Climate change, conflict and fragility


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Climate change, conflict and fragility
Dan Smith and Janani Vivekananda
International Alert
Working Paper


As climate change unfolds, one of its effects is a heightened risk of violent conflict. This risk is
at its sharpest in poor, badly governed countries, many of which have a recent history of armed
conflict. This both adds to the burdens faced by deprived and vulnerable communities and makes
it harder to reduce their vulnerability by adapting to climate change.

Policy discussions about the consequences of climate change are beginning to acknowledge the
conflict and security implications. These concerns, however, are not being properly taken on
within the complex negotiations for a new international agreement on reducing global warming
and responding to climate change. In the negotiating context, the discussion focuses on how much
money should be available for it and how that money will be controlled. This discussion pays
scant attention to the complexities of adaptation, the need to harmonise it with development, or
the dangers of it going astray in fragile and conflict-affected states and thereby failing to reduce
vulnerability to climate change.

In order to shape adaptation policies, it is necessary to go beyond the most immediate natural and
social effects of climate change and look to the context in which its impact will be felt, because it
is the interaction between the natural consequences and the social and political realities in which
people live that will determine whether they can adapt successfully to climate change. Doing this
means addressing the realities of the system of power in fragile and conflict-affected societies, a
structure of power that often systematically excludes the voices of all but a privileged few.
Policies for adapting to the effects of climate change have to respond to these realities or they will
not work. At the same time, the field of development itself will have to adapt in order to face the
challenge of climate change. Neither development, adaptation or peacebuilding can be regarded
as a bolt-on to either one of the other two. The problems are interlinked and the policy responses
must be integrated.

This paper outlines the climate-conflict interlinkages and the challenges involved in responding to
their combined challenge. Establishing the overall goal of international policy on adaptation as
helping people in developing countries adapt successfully to climate change even where there is
state fragility or conflict risk,

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Climate change, conflict and fragility

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