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Armed conflict and climate change: How these two threats play out in Africa – Brio . Blogs

Armed conflict and climate change: How these two threats play out in Africa – Brio . Blogs

The world is falling seriously short of cutting carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, the 2015 treaty to keep global warming well below 2.

The consequences of this failure are an even greater increase in the prevalence and severity of extreme weather events, an increase in the speed of sea-level rise and an increased risk of causing irreversible climate tipping points, such as the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet or the loss of the ice sheet. Amazon rainforest.

Photo: Stephen DuPont/DFAT/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The speed and scale of these changes have immediate consequences for ecosystem health and biodiversity. Moreover, ongoing climate change threatens fundamental dimensions of human well-being.

There are also frequent allegations of looming “climate wars”. These depict a chaotic world with unsustainable mass migrations, devastating weather-related disasters and violent clashes for survival in an age of rapidly dwindling resources.

However, the link between climate change and conflict is weak when compared to the main drivers of conflict, particularly poverty, inequality and weak governance.

Instead, violent conflict in the context of global warming plays another, much more prominent role: it is a critical driver of vulnerability, making the adverse effects of weather fluctuations more likely and more severe. In other words, violent conflict weakens societies and countries so that they are not in a position to adapt to the changing world around them.

Although it may be possible to maintain peace without successful climate adaptation, successful climate adaptation is impossible in the absence of peace.

How does climate change affect conflict

Climate change is often framed as a risk multiplier that exacerbates conditions known to increase conflict risks, such as poverty and inequality.

Research shows that adverse weather conditions may lead to more support for violence. These conditions can also contribute to an escalation or prolongation of a conflict. This is particularly the case in places characterized by climate-sensitive economic activities, political marginalization, and a history of violence.

Typical hotspots for these dynamics are in the Sahel and rural East Africa. However, the true role of climate change in causing conflict in these conditions remains disputed. How the climate shapes peace and security depends on how societies respond to climate change.

In a recent newspaper article, a colleague and I identified several potential ways in which climate policy could be linked to conflict drivers. These could be, for example, by addressing energy insecurity, financial vulnerabilities from changing tourism patterns or lost oil revenue, and competition for land use related to conservation projects.

These links have attracted little systematic study to date and remain a major priority for future research.

How conflicts affect climate risks

The link from climate to conflict appears to be modest. But the opposite – from conflict to climate vulnerability – is very powerful.

Armed conflict destroys economic activity and livelihoods. It threatens food security, disrupts markets and the provision of public goods, damages vital infrastructure and leads to forced displacement. All of these factors undermine the local ability to adapt and adapt to environmental risks.

Simply put, armed conflict is development in the opposite direction. The repercussions of the war in Ukraine on the food crisis in developing countries today is evidence that armed conflict can affect social vulnerability and human security on a global scale.

Given the devastating impact of conflict on resilience, it is extremely worrying that violent conflict is on the rise in Africa. The continent is already considered the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Conflict, along with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, has also been identified as a major cause of recent setbacks in sustainable development. Today’s most severe humanitarian crises are found in countries experiencing major conflicts and wars.

vicious circle

Each of the processes described above challenges sustainable development:

  • Violent conflict deters long-term growth and destroys local capacity to manage climate risks
  • Climate impacts threaten human security in vulnerable communities, increasing the risks of conflict.

Together, they may lead to a vicious cycle of devastating effects.

The solution is peace

The ways in which climate change and extreme weather events challenge peace and security are widely recognized and increasingly well understood. This is why the likes of the UN Climate Security Mechanism exist. The UN Development Program also plans to “protect the climate” to maintain peace and stability in areas that have experienced conflict.

Climate security has additionally been the subject of nine open debates in the UN Security Council since 2007, seven of which have been held in the past four years.

Successful climate adaptation allows for sustainable development and has important peace benefits. However, it should not replace traditional conflict resolution and peacebuilding programmes. It is important to be aware of the dark sides of environmental peacebuilding.

Less attention has been paid to climate adaptation programming for “conflict prevention”. Instead, adaptation plans often assume peaceful conditions and fail to take into account political contexts that may support local conflicts and be a major source of vulnerability.

However, without peace on Earth, actions to address climate risks will be restrictive, ineffective and potentially counterproductive.

From this follows a key idea: in violent contexts, peacebuilding should be seen as the first and most important step towards addressing complex climate risks.

Conflict resolution is not a substitute for effective climate adaptation. But climate action without a secure environment with effective governance structures is unlikely to solve structural sources of vulnerability. As it has been said elsewhere: no peace, no sustainable development.

  • Halvard Buhaug is a research professor at PRIO
  • This post was first published by Conversation


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