Photo: Kofi Annan (second from left) and Aung San Suu Kyi (right of Annan) introducing the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. - Photo: 2021

COP26: Protect Peace and Justice at the Climate Change Summit

Viewpoint by Arunabha Ghosh and Isabel Studer Noguez

While Dr Arunabha Ghosh is CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, Dr Isabel Studer-Noguez is Director of Alianza University of California-Mexico. Both sit on the international expert panel for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) initiative Environment of Peace.

STOCKHOLM (IDN) — When world leaders meet in Glasgow for the climate change summit (COP26) (October 31-November 12), they should be aware that their decisions will cast a long shadow over the future both of climate and security.

Climate change is transforming the foundations of security, challenging peace in some of the world’s conflict-prone regions. The evidence is stronger than ever. Global warming is here, not in the distant future. The need for urgent action is clear, but leaders must demonstrate that furthering peace, justice and equity for all is integral to their climate ambitions.

Why climate action matters for peace

The impacts of climate change are aggravating an array of other problems—such as rapid biodiversity loss, pollution, inequality, weak state services, corruption and political instability—in dangerous ways. They affect the availability of food, water and other essential resources, robbing people—often the poorest farmers and herders—of their livelihoods and driving them away from their homes, in search of safety or a better life. The unfolding climate crisis can create new tensions and exacerbate old ones.

Climate impacts can send energy, water or food price shocks around the world through the global trade system, undermining states’ capacity to respond and potentially bringing localized conflict and economic and social instability.

To be sure, climate change does not by itself cause physical conflict. In any particular location, climate risk depends on the likelihood that extreme events (droughts, floods, cyclones etc.) will occur, the economic and social vulnerability of the affected population, and the local government’s capacity to respond. At the heart of human security lies resilience—and the climate crisis exacerbates instability and insecurity if resilience is not reinforced.

Keeping 1.5 alive

The Glasgow summit is hoping to extract emissions-reduction pledges that are in line with the target of limiting global heating to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. So far states’ commitments, particularly those of the largest emitters, have fallen far short of this goal. Their past actions have been even more wanting.

Already at 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, global heating is bringing serious challenges for security. For example, in Somalia, a combination of intense climate change impacts and the depredations of long-running conflict have given some people little choice but to align themselves with the insurgent group Al-Shabab, which promises an economic and political alternative.

The ravages of climate change are also among the factors driving migration, including in Central America. Migrants often fall victim to exploitation and violence. Migration can also feed into deep political and cultural divisions in the host countries. The issue comes full circle when migrant workers are put at risk by labouring outdoors in lethal heat without adequate water or shade.

But how emissions reductions are achieved matters for security too. For example, the growth of biofuel plantations in Brazil has seen indigenous people being driven off their ancestral lands. Attempts to resist, or to recover their land, have led to violent clashes and even to activists being murdered.

And as decarbonization of the global economy accelerates, communities that have relied on extraction, processing or burning of fossil fuels as a primary source of income stand to lose out, creating new pockets of inequality and even instability from the local up to the international level. Decarbonization must happen, but it needs to consider those who stand to lose from the transition.

Adapting to climate realities

To promote a just transition and avoid human insecurity, the international community must commit to a decade of climate resilience. The UK COP26 presidency has promised significant progress on climate adaptation. Five pillars should drive such an agenda.

First, agree to metrics that measure countries’ progress towards climate adaptation and their impact on peace and security.

Second, ensure the legitimacy of adaptation by benefitting the many, and not the few. For example, regulating water levels in a dam can protect upstream communities from water scarcity or flooding, but have devastating impacts on communities and fisheries downstream.

Moreover, in the process of building dams, people living in and around the dam site are too often turfed off their land without much compensation or care, while natural habitats are destroyed. This can create conditions that contribute to insecurity and even conflict.

Third, leverage equality and justice to build peace and security. For example, a successful response to droughts in the Great Karamoja Cluster region of East Africa has been to help different groups of migratory herders, who have been in tense competition for the remaining water and good pasture, to broker deals over access and use.

Fourth, anticipate climate risks and monitor sources of new grievances and social disquiet. Localized climate risk assessments can help local authorities to prepare for extreme events and sidestep the fallouts. In India, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water is developing a first-of-its-kind granular Climate Risk Atlas to inform such decision-making.

Fifth, create an insurance cushion for the vulnerable. As the pandemic demonstrates, a perfect storm of shocks can overwhelm fiscal reserves and household savings, locking in poverty and vulnerability. The climate crisis needs a Global Resilience Reserve Fund to prevent vulnerable communities falling deeper into poverty and providing the resources to build local capacity to buttress against climate shocks. 

Too often, the biggest victims of climate change are those least responsible for it. Building resilience is a moral, social and political imperative. COP26 should ensure global ambition to achieve the 1.5°C goal.

But climate justice demands that world leaders also demonstrate the political will and guarantee the financial resources to build resilient and peaceful communities that can chart their own paths to sustainable development. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 October 2021]

Photo: There are more than 833 million hectares of salt-affected soils around the globe. © FAO

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