Re-envisioning climate action to sustain peace and human security

November 17, 2020


A combination of crisis, conflict, climate change and COVID-19 means that we live in truly unprecedented times. In complex contexts, the message of environmental protection and climate action can often get lost, particularly, as climate change is still most frequently understood of in terms of socio-economic, development, environmental and disaster risks. However, through these very mechanisms, climate change has manifold implications for peace, stability and security. Insecurity and conflict are likewise, an obstacle to climate action. Yet according to OECD/INCAF, in 37 of the 58 fragile contexts, less than 10 percent of Overseas Development Assistance was allocated to climate change adaptation in 2016 and 2017. Moreover, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance finds that the majority of countries most vulnerable to climate change, only received less than US$20 per person per year in climate change adaptation financing over the period 2010-2018.

Conflict can also result in the physical destruction of renewable energy, irrigation, and other water-related infrastructure, not to mention other productive capacities. Energy and water infrastructure are strategic assets which are often targeted by non-state armed groups. To punish political opponents the Islamic State seized control of water infrastructure to wilfully cut off and pollute the water supply to farming communities in central and southern Iraq and flood government and military installations, including the city of Abu Ghraib. Its attacks on the energy sector served as attempts to destabilize the government, with a resulting considerable environmental toll.

Environmental-driven resource scarcity has also been an enabling force for recruitment in Somalia which has compounded grievances and marginalization. In the face of drought, internal displacement and chronic food insecurity, Al Shabaab has become an effective alternative service provider, strengthened its legitimacy by doing so and bolstered recruitment. Its illicit activities have been sustained in part, by the illegal charcoal trade which is subject to bans by the Federal Government, since 1969 and the UN Security Council resolution 2036 of 2012. Logging driven by charcoal production has in turn resulted in land degradation and deforestation, increasing vulnerability and pressure on livelihoods and coping strategies, as the preferred hardwood feedstock, acacia bussei, is also depended upon by pastoralists as fodder for their livestock.

UNDP’s new study, with contributions from UNFCCC, examined all 186 first round NDCs, the results highlighting that conflict and insecurity are an obstacle to climate action but that progress towards peace alone is not necessarily conducive to climate action. Post-conflict economic recovery can put greater pressure on natural resources, alter migration and seasonal transhumance patterns, and increase environmental degradation, including deforestation/destruction of carbon sinks. This, in turn, can increase greenhouse gas emissions and negatively impact on coping strategies and resilience, showing that more consideration is needed of the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in post-conflict scenarios and to climate-proof peacebuilding.

Building lasting peace in fragile and conflict-affected contexts requires we step up climate action. In this regard, through its Climate Promise, UNDP is supporting 115 countries around the world to raise the ambition of their NDCs. This includes support to 27 fragile states, where we have embedded recovery from COVID-19 as well as a strong gender, and governance focus. While these countries contribute very little to global greenhouse gas emissions, decentralized access to energy in conflict and crisis-affected contexts, that renewables afford, is a lifeline which makes all other support, including clean water, light, warmth, and sustenance, as well as basic and emergency services possible. Choosing renewables and clean technologies in reconstruction efforts strengthens resilience and avoids costlier efforts to retrofit at a later stage. UNDP’s work, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Palestine and Yemen, shows that providing support to energy access can help restart livelihoods and local economic development, lock in resilience and set countries out on sustainable development pathways to recover.

At UNDP, we focus, together with our partners, on post-conflict stabilization, including in places such as the Lake Chad Basin and Liptako Gourma region, because with stability comes development. As part of the Climate Security Mechanism, UNDP is bolstering the capacity of regional partners to address climate security and introduce a climate security lens to post-conflict stabilization particularly in regional contexts, because climate-related security risks often manifest externalities which go beyond a simple country office configuration and demand cross-border approaches to address them.

In quick summary, there is a powerful business case to investing in prevention first and addressing climate change has to be part and parcel of this. We need to re-envision climate action in conflict-affected and fragile states as part of an integrated prevention and peacebuilding strategy. This is why UNDP’s workstream on climate security stresses climate proofing prevention and peacebuilding, ensuring peace-positive mitigation and adaptation, and delivering integrated approaches to address two of the most pressing issues of our time: climate action and sustaining peace.