Harriet Mackaill Hill, International Alert.


Why conflict sensitivity matters

Takeaways from the discussion on the Loss & Damage Fund
03. November 2023
Foto: Matt Palmer | Unsplash

During the first digital event of the Berlin Climate and Security Conference (BCSC) co-organised by FriEnt and International Alert climate, peace, youth, and development experts discussed the importance for the Loss and Damage Fund to be conflict-sensitive. It was a timely discussion on the day before the fourth Transitional Committee (TC4) met to develop recommendations for the fund and its funding arrangements for COP28.

The climate crises already have devastating effects, especially on the most vulnerable groups that have contributed the least. It threatens livelihoods, exacerbates the risks of violent conflict, undermines sustainable peace and increases social inequalities on regional and global levels. 70% of the countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change are at the same time at risk of or in a situation of conflict. This leads to higher fragility in the face of irreversible economic and non-economic losses. The aspects of peace and human security are immediately relevant for the dimension of loss and damage – how can this materialise?

Key questions remain unanswered on the eve of TC4

When asked about the current state of negotiations in the TC, Harjeet Singh, Head of Global Political Strategy of the Climate Action Network/CAN International, stated that although much hope was given to the loss and damage fund as an important step towards climate justice, the TC negotiations were now discouraging. Neither the political concept for the fund nor the funding arrangements were clear. Also, controversies regarding who has to pay and who is eligible to receive money from the fund – were still to be discussed and agreed. The same was to say for the question about the structure and location of the fund. According to Harjeet Singh, many countries in the Global North favour the World Bank as an umbrella organisation. This is seen as a way to control the financial flows, as the G7 carry most decision-making power within the World Bank. Opposed to this is a strong movement from Global South countries as well as from civil society advocates towards a standalone, independent fund. The main concern is the low accessibility of World Bank funds due to cumbersome bureaucracy. If no agreement can be reached, Harjeet Singh sees the whole process of establishing the fund at risk.

Repeating the same mistakes, hoping for different results?

A similarly critical stance towards recent developments of the fund, even if for other reasons, was taken by Nisreen Elsaim, a climate and youth activist as well as an expert and former Chair of the UN Secretary General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. From her perspective, three pillars are needed: 1. mitigation, including the phasing-out of fossil fuels; 2. adaptation and 3. the loss and damage dimension. Without proper mitigation and adaptation, she argued, loss and damage could not be addressed properly. According to her experience, besides climate change as the "white elephant in the room", the conflict dimension is often neglected and called the "grey rhino" and it needs more attention. To her, it is critical to make the loss and damage fund inclusive, accessible, and urgent. There is no time to wait any longer. Furthermore, Nisreen Elsaim pointed to the fact that immaterial losses and damages e.g. loss of tradition, historical sites, cultural, and religious sites as well as damage to traditionally owned land, water, and sacred places could hardly be financially compensated. Loss and damage needed to be seen in a holistic way and analysed in terms of what they mean specifically for youth in the various contexts. The prevention of further losses and damages needed to be taken more seriously to prevent fueling conflict in affected areas.

At least do no harm

Climate and Peace Advocacy Adviser from International Alert, Harriet Mackaill-Hill, addressed the interlinkages between climate and conflict: they were not direct, but happened via several pathways and exacerbated or created conflicts by aggravating competition over resources, forced migration, or lost livelihoods. Added to weak governance, weak rule of law, or systemic inequalities, the ensuing disputes had a high chance of escalating into violence. The loss and damage fund, therefore, needed to be conflict-sensitive, take into account the characteristics of the affected regions, and move away from blue-printed solutions. An emphasis on predictability and long-term as well as locally accessible, grant-based funding, would further facilitate trust building and foster an environment in which sustainable peace building processes can occur. In addition, she pointed out that not only least developed countries (LDS) and small island development states (SIDS) should be eligible for the fund, as suggested by some developed countries. Otherwise, countries that experienced climate shocks like Pakistan or Kenya would not receive the needed support.

Mainstreaming through overlaps

The Loss and Damage Fund's investments in resilience both financial and procedural were the focus of the fourth speaker of the event: Sebastian Lesch, Head of the Climate Policy Division of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The BMZ is actively engaged in supporting climate affected countries and vulnerable groups to improve climate resilience for the Sahel Climate Adaptation and Security Program. It is also pioneering diverse other programmes in different regions and engaging in constructive solutions when it comes to the funding arrangements and setup of the Loss and Damage Fund. In order to assist the most vulnerable countries in particular, Sebastian Lesch regards a strong system of social and environmental safeguards as required to reduce the risk of new conflicts arising from the fund's work.

Out of his experience with the Global Shield process, Sebastian Lesch argued in favour of the integration of the fund into existing structures such as the World Bank in contrast to Harjeet Singh. In Sebastian Lesch's view, the World Bank can draw from a wide range of experiences, including processes of mainstreaming an approach of conflict sensitivity through the whole project. Due to the overlaps in different sectors of the fund, he sees mainstreaming conflict sensitivity as something that will occur naturally.

Tailor-made approaches are crucial

In the subsequent discussion with the audience, the focus lied on two aspects: the necessity to adapt the Loss and Damage Fund's eligibility criteria to include the nexus of climate, peace, and development and to keep in mind the specificities of the situation in every nation or region that would receive funding. From this, the urgent need for transparent, inclusive, and conflict-sensitive management mechanisms for the fund can be derived. The main goal must always be to ensure that the most vulnerable are supported and that aggravation of societal divides, further marginalisation, and structural violence are prevented. This requires the close cooperation of everyone involved and calls for all parties to strive to understand their partners' perspectives.

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