Climate action is a critical step towards a conflict-free world

The link between global warming and other risks to humanity is becoming undeniable

The World Bank estimates that by 2050, the number of climate migrants will reach 200 million globally. AFP
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It is hard to write on climate change without sounding catastrophic. But the fact is that climate change and environmental degradation threaten our very survival.

At the Cop27 international climate summit in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt this week, countries will meet to discuss the implementation of their climate action programmes – in other words, how they plan to reduce their carbon emissions. Most significantly, the gathering in Egypt, labelled the “African COP,” will put the spotlight on one of the continents most affected by climate change.

At Cop21 in Paris in 2015, 195 countries agreed that climate change was a threat to humanity and that we needed to collectively act to make sure the planet does not overheat above 1.5°C by the end of the century. Today, Egypt is part of the region that is warming at twice the global average; and by 2050, projections show that it will be 4°C warmer than the 1.5°C target.

Unfortunately, current projections show that the global emissions have not diminished since 2015 and that the 1.5°C target increasingly appears to be impossible. In fact, data shows that we are heading towards a 2.8°C increase by the end of the century based on current emissions. The climate crisis is already heavily impacting people’s lives. We are witnessing heatwaves, wildfires, raising sea levels and extreme weather events.

This reality means that the climate crisis could act as a threat multiplier in a region already suffering from poverty, weak governance, unemployment, conflict and violence. The impact of climate change on water scarcity, temperature increases and sea level rises will drive people from the region out of their communities in search of more liveable conditions. Mass climate migration will put pressure on systems across the region, including food and water resources, and will lead to mass displacements. In fact, the World Bank estimates that by 2050, the number of climate migrants will reach 200 million globally.

The Cop27 climate summit is being hosted in Egypt, one of the most populous countries in the region. AP
The climate crisis could act as a threat multiplier in a region already suffering from conflict and violence

At the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), we see that communities living through conflict are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and are disproportionally affected by it. While climate change does not directly cause armed conflict, it can indirectly increase the risk of it by exacerbating factors that may, in a complex interplay, ultimately lead to conflict. Such factors include social exclusion, a history of conflict and grievances, economic risks, environmental degradation and tensions over the management of resources. Climate change also then contributes to exacerbating and prolonging conflict and instability by further weakening institutions, systems and people’s coping mechanisms. It may also aggravate communal violence, particularly in communities where resources are already overstretched and where the authorities may not be able to resolve tensions. It’s one vicious cycle.

In settings of protracted conflicts, countries are shifting their resources to deal with the consequences of the conflict, and do not necessarily prioritise focusing resources on much-needed climate risk mitigation and adaptation. In Libya, the ICRC is witnessing extreme climate events including droughts, increased temperatures and more severe sand and dust storms. In Mali, the conflict has disrupted the traditional ways communities have coped in the face of repeated droughts and occasional intense rains. They struggle to meet their families’ needs as pastoralists and farmers are increasingly forcibly displaced.

In Iraq, water scarcity and environmental degradation, combined with the lasting effects of conflicts, have weakened the country’s capacity to maintain infrastructure or support agriculture, forcing many to change their way of life.

In our efforts to respond to such challenges, we have set up a Regional Energy & Water Knowledge Hub in partnership with the Sharjah Research Technology & Innovation Park, providing training on deploying renewable energy solutions and working on solutions for more sustainable humanitarian action.

Ahead of Cop27, the ICRC urged parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the governing bodies of the Cop to make three commitments ensure that people living in conflict settings and heavily affected by climate change are not left behind.

First, to acknowledge the high vulnerability to climate risks of countries enduring conflict due to their limited adaptive capacity.

Second, to live up to international commitments to bolster climate action in countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, which entails strengthening climate action

in countries enduring conflict and violence.

Third, to ensure that this action is adequately supported by fit-for-purpose and accessible climate finance.

It is an unfair reality that more than half of the 25 countries that are most vulnerable and least ready to adapt to climate change are already affected by conflict and other violence. It is therefore critical to galvanise efforts in a unified strategy. In Sharm El Sheikh next week, governments will come together to explain how they will implement their climate strategies.

The efforts put in place by many governments to address climate change are nothing short of colossal, and it is unreasonable to expect the public sector to carry the burden by itself. Climate mitigation and adaptation are complex. Responding to this crisis requires solutions that include all stakeholders. It is therefore necessary to secure the engagement of other actors including the private sector, financial institutions, academia, and international organisations. The engagement of the wider community needs to be action-oriented with outcomes that will reduce the threat to humanity of human induced climate change.

Our very survival counts on it.

Published: November 07, 2022, 4:00 AM