This report sets out to consider developments in climate-fragility risks since the completion of the much larger report, A New Climate For Peace, in April 2015. In short, the summary conclusion is that the risks identified in the earlier report persist: the trend of an increasing number of armed conflicts has continued and the capacities of local, national and international actors to manage specific crisis and conflicts are under growing pressure. In a world of deepening geopolitical rivalries the increasing impacts of climate change and number of crisis and conflicts create a deeply unsettling new normal. At the same time, and much more positively, the international community has shown that it can act together to address global problems.
As always, the devil is in the details – specifically, the details of implementation. At this stage in the evolution of climate and environmental diplomacy over the past 25 years, the key issue is implementation. Deficiencies in terms of ambition aside, without respecting and carrying the new global agreements out, it will not be possible to push the global resilience agenda forward. Two global agreements in 2015 set the framework for immediate work on global resilience – the Paris Agreement on climate change and the adoption of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. There are three key challenges to that framework and its practical implementation. The first, on which much of this report has focused, is the importance of integration. The point of integration is that, while parallel actions by different agencies (and different departments within them) may be directed at the right goals, opportunities for synergy will be lost, the probability of duplicating effort is quite high, and the risks in terms of unintended negative effects increase. Integration, in short, is an efficiency measure.
Shifts in rhetoric’s and terminology on climate in relation to security risks, while often important, are not real shifts yet. In addition to describing the problem differently, we also need to address it more effectively. In this vein, however, it is possible that the emphasis on integrated approaches, with which the community of thought on climate fragility risks is now very familiar, should be complemented by further qualities. It is noteworthy that US reports on the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and on Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005 noted failures of imagination and initiative in defining contingency planning and implementing the response. What we still need is not simply an alignment of efforts between institutions but internal institutional reform as well.
The second challenge for the global resilience agenda lies in the realm of geopolitics. The sharpening of rivalries between the big players on the world stage and at regional levels in the Middle East and in East Asia is a potential source of difficulties in developing the cooperation needed both to fulfil Agenda 2030 and implement the Paris Agreement. It would not be a viable political agenda to insist on geopolitical rivalries taking second place to the requirements of planetary security. It sounds good as an ideal but would always falter when faced with the realities of rivalry. What is reasonable is to argue that environmental sustainability is now a geopolitical interest. It needs to be at least included in the calculations when working out the approach of diplomacy for relations between the big powers on the world stage and at regional levels. For the good of the environment, as part of planetary security, effort is needed on all sides to handle current geopolitical rivalries as peacefully, constructively and cooperatively as possible.
The third challenge lies at national level. Here, the rejection of climate science findings by President-elect Trump, if followed through in practice during his time in office, will offer encouragement to others who either reject climate science or deny the urgency of acting on its findings. If there is a roll back in key countries of the tenuous near-consensus on climate change that made the Paris Agreement possible, that will inevitably have a direct effect on the potential for implementing a global resilience agenda.
On the basis of this survey and discussion of recent developments in climate-fragility risk and response over the past year and a half, we offer the following three recommendations and priorities for the next 12 month to governments and other actors who recognise the risks of climate-fragility:
It is a truism to state that a set of recommendations like these – a task like the one that faces us to address climate-fragility risks – requires leadership. In times when there is a real risk of roll back and losing what has been achieved, leadership will have to be provided by all committed actors. It is the collective responsibility of governments, inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, research centres and individuals who have signed up to take these ideas forward.