Changing Climate, Changing Conflicts: Discussing the Climate-Conflict Nexus

The Activity Committee of the JASON Institute for Peace and Security Studies organized a webinar about the Climate-Conflict nexus on the 25th of March. This important – but often ignored – topic was the center of the evening. We discussed the dimensions in which climate change manifests itself and how it affects economics, security, conflict and migration. We had the pleasure to invite two experts on this topic to tell us all about their point of view. 

We were delighted to welcome Harry Verhoeven and Lauren Herzer Risi. Mr. Verhoeven formerly worked in Northern Uganda, Sudan, India and the DRC. He worked as a consultant to the World Bank and UN. Currently, he works as a professor/associate member at Georgetown, Oxford and the African Studies Center in Leiden. One of his expertises is the political economy of the environment in the horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. Our other guest speaker was Lauren Herzer Risi. She is the project director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center. She works with policymakers, practitioners, donors and researchers to generate innovative, transdisciplinary solutions to development and security challenges related to environmental change and natural resource management. Both speakers were happy that we dedicated a webinar to their field of studies. 

We started the evening by introducing the climate-conflict nexus. This complex link between conflict and climate change is still understudied and there is no academic consensus on this topic. Mrs. Herzer Risi emphasized that solutions to conflict have to be specific and climate sensitive. According to Mr. Verhoeven, policy interventions also have to focus more on the long-term. More resources are needed to address this issue adequately. Mrs. Herzer Risi added that cooperation is key to tackle climate change. 

After discussing the security aspects of the conflict-climate nexus, we moved on to the economic aspects of climate change. Mr. Verhoeven explained the impact of climate change on local, regional and international economic stability. This is a complex question, since it is difficult to measure the impact of climate change on economics. Mr. Verhoeven emphasised that it is important to adapt to climate change in a way that increases global security. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we have to take local people seriously. We have to respect their needs instead of telling them what they need to do. Mrs. Herzer Risi also emphasised this and mentioned that we have to spend the money effectively. Both speakers mentioned that financial institutions are recognizing the urgency of the problem. Since more institutions become aware of the problems related to climate change, better cooperation is possible. However, as Mr. Verhoeven added, there is a real difference between awareness and taking action. 

Another factor interlinked with the conflict-climate nexus is migration. According to Mrs. Herzer Risi, climate change has led to forced migration. However, the connection between climate change and migration is context specific. How a local government responds to this issue is important. In the case of Syria, a drought ravaged the country. Instead of acting adequately, the government cut the budget in half. As a result, the Syrian people lacked resources and joined rebel groups. The government should have protected their people, but failed to do so.

Mrs. Herzer Risi and Mr. Verhoeven then told us that headlines about climate change and conflicts are important. This helps to get attention for the issue of climate change and draws attention to parts of the world that do not always receive this. This was also the case for the Darfur conflict. This conflict was described as the ‘first climate change war.’ Mrs. Herzer Risi and Mr. Verhoeven discussed the Darfur conflict. Important here was the way the government responded to the resource shortage in Darfur. As a last remark, Mr. Verhoeven mentioned that context is always important. 

We would like to thank Mrs. Herzer Risi and Mr. Verhoeven for their interesting insights and Arianna and Berenice of the Jason Activities Committee for hosting the webinar! 

Further reading: 

Verhoeven, H. (2015). Water, Civilisation and Power in Sudan: The Political Economy of Military-Islamist State Building. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107447769 

Verhoeven, H. (2011). Climate Change, Conflict and Development in Sudan: Global Neo‐Malthusian Narratives and Local Power Struggles. 

Have you missed this interesting webinar? You can watch the webinar below.

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