While climate change does not cause conflict in and of itself, it can exacerbate the existing social, economic, and political vulnerabilities that make conflict and violence more likely.
No war, no peace, and a changing climate: four things you need to know about Climate, Peace and Security in Latin America and the Caribbean
September 21, 2023
As wildfires, droughts, and other extreme events bring home the severity of the climate crisis, concern grows over implications for peace and security. While climate change does not cause conflict in and of itself, it can exacerbate the existing social, economic, and political vulnerabilities that make conflict and violence more likely. Likewise, conflict can undermine climate action - increasing climate threats, reducing access to finance, and increasing the chances that climate projects fail. On the other hand, tackling climate change can be a route to addressing the drivers of conflict, and building peace another road to greater climate resilience.
With attention drawn to areas more affected by open conflict, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has been largely overlooked in this debate even as it grapples with deep sources of tension such as violence, inequality, and challenges to the rule of law. The UNDP recently published a guidance note setting out what climate, peace, and security might mean in the region, based on emerging analysis and practice. Five points to highlight:
Climate change can exacerbate existing tensions in LAC. According to the UNDP Human Development Report, grievances over inequality – the second highest in the world – were a major contributor to the social unrest and protest that has recently marked the region. We know that climate change increases inequality by disproportionately affecting marginalised groups. We know that it will reduce the availability of resources like water, fertile land and biodiversity, which frequently underpin the socio-environmental conflicts that persist across the region. And, with the highest homicide rate in the world, elevated levels of organised crime, and social tension, climate change will unfurl in a context of “no war, no peace”. Climate change may force 17 million people to move internally by mid-century and, although migration is no guarantor of conflict and can be a sensible adaptation strategy, it has to be supported and managed, particularly where receiving areas are themselves affected by environmental, conflict and security risks. Applying a climate, peace, and security lens can help countries anticipate how these risks might combine and prevent crises from occurring.
Climate action can cause conflict in LAC but can also be harnessed for peace. Through its endowment of minerals vital to the energy transition and its strategic ecosystems, LAC is critical to global climate mitigation. However, climate policies, and the changes they require, are already creating tensions – whether through protests over lithium mining, or conflicts over REDD+ in indigenous territories. For example, lithium extraction can pose threats to sensitive ecosystems on which local communities depend where there is a lack of regulatory frameworks to support operations. The different trade-offs between the needs of the energy transition, the need to protect nature and adapt to climate change and the need for economic growth, all must be considered in climate and development policy, especially given UNPD’s Nature Pledge and commitment to supporting the COP 15 targets. At the same time, some examples are emerging of how climate action can help reduce longstanding tensions. The integration of climate change into Colombia´s peace process – one of only five peace agreements to do so – is a model for how to do this at scale. Climate, peace and security is about ensuring all climate-related interventions are conflict sensitive, and guided by an understanding of how they may interact both positively and negatively on conflict dynamics.
Nature is critical to climate, peace and security in LAC. The region holds more than 40% of the Earth’s biodiversity and more than one-quarter of its forests. LAC´s biodiverse wealth is critical for both climate mitigation targets -– and SDGs on nature. But it is also at threat from illegal activity, which itself drives conflict. The Amazon is threatened by deforestation – mostly illegal – and other criminal economies such as drug trafficking, illegal land occupation, illegal logging, illegal mining and trafficking in wildlife. Indigenous Peoples and other minorities are disproportionately affected as they suffer forcible displacement, mercury poisoning and other-health related impacts. Meanwhile indigenous and other environmental defenders are targeted by violent actors, silencing voices critical to biodiversity and climate action. Climate, peace, and security means bringing a development approach to these threats to LAC’s nature and the people whose cultures and livelihoods depend on it.
Climate, peace, and security is about taking an integrated approach. UNDP suggests 14 pathways through which a degrading environment and conflict and security dynamics interact in LAC and suggests 5 immediate priorities: integrated policy; peace-positive adaptation; human mobility; natural resources, the environment and illicit economies; and conflict-sensitising climate policy.
As UNDP sets to work on these, one realisation stands out: we, and our partners, already have many of the tools, policies, and expertise needed to apply a climate, peace, and security approach but these can often remain locked in traditional disciplinary or institutional silos.
As we confront the reality of the climate crisis, and approach the halfway point towards delivering the 2030 agenda, the need for integrated approaches seems ever more relevant.