Of Peace and Politics

Awareness of Climate -Conflict Connection Grows

Posted on 06/23/2011 @ 03:30 PM

Tags: Peaceful Prevention

Alex Stark

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a panel hosted by the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program. The event marked the launch of a new report entitled “An Ounce of Prevention: Preparing for the Impact of a Changing Climate on US Humanitarian and Disaster Responses,” co-authored by Oxfam America, a humanitarian non-profit, and CNA, a federally funded research institution that primarily focuses on the U.S. military.

The report found that the impacts of climate change will increase the incidence of natural disasters, economic stresses including water scarcity and decreased agricultural yields and social pressures such as migration. Such changes “will mean increased need for humanitarian assistance, often with security implications, as complex emergencies-those involving violent conflict-increase in number.”

The authors recommend that the U.S. government should engage in a more prevention-focused approach, and work to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and disaster response. “Such a strategy,” they found, “would reduce long-term costs of humanitarian response, increase the impact of emergency relief programs, and lay a stronger foundation for stability in developing countries.”

The report launch highlighted the growing awareness in policy-making circles of the connections between the impacts of climate change, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world, and violent conflict. The report is part of a group of small but growing examples of the ways that the U.S. government, NGOs and researchers are coming together to grapple with these issues and put forward comprehensive and effective policy responses, even as a great deal of uncertainty remains regarding how the complex interactions between existing factors such as poverty, ethnic strife and growing populations and the increasingly apparent impacts of climate change. But, as General George Sullivan, Chairman of CNA’s Military Advisory Panel pointed out, “we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen.”

The report also added to the growing chorus of voices arguing that the benefits of prevention efforts far outweigh the costs. Donors should invest in programs that build resilience in local communities to withstand the impacts of climate change and natural disasters, to avoid the costlier option-both in terms of dollars and lives- of intervening after a disaster has already occurred. A 2004 World Bank report found that investing in preventive measures has a seven-to-one return. When we visit members of Congress and lobby them to support programs that prevent deadly conflict, we use the very same arguments. It always makes sense to invest in diplomacy, development and international cooperation to save lives and alleviate human suffering. But in a tight budget environment, it makes even more sense to invest in prevention.

For more on the connections between climate change and violent conflict, check out FCNL's new flyer.

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