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For the first time, at COP28, there will be a "Relief, Recovery and Peace Day" on 3 December 2023 which focuses on the nexus of climate, peace, and conflict. This is the often missing link in the climate discourse. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) is taking place at a crucial time for international climate action.
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At COP28, decisions-makers from all over the world discuss how to tackle the climate crisis. The conference in Dubai follows a year of extreme weather events and temperature records. The climate crisis hits the poorest and the lowest carbon emitting countries the hardest. Moreover, the majority of these countries is considered fragile and affected by conflict, and the population has to bear the double burden: on the one hand the climate induced environmental impacts that lead to the loss of livelihoods and to forced migration. At the same time, they have to cope with the consequences of violent disputes or wars including violence, human rights violations, displacement, destruction of livelihoods and wellbeing (see IRC-Watchlist 2023 and an example how climate crises affects conflicts dynamics in Iraq).
The Paris Climate Agreement, which is supposed to contribute to greater climate justice, reaffirms that rich countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries that are poorer and more affected by the climate crisis. Together with climate activists, the peace movement is calling for the application of the "polluter pays principle", i. e. the producer of pollution has to prevent or pay for the damage to human livelihoods and the environment. However, despite the Paris Agreement, the provision of funding for the climate-affected and most vulnerable countries from the so-called Global South is still inadequate. The urgently needed money for mitigation, adaptation as well as for losses and damages has barely reached the local communities which are most affected by the climate crisis. The 14 countries with the highest climate risk are also considered to be fragile and conflict-affected countries. At the same time, they are the 14 most underfunded countries from a per capita perspective. This is shown by the new Bread for the World Adaptation Index.
In addition, one of the key concerns that peacebuilders raise is how climate action and climate finance may reinforce existing inequalities and conflict dynamics – not only when it comes to the prospective Loss and Damage Fund. As an example in Guatemala shows, a national hydropower programme for energy export fuelled conflicts and social divide while increasing the marginalisation of indigenous people. In turn, with a focus on serving the energy needs of the local people, the locally lead hydropower projects helped to overcome social inequity and marginalisation.
The COP28 Presidency will host a series of official and high-level events on climate, peace, fragility, and security (see ecosystemforpeace). Putting the spotlight at COP28 on the nexus of climate, peace, and conflict is a big step towards recognising the challenges that conflict-affected and climate-vulnerable communities face – and which have mostly not been addressed by climate action. This topic will gain even more momentum as the "Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace" will be launched on 3 December by Cindy McCain, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) and Dr. Sultan Al Jaber from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the President of COP28.
"Climate change affects all humanity but not everyone equally," said Dr. Sultan Al Jaber. The declaration calls for urgent action in three key areas: financial support, good practice, and programming as well as collaboration and partnership. It highlights the relevance of better access to finance of national and local actors while prioritising local impact. The declaration also acknowledges that climate change can be a "catalyst for social, economic and political tension" and that marginalised groups like displaced, indigenous people are disproportionately affected. It also focuses on the issues of conflict sensitivity by pushing for "incorporating conflict sensitive standards and embedding peace responsiveness across the project cycle, to ensure climate action does not lead to adverse effects on societies or spark new grievances, and to support human development and peace co-benefits".
In our view, this is a first step into the right direction. The Environment, Climate, Conflict and Peace platform (ECCP) – a large international network of civil society and research institutions from the peace, environmental, and human rights sectors – has recently launched a policy ask under #PeaceAtCOP28. Its main demand is that peace, conflict prevention, and conflict sensitivity must be part of the official climate agenda. It should be discussed in negotiations and included in outcome documents.
However, even though the declaration is an important initiative moving in the right direction, more still needs to be done. For instance, the regulation of private sector engagement and business in fragile and conflict-affected settings needs to be addressed so that a conflict-sensitive approach to a sustainable and just energy transition can be ensured. Apart from that, there is the need for more conflict sensitivity in the loss and damage discourse for the set-up of the Loss and Damage Fund and its future regulation.
This was emphasised during the online debate following the Berlin Climate and Security Conference (BCSC). A compensation for the harm done so far as a result of climate finance should be considered as well. Another urgent need is direct access to decision-making and to the climate funds for marginalised groups: Harriet Mackaill-Hill, climate and peace advocacy advisor at International Alert emphasised that more locally led approaches are needed. Access to climate finance and meaningful involvement of affected communities in decision-making processes is key.
As the "Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace" is not part of the official negotiations, it raised also questions about its value. A detailed analysis of the declaration can be found in the online magazine The New Humanitarian. Moreover, there is still a bitter taste that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the initiator of the declaration is a major oil producer and has just increased its production.
This contradicts the demand for a fast withdrawal from fossil fuels and a strategy for a just transition within the energy sector. This is not only essential to fulfil the Paris Agreement, but also to prevent a further aggravation of resource conflicts around oil and gas. It is critical that the nexus between climate, conflict, and peace receives more attention in the climate discourse.