Is there any upside to climate change? There might be, if the international community turns it into an opportunity for peace-building, according to a new report from International Alert.
The report, “A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War,” doesn’t sugar-coat the global security threats posed by global warming. In fact, its projections are downright frightening: 46 countries with a total population of 2.7 billion people face a high risk of violent conflict as the effects of climate change worsen; another 56 nations with 1.2 billion more people are threatened by a strong possibility of political instability, with violent conflict posing a more distant risk.
“There is a real risk that climate change will compound the propensity for violent conflict, which in turn will leave communities poorer, less resilient and less able to cope with the consequences of climate change,” write the report’s authors, Dan Smith and Janani Vivekananda. In many of the countries identified as at-risk, they add, “it is too late to believe the situation can be made safe solely by reducing carbon emissions worldwide and mitigating climate change.”
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to do those things, Smith and Vivekananda say. But it does mean the international community should be taking action now to help those threatened countries to better adapt to the effects of climate change. Accomplishing that could cost anywhere from $10 billion to $40 billion, they estimate. Unfortunately, only a few hundred million dollars are now invested in such efforts, with another billion “somewhere in the pipeline.”
There’s a better way, though, Smith and Vivekananda say: working to build peace by helping at-risk communities develop social processes for adapting to climate change and managing conflicts before they become violent.
“It is an approach that brings the hard science of climate change – which local communities do not and cannot be expected to know in the first instance, and which must be communicated clearly – together with local knowledge and understanding to figure out the best mode of adaptation,” they write.
That’s no easy task, certainly, but it’s doable if the international community can muster the political will and commitment that’s needed. Smith and Vivekananda recommend 12 actions that could move things in a more positive direction: They include making conflict and climate change a higher priority in international politics, more research into the social and political consequences of climate change, putting a higher priority on climate adaptation rather than mitigation in fragile states, preparing for ways to deal with climate-caused migration, and working with businesses to find solutions.
It sounds daunting … until you consider the alternatives outlined in Smith and Vivekananda’s report.