Billions of people around the world are facing political instability as a result of climate change, and international negotiations are failing to address the issue, a prominent peace-building organisation has said.
In a report entitled Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility due to be released this week, International Alert says that poorer, badly governed countries are at risk of falling victim to climate related conflict.
“Effects of climate change such as more frequent natural disasters, long term water shortages and food insecurity could combine with other factors and lead to violent conflict,” the report says.
The report warns that the current talks, which will reach a climax in Copenhagen next month when negotiators will meet to seek an international deal on climate change, are failing to take into account the inter-related nature of climate, social change and the potential conflict that could follow as a result.
“The issue remains the elephant in the negotiating room,” the organisation says.
“Specialists in climate change are not generally well informed about it and nor, very often are development specialists.”
International Alert believe that unless there is a change in approach, 3.9 billion people in 102 countries around the world – more than half the world’s population – are at an increased risk of political instability as a result of the knock on consequences of climate change, with 2.7 billion facing a high risk of violent conflict.
The potential scale of the problem may be huge, but the organisation says that climate negotiators and development agencies are underestimating the level of funding required to tackle the issue.
The report quotes figures that suggest adapting to climate change peacefully could cost an estimated $300-380bn a year by 2030, double the current UN projections.
Even this figure may be inaccurate, the report says, because no comprehensive studies have been done on the issue.
“These deficiencies in current estimates are especially worrying if these are the figures that financing negotiations are being based on,” the report says.
“What is needed now is a properly resourced, large scale and comprehensive study of the costs of adaption.”
‘Good intentions, bad effects’
The report warns that poorly thought out attempts to mitigate climate change could actually increase the risk of violent conflict. It gives the example of the rush to produce bio-fuels as an “outstanding illustration of the problem”.
Land that had been used for food production was switched to the production of low carbon energy sources, and the change has been blamed for contributing to a 30 per cent rise in food prices in 2008.
International Alert say this caused violence and unrest in some 30 countries around the world and estimate that bio-fuel production pushed about 30 million people into poverty.
“You can see the way, if you don’t think through what the consequences are, then good intentions can really lead to seriously bad effects,” Dan Smith, one of the report’s authors, told Al Jazeera.
Risk of violence
The report offers several recommendations to help mitigate the risk of violence resulting from climate change and its knock on effects.
It calls for climate change adaption and mitigation to be carried out in a “conflict sensitive” manner.
“Shifts towards a low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace,” the report concludes. “There must be no repeat of the rapid move to biofuels.”
The report calls for climate adaption and international development to be integrated, rather than seen as separate issues, an approach it says is “no longer viable”.
International Alert acknowledges that this will be no easy task.
“It requires a wholescale rethinking of institutional structures, the incentives that govern them and the rules by which they operate,” the report says.