a boat tie on the seashore in Fiji

A key strategy in responding to climate change is a community-up focus which begins with locally embedded understandings and local peacebuilding processes that facilitate peace, justice and governance. Such efforts require working with holistic understandings of what wellbeing ‘is’ in different Pacific Islands contexts.

Starting in Fiji, and in partnership with Transcend Oceania and the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding, we have begun exploratory and adaptive work in the Pacific. Together we are aiming to create context-specific conflict analysis tools to support communities to navigate their futures. Fijian communities are experiencing environmental degradation and developmental pressures, in combination with population growth and increased human mobility. Our partners are particularly focused on supporting those communities where the combination of these issues is leading to the need to relocate, including where people are becoming dislocated from their ancestral homes.

In recent times, policy makers, academics and observers have become increasingly interested in the peace and security implications of climate change. As a result, in the Pacific there has been an increased attention on “climate security”. While welcome, it is important to state that there is a lack of evidence pointing to a direct causal link between climate change and conflict; climate change in itself is not a direct driver of conflict, rather it interacts with existing conflict systems. 

Climate change in itself is not a direct driver of conflict, rather it interacts with existing conflict systems. 
Kate Higgins
Pacific Projects Manager, Conciliation Resources

We know that inclusion in governance and decision making is important to peace in communities, and without paying close attention to existing peace and conflict systems it will be impossible to respond to climate change impacts in a way which is inclusive of all community members. Likewise, it is important to take account of the diversity between communities – diversity being a key characteristic of the states and territories found throughout the Pacific.

Moreover, overarching narratives of ‘climate security’ in the Pacific, and the very real emotion (for many) that underlies our global concerns about climate change could lead to unintended conflict effects. Historic global intervention in the Pacific – including colonialism and displacement, and more recently unintended consequences of economic and social development – holds many lessons for how the contemporary wisdom of externally-conceived interventions interact with existing societies, creating new forms of inequality and exclusion and exacerbate or create new forms of conflict. 

It is important to understand the peace and conflict implications that come with in situ climate change adaptation, efforts to reduce risk or respond to natural disasters, and increased migration impacted by climate change. This is vital if communities are able to navigate environmental and associated social, political and economic changes they now face. Conflict sensitivity is required if civil society, national governments and international actors and donors are able to support the communities navigating these changes. External intervention, including that of national governments, must apply a do-no-harm approach which starts by understanding existing conflict in each community context where it seeks to work, anticipate how interventions may exacerbate conflict and seek to mitigate unintended negative effects. 

So, what does climate change mean for peacebuilding in Fiji? Looking specifically at issues of climate change related relocation, we have the following initial reflections about how we might contribute to preventing violence and maintaining and improving the relationships which underpin relative peace in the highly complex and localised societies of the Pacific.

Firstly, climate change science is important in raising awareness required to assist relocation processes, however, engaging with the histories of each place and its people, land and environments, is equally important to holistic relocation planning. Creative approaches such as the use of video or recording of oral histories could form part of this engagement. It is key that community worldviews form the conceptual frameworks for climate-change related interventions, including relocation. This approach in turn can drive the long-term evolution of governance mechanisms which link political participation at a community level to national, regional and international policy levels.

It is key that community worldviews form the conceptual frameworks for climate-change related interventions, including relocation.
Kate Higgins
Pacific Projects Manager, Conciliation Resources

Secondly, peacebuilding approaches offer an opportunity to address existing forms of conflict and marginalisation. Addressing climate change will mean paying close attention to and addressing existing conflict issues. Recently as part of discussions around environmental change our partner Transcend Oceania has reflected: “what kind of peace do we want in Fiji and the Pacific?” They see this work as an opportunity to transform existing drivers of inequality and violence. Conciliation Resources will continue investing in meaningful long-term partnerships with civil society organisations so as to make peace sustainable within specific contexts.

Thirdly, governments and international actors engaging at the community level should move beyond delivery models and understand themselves as part of the context in which they work. They/we should seek to develop conflict sensitivity and do-no-harm approaches within their/our work. In addition to financial resources, the investment that is required here is time. Do no harm approaches will require taking the time to invest in relationships in order to employ approaches with partners and communities which are truly consultative: approaches which understands this work as occurring and adapting over longer timeframes.

The challenge for us at Conciliation Resources, is therefore, to maintain our commitment to long-term partnership, to build momentum whilst remaining patient with the time investment required to bring about sustainable peaceful change, and as always to continue to support, resource and respect our partners in their work with communities and governments who are navigating difficult times ahead.

Conciliation Resources gratefully receives support from the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the European Union (EU) for peacebuilding, climate change and relocation programming. The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of Conciliation Resources and do not necessarily reflect the views of the New Zealand Government or the European Union.