How Climate Change is Fueling Conflict

Many conflict regions are heavily affected by the consequences of climate change today. Scarcity of resources such as water due to increasingly less and irregular rainfall as well as the threat to livelihoods posed by natural disasters exacerbate existing tensions and impede the peaceful resolution of conflicts. At this year’s Munich Security Conference, the Robert Bosch Stiftung hosted a panel discussion on the interlinkages of climate change and conflict. Both these topics, alongside inequality and migration, are at the center of our future international work.

Robert Bosch Stiftung | February 2020
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Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, introduces the panel on the podium (f.l.t.r.): Tom Middendorp, Hussein Nafo, moderator Almut Wieland-Karimi, Jennifer Morgan and Robert Malley.

Joining moderator Almut Wieland-Karimi, Executive Director of the Center for International Peace Operations under the header of “Stoking the Fire: Conflict and the Climate Crisis”, Hussein Alfa Nafo, Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Mali and Spokesperson of the African Group of Negotiators at COP-meetings, Robert Malley, President and CEO of International Crisis Group, Tom Middendorp, Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, and Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, discussed the effects of climate change on conflicts.

Leading by example

Citing current studies on the interrelationship of conflict and climate change, Robert Malley explained that with 0.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperature the risk of conflict could rise by as much as 10-20%. At the same time, Malley cautioned against a simplistic reduction of conflicts to the sole aspect of climate change, even in those regions most vulnerable to climate risks. In many cases other conflict drivers, such as weak or absent state structures, poorly developed local conflict resolution mechanisms or a lack of early warning systems warranted similar if not more consideration, according to Malley.

From his experience as leader of multiple international military and peacekeeping missions, Tom Middendorp called for the international security community in general and the military in particular to take seriously the security threat posed by climate change, and to reflect these considerations in the formulation of policy, risk assessments and intervention strategies accordingly. Conscious of the strain on local resources exerted by military missions, Middendorp emphasized the responsibility of peacekeeping missions to lead by example in their consumption of finite resources such as water and fuel.

Initiating an important conversation

Illustrating the case of Mali, Hussein Alfa Nafo explained how the electrification of small communities had helped secure livelihoods, thereby helping de-escalate tensions. Furthermore, Nafo raised the correlation between access to power and slowing population growth as an important factor in the context of both conflict and climate change. Greenpeace International Executive Director, Jennifer Morgan warned against treating climate change issues in isolation, urging instead the need for a holistic approach that embraces related issues such as inequality or migration.

Climate policy must not only be considered in the resolution of conflicts.

Her call for a trans-sectoral approach to the confluence of issues present in conflict contexts and alignment beyond specialist field boundaries met with vocal approval from Morgan’s co-speakers. The consensus was that purposeful exchange is still too seldom an occurrence – an impression reinforced by the uniqueness of the debate’s constellation of voices and perspectives for both members of the panel as well as the audience. The short-term nature of planning in acute conflict situations versus the necessary long-term approach required when working on climate change only further hampers the development of joint strategies, concluded the panel. All the more important was the debate’s success in bringing together two often-separate worlds and initiating an important conversation which the speakers pledged to continue as a matter of urgency.

“Climate policy must not only be considered in the resolution of conflicts. We need to ensure that organizations at the forefront of the fight against climate change also take into account its conflict potential in their work”, appealed Sandra Breka at the conclusion of the lively debate.

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