While the relationship between climate change and conflict is complex, such fast-paced environmental change increases the potential for escalating social tensions and conflict. Responses to these shifting conflict dynamics must come from the communities who are affected – people who have long experience of conflict resolution and resilience in the face of climate change, conflict and natural disasters.
Conflict risks linked to the changing environment are presented in Conciliation Resources’ paper Climate Change and Conflict Risks in the Pacific. These risks include strains on community land and resource governance and management; conflict arising from migration and dislocation; the effects of securitised approaches to crisis response; and of continual crisis management in state governance, contributing to more authoritarian and exclusive forms of governance.
But conflict is not an inevitable consequence of these increasing risks. There is an array of indigenous community conflict resolution and peacebuilding mechanisms across the Pacific islands; mechanisms that are embedded within community governance and land and resource management and that have enabled Pacific Islanders to adapt peacefully to environmental change over centuries. These same peacebuilding approaches are already being used to manage migration as a result of climate change. They include flexible land tenure arrangements and gift giving in the Solomon Islands, and resettlement efforts of Carteret Islanders in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.
International NGOs, governments and donors have a role to play in supporting community-led responses. Peacebuilders and mediators working with communities across the region need to be supported, not only through resources, but through opportunities to share their skills and knowledge with one another. An active local civil society and media also need support in order to hold national decision-makers to account through potential cycles of crises.
Above all it is essential that humanitarian, development or peacebuilding support does not become part of the problem. In undertaking climate change related work, it is important to conduct community level gender-sensitive conflict analysis and follow a do-no-harm approach - understanding that our work can otherwise in itself cause conflict. It is also important to take an adaptive and community centred approach, recognising that indigenous knowledge, practice and governance form a complex social environment within each community.
Although the intersection between climate change and violent conflict is a global challenge, requiring international attention, many of the solutions lie with and depend on the people and communities affected. Within the Pacific, it is essential that Pacific islanders, and their indigenous capacity to resolve conflict and build peace, with all the time and patience that requires, are at the centre of these efforts.
Access to land and natural resources has long contributed to conflict, but our natural environment is changing at a rate never seen before in human history. We work in partnership with local people and communities to develop conflict-sensitive responses to environmental change.