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The future of climate change response and sustainable development must integrate peace and conflict sensitivity responses and the future of peacebuilding and peacemaking must integrate climate change and natural resources. Our siloed approach simply will not work to address the growing intensity of the challenges we face.
It’s a compound problem: areas with dwindling natural resources, harsh climate change impacts and biodiversity loss also tend to be those experiencing violent conflict. But it’s these countries that are hit the hardest that tend to receive little to no climate funding or support. ( see also UNDP Climate Promise)
Climate change, environmental degradation and sustainable development are at the forefront of the major international policy fora, from the growing momentum at climate and biodiversity COPs to the Stockholm+50 commemoration of the 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment. And yet, geopolitical threats and risks loom large as multilateralism scrambles to maintain its footing.
There are clear, multidirectional links between the environment, climate change, natural resources, violent conflict, security and peacebuilding. Environmental degradation, impacts of climate change and the poor management of natural resources increase the risks and vulnerabilities to conflict. This is especially true in places already fractured by socioeconomic inequality, ethnic divisions, or ideological divides, and lacking effective, inclusive, and accountable governance mechanisms. In another direction, damage from conflict can have a lasting negative impact on the natural environment including on food systems, land use, medical infrastructure and basic needs.
In yet another direction, cooperative responses to climate change and degradation can be a tool to initiate dialogue and build peace. Environmental peacebuilding itself “integrates natural resource management in conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict,” according to the Association named for it.
While activity at the intersection of environment, climate, conflict and peace is greatly expanding, it still remains a small or niche field. Our work focuses on building connections between actors in the so-called Global North as well as to try to amplify the expertise, experience and work of actors in the so-called Global South. From my vantage point, I see many of the large organizations, donors and other actors who respond to crises, conflict, and climate change have yet to develop sensitivity to the way these challenges overlap and intertwine.
There is a great opportunity for existing initiatives to expand and act as springboards for larger, more institutionalized efforts. Peace responsiveness and conflict sensitivity, for example, have great promise within larger environmental and climate response bodies. The PeaceNexus Foundation has recently launched a call for proposals on embedding conflict sensitivity in environmental organisations. Peace responsiveness, championed for example by Interpeace, is based on the idea that “peace cannot be built by peacebuilders alone.” It works with different actors within the international system to adapt peacebuilding approaches into institutions that do not traditionally carry out work on peace.
Institutions can allocate resources to staff capacities and organizational practices that allow governments, multilateral agencies, non-government environmental organizations and business actors to meaningfully integrate conflict and peace issues into their environmental, conservation and climate finance work.
Donors can develop and adopt funding criteria, financial norms and guidelines which require and facilitate the integration of peacebuilding or conflict sensitivity perspectives. Climate finance initiatives should better integrate peace and conflict sensitivity and can build on existing momentum, such as adapting “peace bond” programs to de-risk investments in fragile contexts. Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage and harms caused by business activities along with human-generated climate change is an initial entry point for future Conferences of the Parties, and peacebuilding actors could make greater efforts to understand the possibility and take advantage of these mechanisms. These and similar efforts should be adapted to the climate change finance ecosystem, accelerated and mainstreamed.
The next natural step for environmental peacebuilding is its integration into larger efforts throughout the international system. Multilateral bodies must share in the expertise and lived experience of the people around the world, whom they aim to serve through inclusive and meaningful participation.
Above all, cross-sectoral collaboration requires intentionality, funding and a great sense of patience as multiple fields attempt to translate their fields of expertise from one “jargon” to another. My mother often repeated the proverb to me: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” My mother is right; it’s time to go together.