Effective climate action can reduce the risks of deadly conflicts around the world.
Environmental change is a known driver of conflicts over natural resources in many countries. And while antagonism often amplifies injustices and disregards towards the environment, it can also be transformed into effective climate action if more conflict-sensitive policies are in place. A new paper by an international team of researchers shows how to do this, highliting valuable lessons from Bangladesh and Nepal.
Starting from the 1990s, many regions within those two countries have been prone to violent conflicts exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and resource shortages. International aid has often been left in the hands of elites who were not always willing to share the benefits. Meanwhile, this has led to the displacement of certain groups; for example by vastly expanding protected areas with little consideration for communities in buffer areas.
Meanwhile, local and foreign investors practiced grabbing large areas of public land and making traditional resource users pay for resources they used for centuries for free (such as water, fisheries or forest resources), while limiting their access to resource-rich areas. Thus, displaced communities were often left with no choice: engage into a conflict or migrate, which in turn could lead to another conflict over common resources on a new territory.
Based on 79 participatory research cases from both countries, the researchers revealed that while chances for peaceful transition are often neglected, there are also cases of conflict resolution combined with environmental action. The research group identified a series of factors that are necessary for peaceful and effective transformations.
First comes dialogue. While a large share of resources is currently dedicated to technical aid, necessary changes often require precisely the opposite: not technical but social and institutional innovation, starting with the neutral mediation of dialogue. Enabling factors include better negotiation within local institutions, just distribution of knowledge, and fair allocations of incentives. Participatory dialogue sets the stage for negotiations and gives actors an experience that they are all in the same boat.
Second, while communities may be prone to hide their successful cases of adaptation, fearing others will capture their resources, it is only when they share their insights that each community suddenly gains access to a much wider range of adaptation options, able to combine indigenous knowledge with novel solutions. Such an approach also supported the long-term growth of learning networks and engaged the most disadvantaged communities, allowing for a more just and fair transition.
Only after an effective dialogue and communication are in place is it time to bring in technical assistance, which now can be implemented effectively. Finally, even greater results can be achieved if institutional innovation and reform takes place. For example, in both countries support to community-based organisations allowed local populations to gain better access to resources and enhanced their responsible management.
Also, when proper legislation, such as the Environmentally Friendly Local Governance Framework in Nepal, is combined with effective collaboration between government and society, other climate-friendly solutions like the installation of solar panels and organic farming don’t take long to start spreading as well.
Based on their findings, the researchers conclude that “[c]onflict is not necessarily negative. [It] can be part of a dynamic process of change and transformation that brings benefits, as well as costs.” Through making environmental policy and action conflict-sensitive, we can achieve much better environmental outcomes. In turn, our world will become not only climate-resilient, but also more peaceful and just.