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Climate change lights the touchpaper on terror – we must fight them together




In Paris this week, world leaders are working to agree a robust climate deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They are also grappling with how to tackle the pervasive threat of terror. The aim in both cases is to safeguard the right of current and future generations to live safe, secure and fulfilled lives. The fact that the climate conference is taking place in Paris grimly underscores this duality. But it isn't simply that tackling climate change and insecurity are parallel challenges. They are linked risks that need to be met with linked responses.


Even if we get the best possible global agreement to cut emissions in Paris, the effects of warming already in the system will play out for at least the next two decades, with an impact on conflict, security and fragility. Climate change plays a role in the ongoing political conflicts in Darfur and Mali, and in food insecurity across the Sahel. Climate change has also complicated conflicts linked to the Arab spring, most notably in Syria.

Of course, no conflict has a single cause. Rather, climate change can exacerbate issues that can already cause conflict, such as unemployment, volatile food prices and political grievances, making them harder to manage and increasing the risk of political instability or violence.

For example, Syria's 2006-2011 drought was the nail in the coffin, making fragile livelihoods of rural farmers untenable. With failing crop yields and falling incomes, many left to move to urban centres, such as Daraa, putting a strain on weak infrastructure and scant basic services. It wasn't the drought in itself that caused the conflict, but the existing social, political and economic tensions.

The effects of climate change, such as more frequent hurricanes, long-term changes in rainfall and temperatures, and rising sea-levels are not experienced in isolation. They combine with social, political or economic factors already at play. In fragile contexts, where poverty, weak governance and conflict are frequent and the ability to cope with these risks is low, climate change increases the risk of violent conflict. Research conducted by International Alert for the G7 group of leading industrial economies found that climate change is the ultimate multiplier of threats.

Climate change will continue to inhibit peace unless it is effectively integrated into managing risk and building resilience. Many of those most affected by climate change live in fragile states, where underdevelopment is intractable. The response to recent floods in the UK are unlikely to push local communities towards violence. Yet in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the impact of devastating floods combined with poverty, endemic corruption and long-standing perceptions of marginalisation by Delhi have all created such tensions that failure by local or central government to respond adequately could pose a very real risk of violence or political instability. This will make it harder for affected communities to adapt to climate change and for authorities to provide adequate support in building resilience, locking them into a vicious cycle of conflict, poverty and climate vulnerability.

There is much that can be done to ensure that climate change does not lead to increased conflict. Addressing the root causes of vulnerability to the effects of climate change - such as the lack of livelihood diversification, political marginalisation, unsustainable management of natural resources, weak or inflexible institutions and unfair policy processes - can help ensure countries plan for uncertainty and peacefully manage future risks.

The best way to reduce the threat is to get the best possible deal at the talks in Paris. But with dramatic changes already under way, people need to adapt. And how people and governments adapt, especially in fragile contexts, is critical.

Better policy responses are required to ensure that how we tackle climate change does not inadvertently fuel conflict. For example, a push towards renewable energy in 2007 saw a switch of land use from food production to growing crops for biofuels, which was perceived to contribute to higher food prices and resultant food riots in more than 40 countries around the world.

If we want to reduce the risk of people falling into extremism through education, training and jobs, we need to make sure that those skills and jobs are "climate-proof". There would be little value in providing support for farming to unemployed young Syrians when long-term drought is the reason they cannot pursue a livelihood in farming.

Whatever happens in Paris, there will be new money for tackling climate change. If these resources address vulnerability, they could achieve the triple win of building resilience to climate change, conflict and poverty. Supporting the provision of sustainable livelihoods in Mali, buffering communities from the volatility of food prices in import-dependent countries like Yemen, and ensuring social safety nets are in place to protect the poorest when subsidies are removed in Egypt, will all address some of the root causes of conflict as well as vulnerability to climate impacts.

We need leaders in Paris to agree a global deal to reduce emissions. We need adequate funds to support the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt. And we need to find ways for developing countries to progress in a low-carbon way. Single-sector interventions will not deal with compound risks. Integrating policies and responses in three sectors - climate change adaptation, development and humanitarian aid, and peace-building - is critical to ensure efforts on all three fronts can strengthen resilience to climate-conflict risks and create a climate of lasting peace.



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