We can tackle conflicts and climate change together - it's not one or the other

World leaders must build more coherence between finance and assistance that tackles global warming while promoting peace

Yemenis find themselves at the intersection of conflict and climate change. EPA
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World leaders are gathering in the UAE to discuss the urgent plan of action. Our world needs to course-correct if we are to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s target of holding global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

While mitigation, adaptation and climate-finance issues will be the main focus, this Cop will undoubtedly be impacted by the climate of conflict in the region. Hostilities in Gaza continue to be on hearts, minds and airwaves – and to consume diplomatic energy and attention in the region and globally.

But assuming that conflicts make it harder to focus on climate is a false narrative. It’s not one or the other simply because the two issues are too deeply intertwined. Conflict worsens the effects of climate change, and climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation are increasingly making our world more fragile, fuelling conflict at least indirectly

Roughly 90 per cent of all refugees originate from countries on the front lines of the climate emergency. The majority of the world’s refugees emanate from just five countries: Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and Venezuela. These countries are also among the most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate.

In displacement, too, refugees are disproportionately exposed to climate-related risks. Countries that are classified as highly vulnerable to the effects of climate crisis are home to 20 per cent of the world’s population, yet they host over 40 per cent of refugees.

Failure to act on climate is a failure to build sustainable peace. And for communities already vulnerable, every shock, whether it’s a climate-induced disaster or the next conflict, creates further cycles of vulnerability, making them less able to cope with the next shock.

That people in fragile and conflict-affected settings are often left behind by climate action, demands urgent attention. This should not be the case.

This means more coherence between finance and assistance that is assigned to climate action, development, humanitarian and peace and security activities. It means working to ensure that climate funding is in place and that it reaches conflict-affected settings – and it also means working with communities and governments to create an enabling environment for climate action. It means working harder to ensure that conflict prevention is climate sensitive - and that climate action is conflict-sensitive. But what does this entail in practice?

Assuming that conflicts make it harder to focus on climate is a false narrative

The organisation that I lead, Unops, has a focus on operations across humanitarian, development and peace and security pillars. We implement projects on behalf of the UN, governments and other partners, drawing on infrastructure, procurement and project management expertise. This year, around half of Unops’s global delivery has been in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. As an organisation, we are committed to supporting all countries in their efforts to tackle the climate crisis and to drive climate-resilient development. In fragile and conflict-affected settings, our experience directly speaks to the centrality of climate action in building the conditions for lasting peace and sustainable development to thrive.

This experience is backed by research carried out by Unops and the Danish Institute for International Studies that showed sustainable, inclusive and resilient infrastructure plays a key role not just in driving economic development, but also in addressing the root causes of violence and preventing conflict.

Take Yemen as an example. One of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change – and one where years of conflict have severely undermined the provision of public services – including electricity, with devastating consequences on all aspects of human development. There, funded by the World Bank, we work with local partners to provide off-grid solar electricity to schools, hospitals, streets and households. The impact of this work goes beyond restoring access to critical urban services for 1.4 million Yemenis. It means building resilience, and supporting a local economy invested in sustainability. Through collaboration with the local private sector, including microfinance institutions, UNOPS has helped develop the small-scale solar PV market in the country.

Similarly, prior to the escalation of violence in hostilities in the Middle East, and in response to chronic electricity shortages in Gaza, Unops worked to enable access to electricity and health services through renewable energy solutions. One example of this work involved installing a hybrid solar system at the European Gaza Hospital, serving around 100,000 people.

In Haiti – where climate vulnerability, rampant gang violence and a hunger crisis have made life a “living nightmare” for many citizens, we work, together with the World Bank and the government, to provide a clean, reliable source of energy to hospitals across the country. This work is particularly important when you consider that less than half of Haiti’s population has access to electricity, and we know that health interventions – when delivered in a conflict-sensitive way – can contribute to peaceful societies.

In South Sudan, ongoing conflict, the climate crisis and a devastating drought mean that two thirds of the population – over 7.7 million people – are facing crisis or worse levels of hunger. Here, we have been working with partners such as the EU and the World Bank to improve food security and build resilience. To support trade, we worked with the EU to construct markets and over 170 kilometres of feeder roads. Built with local materials, the roads helped farmers in remote areas connect to market centres, benefitting local businesses and increasing a sense of security in the area.

The bottom line is a better future for the people and the planet requires climate action that leaves no one behind. For people in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, that action could not come soon enough. At a time of compounding crises globally, let’s prioritise climate action that delivers for peace.

Published: December 04, 2023, 2:00 PM