People walking the bundles of sticks balanced on their heads

Knowledge on climate change issues in policy circles is well advanced. Yet information about the connections to climate change and conflict is less frequently seen or understood. At the first large multilateral environmental conference since Glasgow COP 26 in November 2021, Stockholm +50, we shared approaches and tools as well as calls to action to consider conflict sensitivity as part of discussions. It was a key moment to raise awareness of the connections between climate and conflict.

Just a week before this, we joined other peacebuilding organisations, donors and individuals at the SIPRI Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, debating the theme of ‘From a Human Security Crisis Towards an Environment of Peace’. In these conversations the links between the climate crisis and peace were heavily apparent. Discussions on varied topics such as mediation, peace financing, local peacebuilding and inclusion all touched on connections to the climate crisis. 

The climate crisis, conflict and peacebuilding nexus

The climate crisis acts as a conflict risk multiplier - extreme weather can exacerbate food insecurity and movements of people, increasing tensions between communities and countries

Conflict’s negative impact on environmental degradation - active conflict can lead to deforestation and devastation of nature, exacerbating the risks of climate change

Peacebuilding and mediation can be used to address shared environmental challenges

Risks that “climate-insensitive” peacebuilding and conflict-insensitive climate adaptation and mitigation do not achieve their intended outcomes 

Yet, despite these clear links, in the environmentally focused discussions of Stockholm +50, perspectives of climate and peacebuilding were less frequently made.

A gap in practice in climate and peacebuilding

Those most vulnerable to the climate crisis are also the most vulnerable to the conflict. Yet, in practice, many responses to the climate crisis do not take this into account. Despite the increased vulnerabilities, climate finance is less likely to reach fragile and conflict affected states. The most fragile states receive on average the equivalent of $2 per person, whereas in non-fragile states, this is on average $161 per person, still a fraction of what is needed.

One of the challenges making climate change response and adaptation in conflict contexts harder is the potential for unintentional harm. Responses to the climate crisis may risk exacerbating tensions and drive further conflict, particularly if they advantage or disadvantage certain communities or groups over others. Whilst inclusion of women, youth, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities is critical to climate policy discussions, meaningful collaboration and participation needs to happen at all stages of policy making, decision-making and implementation. Inclusion helps ensure policies and actions are grounded in contextual knowledge, more likely to be sustainable and support long-term peace.

An important topic within current climate change discussions is on becoming “nature positive” - reversing biodiversity loss to mitigate climate change and better adapting to it. But this is only possible with participation of different groups and understanding of the needs of different communities, who may have different uses of land and nature. Unfortunately, too often these voices aren’t part of the decision-making or implementation of practices that seek to protect nature. Without this, commitments to nature risk being ineffective, and at worst could increase tensions that could escalate into violence. 

Similarly, as countries plan for transitions - in their economies, energy and food security - transnational and local conflict risks need to be considered. Creation of green livelihoods can both support responses to the climate crisis and reduce risks of violent conflict. However, solutions can’t be transposed without thought from one context to another, and are only likely to be suitable if they involve the communities they seek to support. 

Increasing recognition of conflict and peacebuilding within climate change

Whilst there is a gap in practice, and conflict may not be part of all climate discussions, there is increasing recognition of the links between conflict and peacebuilding. Recommendations from the Stockholm +50 Leadership Dialogues include ensuring that “accelerated financing for development and the environment fully integrates peacebuilding and conflict prevention perspectives” and recognises that “peace and stability is fundamental to achieving a healthy planet”. 

As states and non-governmental organisations prepare for COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh and the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) later in the year, it is important that this recognition continues and is followed up by action.

Peacebuilders need to continue to recognise the importance of climate change

As peacebuilders, we need to continue to recognise the impacts of the climate crisis on our conflict contexts. The shared nature of our environment, which doesn’t limit itself to national and political borders, can help us bring people together. However, it can also make environmental challenges harder to address, and adaptations to the climate crisis can have adverse effects on community cohesion and trust. Conciliation Resources will continue to engage in the environmental discourse to raise the importance of conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding perspectives. 

Learning from our work addressing shared environmental and natural resource challenges and our peacebuilding work with climate-change affected communities in Fiji, we are pleased to have initiated a new project in the Philippines, Kashmir and the Ugandan border region that will support locally determined approaches on the intersection of climate and conflict. This project will support strategies for increased collaboration and coordination within and between communities and governments to prevent climate related conflict, and importantly generate evidence of what works in this complex field to contribute to the vital conversations on the intersection of climate crisis and peacebuilding.