15 May 2024

Conflict mitigation as a means of climate change adaptation

Lessons for policy and development practice

Historically, the relationship between climate change and conflict has primarily been framed as a threat multiplier, whereby climate change exacerbates conflict risk through different pathways that link ecological shocks with social, cultural, and political risks. However, focusing solely on how climate change can affect conflict is limiting, and fails to highlight the many ways in which conflict can increase vulnerability to climate change by decreasing adaptive capacity. Conflict can exacerbate climate change vulnerability by negatively altering, among others, local poverty rates and market functions, political inclusion, gender equity, and social cohesion.

The outcomes at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP 28) of the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change underscore how the international climate change policy community has begun to consider the unique climate risks facing conflict-affected areas. The first-ever formal focus on peace and conflict at COP 28 led to the Relief Recovery and Peace Act. Over 82 parties, including the United States, agreed to scale up financing in fragile and conflict-affected settings, consider how best to incorporate conflict-sensitive approaches to adaptation, enhance vulnerability mapping and information exchange, and lessen the technical and bureaucratic barriers to implementation.

The outcomes from COP 28, in particular addressing the finance gap, are welcomed; however, overcoming barriers to adaptation in fragile and conflict-affected settings is much more than a financial challenge. It is about the political, physical, and even temporal barriers. With limited, if any exception, conflict and violence also degrade institutions’—public and private, as well as formal and informal—capacity to respond to climate change. Given this, more needs to be done both theoretically and practically to make these sorts of declarations actionable. This means, first, disentangling the pathways by which conflict underpins and exacerbates vulnerability to climate change. Unlike how climate change can affect conflict, this is an under-examined body of literature and therefore an area ripe for research. Second, the case should be more clearly made that conflict mitigation is often essential for climate change adaptation or resilient outcomes in fragile settings. Third, we need to understand how the tools for examining, addressing, and measuring conflict and conflict sensitivity can be applied to climate change adaptation efforts. Otherwise, we risk driving unintended consequences that can feed, rather than resolve, cycles of vulnerability. These risks exist at the local, national, and subnational scales; the identification of such risks enables a higher likelihood of programmatic success for both climate and conflict-related interventions.

This is the introduction of a paper, published by Environmental Peacebuilding in May 2024, authored by Daniel Abrahams and Kayly Ober. The full paper can be accessed through the link here.

Photo credit: MONUSCO Photos/Flickr