Climate and conflict-affected states - last in line for climate finance?

2 December 2011

The IPCC report ‘Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ (SREX) released on 18 November 2011, rightly places strong emphasis on the links between climate change adaptation and disaster risk management, yet we know very little about what this means in practical terms for conflict-affected and fragile (CAF) states. A simple comparison of climate change vulnerability indices and CAF indices such as the Foreign Policy failed states indexreveals considerable overlap. Why then, is there such a remarkable lack of attention paid to the funding, policy and programming of climate change adaptation in CAF contexts?

Take climate finance for example. Conversations in donor circles tend to by-pass the issue of what to do about the impacts of climate change in CAF contexts and relatively little climate funds have been directed into CAF states. This is highly problematic given that climate change is already impacting communities vulnerable to conflict and insecurity, in addition to the challenges of attaining effective, stable, equitable and transparent governance systems.

There is understandable concern and hesitancy about channelling climate funds to conflict-affected contexts; reflecting wider debates about official development assistance to countries where a functioning and effective state is not present. But this is not a reason to by-pass the challenge. And there are options for investing in CAF states in ways that could be more constructive than has been the case in the past.

Opportunities exist, such as aligning conflict-sensitive programming approaches and ‘do no harm’ with climate change adaptation. Learning about the potential benefits of what could be coined ‘conflict-sensitive climate change adaptation’ would be beneficial for implementing adaptation in CAF contexts. Conflict-sensitive adaptation could also be useful in non-conflict contexts, as the sudden influx of climate finance for adaptation even in contexts deemed as ‘peaceful’ has the potential to cause tension if not managed sensitively.

Initial efforts have been made at the programme level. Non-governmental organisations have been documenting their experiences with climate and conflict-affected communities in contexts such as Nepal and Kenya. Similarly, the United Nations Development Program has been arguing for greater attention to the disaster-conflict interface, which is set to become more important as climate change exacerbates the frequency and intensity of some extreme events. Despite this, there has been surprisingly little progress in understanding the policy and programming implications of bringing together climate change adaptation, disaster risk management and conflict-sensitive approaches. This gap will need to be addressed given the commitment of the UK Government to both conflict sensitivity and ‘do no harm’ in disaster response.

If managed sensitively, adaptation in CAF contexts has the potential to reduce vulnerability and disaster risk independent of the specific nature of future climatic change; what is referred to as ‘low regret’. What’s more, there is an opportunity to think seriously about the possibility of using climate finance to contribute not only to adaptation but also to peace-building and/or conflict resolution goals.

We must not forget that CAF states are no less likely than other developing countries to want to hold emitters to account and receive their share of climate finance. But we need to think carefully about how this can happen and be cautious. The political environment in some contexts (take Sudan as an example) presents additional challenges as climate discourse is highly politicised. The fact that individuals live in conflict areas should not discount them from receiving support to deal with the impacts of climate change, however. Nor should the knowledge, capacity and capabilities of those living in conflict-affected areas be ignored; there is a wealth of experience in adapting to climate change that could be harnessed and learnt from by other regions facing (or set to face) similar conditions.

Climate finance is a potentially vast resource that should be used to assist the most vulnerable communities – climate and conflict-affected. More attention should be given to integrating different approaches to enable more returns from climate finance (beyond adaptation) and thus increase the potential effectiveness of that money. Channelling climate finance into CAF contexts will present difficulties but this is not a reason to avoid the issue. Donors and funding mechanisms simply need to think creatively about how they can use funds to address this challenge.

Katie Harris