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Integrating Climate Change into the US Global Fragility Strategy: A New “Prologue”

By Erin Sikorsky

In early April, the Biden Administration released a “prologue” to the US Global Fragility Strategy, also known as the Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. The initial document was developed under the Trump Administration in response to requirements in the Global Fragility Act (GFA). Congress passed the GFA in 2019 with bipartisan support, the goal of which was to create a new approach to preventing conflict in fragile states by bringing a whole of government, silo-busting strategy to foreign assistance and diplomacy. This type of coordinated, multi-sectoral process is exactly what is needed to ensure climate considerations are well integrated into US foreign policy, and the prologue takes two important steps forward in this direction.

First, the new prologue explicitly discusses the role of climate change in shaping state fragility and risks of conflict – a glaring omission in the original strategy. The document states:

“Climate and environmental crises or hazards are reshaping our world. The Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization and will exacerbate most physical, social, economic, and/or preexisting environmental vulnerabilities. Secondary effects of environmental degradation, vulnerabilities to natural weather and geologic disasters, and climate change include displacement, loss of livelihoods, weakened governments, and in some cases political instability and conflict. We will consider and address the risks posed by the impacts of climate change and other environmental security risks and test new ways of building climate resilience and deepen our understanding of the connections between fragility, peacebuilding and the environment.”

This recognition helps meet one of the recommendations in the new Challenge Accepted report from our Climate and Security Advisory Group, which said the US Global Fragility Strategy should be updated, “so that it incorporates climate change, building on the robust, data-driven models for understanding state fragility and risks of conflict. A revised strategy should incorporate climate change risks to provide explicit guidance to U.S. government development practitioners on how to climate-proof fragility and conflict interventions.”

Second, the prologue’s identification of four focus countries (Haiti, Mozambique, Libya, Papua New Guinea) and one focus region (Coastal West Africa) provides concrete opportunities to develop best practices for integrating climate change into US foreign policy. As policymakers draft each country or regional strategy, they should identify and leverage key climate-related data streams, predictive tools, and climate research that will contribute to a fuller understanding of fragility risks and opportunities for prevention in each locale. Of note, the DNI’s 2021 National Intelligence Estimate on climate change identified two of the GCA ‘prologue’ countries – Haiti and Papua New Guinea – as locations of particular concern, suggesting climate security risks should be a high priority area of examination for their strategy development.

Policymakers should also use the development of regional strategies as an opportunity to identify and work to fill gaps in climate data and research in these countries/regions of interest. For many fragile countries that are highly vulnerable to climate hazards, climate data is sparse. For example, an April 2022 report found that the multiple tropical storms that hit Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi in early 2022 had more intense rainfall due to climate change, but report authors could not say exactly how much more intense due to a lack of observational data in the affected countries. Funding efforts to fill such gaps should be a focus of US foreign assistance strategies so that affected communities are better prepared for such hazards and have greater fidelity into the scope of the risks they face.

Also, policymakers should look for synergies with US climate finance strategies, particularly around financing adaptation. For example, the Global Fragility Act process should intersect with the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE), an initiative announced at COP26 to “serve as the framework that brings together the diplomatic, development, and technical expertise of the United States to support more than half a billion people in developing countries to adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change through locally-led development by 2030.”

Among other things, the PREPARE program aims to provide $21.8 million for disaster risk financing in Africa – an effort that should be taken into account as the GFA strategies are developed for Coastal West Africa and Mozambique. Climate finance can play an important role in minimizing fragility and risks of conflict by increasing local adaptive capacity to prevent displacement and forced migration, and by reducing risks of violent extremism.

It is heartening to see the GFA process move forward with an explicit commitment to integrate climate considerations. The US government now has the opportunity to institutionalize a new, more systemic approach to assessing and addressing fragility risks, and better prepare US foreign policy for the challenges of the future.

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