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An Interview with CS2P Co-Founder Sofia Kabbej on “Questions of Climate Security & Peace”

By Elsa Barron

The Climate Security & Peace Project (CS2P) is a team of “young researchers, professionals and students from diverse fields and backgrounds,” and aims to build knowledge on the links between climate and environmental challenges and threats to human security, peace, and international stability. CS2P has worked closely in collaboration with the French Institute of International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), a consortium member of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS). Through a new initiative, CS2P created a three-part video series titled “Questions of Climate Security & Peace” with the support of NGO CliMates and the EU Commission. To learn more about this project and the three climate security case studies it addresses, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) asked CS2P co-founder Sofia Kabbej to answer a few questions on the project.

CCS: What is the intention behind the “Questions of Climate Security & Peace” video project?

Sofia Kabbej: Through personal and professional encounters, we noticed the lack of public awareness of the human security implications of ecological disruptions, climate change and environmental degradation. Thus, the main goal of the “Questions of Climate Security & Peace” video project is to inform the general public about the multiple security implications that environmental transformations and disruptions have for populations.

This project also aims to highlight the responsibility of political leaders and governments to protect populations from ecological security risks. By pointing at the security implications of environmental issues, we also want to put pressure on decision-makers to mitigate and prevent the causes of ecological disruptions, climate change and environmental degradation: in short all actions that are necessary to ensure the security of populations around the world.

CCS: What is the significance of the three case studies you selected for this project?

Sofia Kabbej: “Questions of Climate Security & Peace” also aims to show that all populations are concerned by the security implications of environmental transformations and disruptions. Therefore, we wanted to focus on different geographic regions. Each episode showcases different types of interactions between environmental factors and socio-political ones that impact human security. The significance of the cases actually lies in their diversity.

The first episode focuses on the herders/farmers’ conflict around Lake Chad in the Sahel region, to show an example of the interaction between climate change impacts and specific social and political factors. The second episode outlines post-disaster civil-military cooperation in France to show how the increase in the intensity of extreme weather events has consequences for response systems. The last episode takes place in Peru, allowing us to explore the extent to which human interventions on lands inhabited by Indigenous communities can have disastrous consequences both for their survival and the natural environment itself.

CCS: In places where natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce, what can decision-makers do to prevent and mediate climate-driven conflict between livelihood groups such as farmers and herders?

Sofia Kabbej: Natural resources scarcity doesn’t necessarily lead to conflict among communities and climate change should not be considered the cause of conflict, but rather an added stressor in already fragile socio-political contexts. In each case, there are specific interactions between climate change impacts and local socio-political dynamics, which complicates response and prevention. There is no “one size fits all” response to this question – apart from the necessity to mitigate the increase of the global average temperature (and thus to drastically and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

What is common in all cases is the necessity to understand the socio-political background in which the scarcity of resources is occurring and its interacting causes (climate change, land use, etc). This is why localized research is key. Once the specific social and political dynamics are identified, it is then possible to work on finding possible pathways to prevent or manage tensions. For instance, in the case of the farmers/herders conflict around Lake Chad, lack of governance (state fragility, inadequate policies and enforcement), the marginalization of some social groups and the weakening of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms are key factors in the conflict. Moreover, while the exploitation and competition over natural resources are often cited as leading to conflicts, it is also important to note the cooperative or mediation potential of arrangements and initiatives launched precisely to share and manage those natural resources.

CCS: What are some of the challenges and opportunities that arise from civil-military cooperation in response to extreme weather events?

Sofia Kabbej: In France, when a natural disaster occurs, civil authorities are the first responders but armed forces can support them when civil authorities are non-existent, insufficient, unsuitable, or unavailable. The challenges of this civil-military cooperation are numerous. A report commissioned by the French parliament identified a few of them, including the limited interministerial coordination, differences in institutional cultures and the lack of joint crises planning and training with civil and military agencies. Military intervention ought to be the last resort, but the risk that the country gets used to the domestic intervention of the armed forces is increasing.

Moreover, considering the expected increase of climate change impacts’ intensity, including extreme weather events,  the capacity (both human and material) of the armed forces may be strained in the coming years due to the over-solicitation for humanitarian rescue missions on top of more “traditional” missions.  On the one hand, it is important to increase the capacity of civil protection units’ to effectively operate in a warming world so as to avoid relying excessively on the armed forces. On the other hand, it is important to prepare for increasing cooperation between civilian and armed forces through exchanges between agencies around training and planning.

CCS: What are some of the security risks faced by Indigenous communities due to environmental transformations?

Sofia Kabbej: Indigenous communities have a particular relationship with nature and its resources that differs from industrial societies. Activities such as resource extraction or poor land-use practices are contributing to climate change and environmental degradation that negatively impact the natural systems upon which Indigenous communities depend. In short, climate change and environmental degradation directly affect the way of life – and security – of Indigenous communities, particularly when added to already existing challenges, such as the deprivation of land, human rights concerns, marginalization, or oppression.

Climate change impacts and human activities represent even higher security risks for uncontacted peoples, Indigenous communities that live in complete isolation. Diminishing access to resources due to climate change might cause uncontacted peoples to move and come in contact with other communities. Similarly, environmental degradation such as deforestation can result in the deprivation of land, communication of diseases, violence, and/or industrial poisoning for uncontacted peoples through any type of forced contact. Forced contact is indeed catastrophic for uncontacted peoples as it might lead to the death of 50 to 90 percent of a community.

Watch the video series on the CS2P YouTube channel here in English, with French, Spanish, or English subtitles.

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