable Development Goals, the recent Security Council initiative in the Lake Chad region, and new Secretary-General António Guterres’ emphasis on climate change all raise hope that global governance bodies are realizing the significant threat of climate change and increasingly moving on to the next question: What works? The research, policy, and practice communities need to be ready with answers.
Florian Krampe, PhD, is a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in the Climate Change and Risk Project. He specializes in peace and conflict research, international relations, and political ecology. Follow him on Twitter @FlorianKrampe.
Sources: adelphi, Conflict, Security & Development, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Global Environmental Politics, Prakash Kashwan (2017), Elinor Ostrom (2015), Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, United Nations.
Photo Credit: A farm in Mali, August 2013, courtesy of Curt Carnemark/World Bank.
Dr Amiera Sawas and Dr Florian Krampe
Over 600,000 people have been displaced in recent floods in Sri Lanka. Drought is bringing starvation and famine to 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. These are just a few pieces of the mounting evidence that climate change causes insecurity and exacerbates the suffering primarily in already conflict-affected and fragile states. That implies it is part of the story of recruitment of young people by insurgent groups and part of the background to migration. ‘Today, in short, the world faces increasingly complex security challenges, but lacks the institutions needed to deal with them,’ says Dan Smith, Director of SIPRI in a newly released film on the issue.
The Paris Agreement, Agenda 2030, as well as the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States provide substantial policy options to address climate-related security risks. However, at this critical juncture, it is time for the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) role as a high-profile global actor on peace and security to show clear leadership and to give climate security an institutional home in the UNSC.
The world has been hesitant to recognize the security risks posed by climate change because they are so complex, explains Dr Malin Mobjörk, Senior Researcher at SIPRI. Building on extensive research, Mobjörk outlines three forms of security risks related to climate change in the film: negative effects on livelihood conditions; damage to critical infrastructure; and an increase in migration flows. Understanding these security risks requires inter-disciplinary knowledge.
Putting climate change on the UNSC agenda
Climate change is fundamentally changing the way people live. It is therewith changing the way communities relate to each other. It changes the terms of the security assessment in many countries. And the implications of these changes have in part already been reaching the UNSC.
Firstly, at the end of March 2017, the UNSC issued a unanimous resolution (2349) against terrorism and human rights violations in the Lake Chad Basin. It recognised the role of climate change in exacerbating human insecurity – particularly around food insecurity and livelihood vulnerabilities – which are linked to the Basin’s complex conflicts. It was clear during the discussions with key stakeholders at the 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, that increasing threats to livelihoods through weak governance, marginalization and increasingly volatile weather patterns and water resources, provide both an increased suffering for the Lake Chad basin’s population, and a fertile ground for terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, to recruit people for their cause.
Secondly, the examples of Lake Chad, an unprecedented famine in the Horn of Africa and the complexity of the Syrian conflict, illustrate the scale of the security challenges related to climate change. These consequences are first and foremost noticeable in fragile contexts. However, the security risks posed by climate change are unique in that there are also clear preventative pathways for adaptation through development. With that said, the Mandate of the UNSC goes beyond resolving conflict, it also involves ‘maintaining peace and security’ with a broader notion of security. There are several examples of human security-focussed UNSC resolutions, including: 1325 which focuses on women’s vulnerabilities and needs in conflict and post-conflict spaces; 2331 on human trafficking; and, 1308 /1983 on the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Thirdly, given the serious interactions of climate change with underdevelopment, fragility and security, it is no surprise that increasingly the voices calling for climate change to be placed on the UNSC’s agenda are those countries most affected by climate change impacts. The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have long advocated a stronger role of the UNSC in highlighting climate concerns. Today, especially with UNSC Resolution 2349, more recognition of climate security concerns are heard. For instance, the Ethiopian Representative Tekeda Elemu, emphasised the insufficient international recognition of the intersecting roles of ‘climate change-induced challenges, as well as falling commodity prices’ in conflict.
As argued above, the security implications of climate change demand clear global leadership and explicit institutional change. In a recent speech at New York University, the UN Secretary General (UNSG), António Guterres, emphasised, ‘there is a compelling security case for climate action’ and that he would rally the United Nations system behind it.
An opportunity for Sweden
Sweden has a golden opportunity to support this effort of the UNSG as a member of the UNSC during 2017 and 2018. In fact, Sweden has shown real leadership around reducing the security risks posed by climate change through its efforts around the Lake Chad resolution. Even though this is questioned by some, there are nonetheless very good reasons why Sweden should engage.
Opportunities for Sweden to engage:
Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, has made clear that Sweden will focus on conflict prevention at the UNSC. This is consistent with Articles 24 and 39 of the aforementioned UNSC Mandate which clearly states the UNSC should ‘maintain peace and security’ and ‘determine the existence of a threat to the peace.’ One of the conflict prevention efforts Sweden should lead is in promoting an institutional home for climate security in the UNSG’s office, to collect state-of-the-art knowledge on climate-related security risks and inform the UNSC.
Sweden’s role in the UN has always been different, because it has focused on development rather than military security. Sweden has stood with smaller nations that see the UN and its organization as their best protection in the present world. The impacts of climate change threaten especially those smaller and fragile nations – Sweden should again stand firmly at their side.
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