Join The Center for Climate and Security’s Caitlin Werrell and others for a live twitter chat tomorrow, June 25, at 10am EST. We will be discussing the newly released G7 report, “A New Climate for Peace” authored by The Wilson Center, International Alert and adelphi. Below is a cross-posted overview of the report by Lauren Herzer, that first appeared on the New Security Beat.
When the leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – met earlier this month, they agreed to make fossil fuelsa thing of the past by 2100. At the same time the G7 is also taking steps to make climate change’s connection to conflict a priority in the present.
A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks, an independent report commissioned by the G7 and released today by an international consortium that includes the Wilson Center, provides a new framework for understanding and addressing climate change’s threats to political stability. It identifies seven compound risks that emerge as climate change puts pressure on states and societies in fragile situations: local resource competition, livelihood insecurity and migration, extreme weather events, volatile food prices and provision, transboundary water management, sea-level rise and coastal degradation, and unintended effects of climate policies.
Unlike many other reports on climate change and security, A New Climate for Peace offers evidence-based recommendations for concrete actions to address these risks. The report’s three sections arm policymakers with a thorough understanding of climate-fragility interactions; identify gaps in current climate, development, and peacebuilding policies; and recommend integrated, responsive steps to mitigate the risks.
No Such Thing as an Isolated Risk: Ethiopia and Syria
The seven compound risks described in the report demonstrate how the effects of climate change can increase the risk of conflict and instability. As climate change interacts with existing social, economic, and environmental pressures in weak states, the challenges facing poor countries multiply. Particularly in countries where the government lacks legitimacy, authority, or capacity – defined in the report as “fragile situations” – these compounding challenges can push tension into violent conflict.
For example, climate change creates a strong incentive for governments to sell farmland via its effects on global food production. Global food price spikes in 2007-2008 and 2011, which followed extreme drought and forest fires in key grain-producing regions, escalated “land-grabbing” by foreign investors in sub-Saharan Africa. In countries already experiencing situations of fragility, opaque or unfair land deals can exacerbate the risk of violent conflict.
In 2003, a deadly conflict erupted in Ethiopia when indigenous groups protested their forced resettlement by the authoritarian government to make way for foreign investment projects. This clash didn’t prevent the government from approving more than 800 additional foreign-financed projects between 2004 and 2009, leasing fertile farmland for less than $1 an acre per year.
With these deals came promises of new technology, increased employment, and agricultural modernization, but these promises remain unfulfilled in many places. The “knock-on” effects of forced resettlement continue to reverberate, fueling inter-ethnic resource competition and clashes between agro-pastoralists and migrants from the highlands.
In Syria, a long legacy of resource mismanagement created water shortages and land desertification in the northeastern farming districts. A severe drought struck for five years in a row. The ensuing loss of livelihoods – herders lost nearly 85 percent of their livestock from 2006 to 2011 and nearly 75 percent of farming families suffered total crop failure – sparked large-scale migration to cities ill-equipped to absorb additional people. What began as peaceful protests in response to the government’s failure to respond to growing grievances, eventually escalated into a violent conflict that continues to this day.
Avoiding Future Conflicts: Pakistan and “Backdraft”
The Ethiopia and Syria case studies offer cautionary tales of how climate change is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities to increase the risk of conflict. As one of the countries most affected by weather-related events, Pakistan should take heed.
In 2010, extreme rainfall in Pakistan sparked unprecedented flooding that killed nearly 2,000 people and affected millions more. The next year, more extreme rain caused economic damages estimated at six percent of Sindh Province’s GDP. The floods exposed the government’s poor planning and its response revealed discrimination and political bias, inflaming existing grievances and spurring unrest in Karachi.
Pakistan will face more extreme weather events, as illustrated in the forward-looking scenario outlined in the report. The Indus River depends on glacial waters for almost half its flow, and “in the short term, glacial melting will lead to more frequent and more intense floods; and in the long term, water flows will decrease, posing challenges for agriculture,” notes A New Climate for Peace. For Pakistan’s policymakers – and development, humanitarian, and foreign policymakers elsewhere – avoiding future conflicts will depend on taking steps to mitigate the effects of climate on water supplies, improve flood management, and develop more equitable emergency response systems. Notably, the report recommends actions at multiple levels of planning in multiple sectors – from national ministries to local authorities, and from transboundary water cooperation to local disaster risk reduction planning.
The seventh compound risk – the unintended effects of climate policies – draws on work we’ve done at the Wilson Center. Avoiding the risk of “backdraft” must be part of the conversation as states and societies take steps to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Programs like REDD+ or climate-smart agriculture, if not conflict-sensitive, could exacerbate tensions and create more problems than they solve. Understanding this challenge is critical and requires its own exercise in foresight.
While many of the compound climate-fragility risks may seem intuitive – we’ve seen the impact of volatile food prices and heard whispers of coming “water wars” – detangling reality from rumors is critical. A New Climate for Peace highlights opportunities for action that policymakers can take today. The biggest takeaway? These compound challenges require integrated solutions. The climate, development, and peacebuilding sectors need to work more closely together at every stage of their work: from early warning, to planning, to finance, to implementation.
Sources: Center for Climate and Security, The Guardian, NewClimateforPeace.org.