LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climate change and conflict can amplify one another in negative ways, but understanding how they affect each other can also lead to solutions that build resilience in both areas, a study has found.
A report by International Alert and the South Asia Network for Security and Climate Change (SANSaC) argues that the key to building climate change resilience lies not in addressing the problems it causes directly but instead focusing on the security issues around it.
Since 2007, researchers have been working in nine locations in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to understand the root causes of climate change and conflict. The communities they visited have been beset by sociopolitical conflict as well as extreme weather like droughts, flooding and cyclones.
These problems cannot be considered in isolation, argues the report, “Strengthening Responses to Climate Variability in South Asia”.
The findings suggest that interventions should be adjusted away “from the confines of the way climate change aid is designed,” said Janani Vivekananda, manager of the Climate Change and Conflict Programme at International Alert. “At the moment, (aid) has to specifically address climate change risks, which then precludes sustainable broader interventions which address broader complexities.”
Vivekananda said she was struck by how a history of conflict in Nepal has left many people reluctant to think about adapting in the long term, leaving a legacy of diminishing climate change resilience.
NO LONG TERM PLANS
“There’s a real feeling that people can’t be making these long term plans until they feel their country can be making long term plans,” she said. “Lots of responders I spoke to said, ‘Yes, we can be thinking about different cropping patterns and seed varieties, but really we need to know what the political context is going to be like next year.’”
Another example highlighted in the report is income insecurity and the risk of extreme weather, such as cyclones, in Bangladesh. According to the report, people living in the coastal community of Satkhira have struggled in recent years with security risks, including bands of armed brigands. They also face increased water salinity, which has been exacerbated by shrimp farming – coincidentally considered a good adaptive response to climate change.
These changes have increased migration to urban areas, resulting in additional conflicts and pressure on resources in the city.
“When we were speaking with community members, they weren’t identifying isolated environmental risks,” she said. “They were talking about risks which are essentially compound. They have an environmental dimension but are experienced through decreased livelihood or security, for instance. We need to address these complex risks more holistically.”
But Bangladesh also demonstrates a promising aspect of the climate change-security link. Though the political climate in Bangladesh can be divisive, said Vivekananda, both key parties agree on climate change as a critical justice issue.
“That is a really strong indication that it’s above politics and power, and can actually be a unifying power in this very political country,” she said.
International Alert and SANSaC hope to continue work on the report’s findings. Experts on climate change, security and development met in Kathmandu Monday to discuss the implications of the climate change-security link and appropriate responses.
Joydeep Gupta, South Asia director of The Third Pole Project, said two security think tanks from India and Bangladesh were present at the talks, which points to a relatively new interest in climate change on the part of security establishments.
On the other hand, one key player was missing. “I wish the Chinese had been present,” he said. “Their cooperation is really vital.”
Gupta acknowledged that changing mindsets is likely to take a long time. But cooperation from previously uninterested actors, he said, indicates that more establishments are realising the urgency of addressing climate change and security together.
“Resilience is resilience,” said Dan Smith, Secretary General of International Alert, in a keynote speech at the event. “If a community is resilient against the impact of climate change, then it is also probably quite resilient to the risk of conflict, to the impact of external economic shocks. Resilience against one thing strengthens the capacity of a society to ride out other storms.”
Erin Berger is an AlertNet Climate intern.
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