Global Cooperation

Six tips for climate funders working in fragile and conflict-affected settings

Climate funders can help societies adapt to extreme weather events.

Climate funders can help societies adapt to extreme weather events. Image: Nektarios Markogiannis/UNMISS

Dan Smith
Director, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
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COP28

  • Finance for climate adaptation can increase vulnerable regions' resilience to climate change.
  • It can also improve the prospects of peace, stability and broader development.
  • Here are six suggestions for how climate funders can work successfully in fragile contexts, based on peacebuilding experience.

The devastation unleashed on the city of Derna, Libya, by Storm Daniel in September this year was not just a result of 400mm of rain falling in a day. Years of war and chaos had damaged two key dams and authorities were poorly prepared. The result was, perhaps, tens of thousands of preventable deaths.

Dangerous interactions between conflict-related fragility and climate vulnerability are playing out across some of the world’s poorest regions. Strikingly, 80% of UN peacekeepers are deployed in countries ranked among the most vulnerable to climate change.

The overlap between climate change vulnerability, conflict and fragility
The overlap between climate change vulnerability, conflict and fragility

Finance for climate adaptation can both increase the vulnerable communities’ and regions’ resilience to climate change and improve the prospects of peace, stability and broader development. Discussions at the COP28 climate summit suggest there is a genuine will among wealthier nations to channel more climate finance to fragile regions. For this to happen, many climate funders — from multilateral funds to development banks to bilateral donors – will need to adjust to unfamiliar challenges and risks associated with fragile and conflict-affected settings. But they are not the first to do so: peacebuilders have spent decades learning how to do it. Here are six suggestions for how climate funders can work successfully in fragile contexts, based on peacebuilding experience.

1. Work on conflict and fragility, not just in it

Working in a fragile setting undoubtedly comes with risks, not only to the safety of staff and infrastructure, but also to sudden changes in circumstances that throw project plans into disarray. But these risks can be managed and mitigated. At the same time, climate adaptation projects can be peace-positive, working on, rather than just in or around, conflict, to borrow from James Goodhand’s advice to development agencies working in conflict zones.

With the right approaches, climate adaptation can help to build peace. In turn, this can increase communities’ resilience to climate change and can open the way for more ambitious adaptation work later on.

2. Assess conflict risk throughout the project cycle

Study local conflict dynamics, tensions and risks as part of project planning and keep monitoring them throughout the project cycle. Be sure to consider stakeholders beyond the target community, as well as the full cycle of project activities, including where materials are sourced.

While in more stable settings the consequences of missteps can generally be absorbed, managed or mitigated — if not always fairly — in fragile settings, displacement, grievances and lost livelihoods can spill over into armed violence and political disruption. A thorough analysis of the context allows you to manage and mitigate risks to the project and to local communities and to identify opportunities to contribute to peace.

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3. Make consultation a core activity, not a courtesy

Public consultation is too often a box-ticking exercise. In fragile settings it must be much more than this. Projects should actively seek out and engage with local stakeholders and communities, being as inclusive as possible.

This is not just about obtaining consent and identifying potential opposition. It is also about learning from local communities how they have traditionally adapted to extreme weather and climate variation and managed their fallout. Building on these local solutions and institutions could have a greater impact than trying to impose new models.

On top of this, when public engagement brings together groups who have tense or adversarial relations, the act of negotiating over common interests — such as access rights to land or water resources during a drought – is central to the practice of ‘environmental peacebuilding.'

4. Build new networks and partnerships

The state often has limited capacity and reach in fragile settings. Some of the most trusted, well-resourced and well-connected organizations on the ground may well be peacebuilders — whether peace missions deployed by the United Nations; regional organizations, such as the African Union; or international NGOs, such as my old organization, International Alert.

These can be useful partners for climate funders. They can, for example, help to ensure conflict-sensitive planning and implementation, facilitate contact with local communities and recommend potential local supporters and advocates.

Peacebuilding actors can also help to identify local adaptation needs and opportunities. It is increasingly common for peace practitioners to get training on climate security. In the past few years, several major UN peace missions have employed climate advisers. They may even take part in implementation; personnel of the UN Mission in South Sudan report spending increasing time and resources on responding to climate change impacts.

5. Engage for the long term

Progress in fragile settings may be incremental, with many setbacks. Climate funders should have a long-term strategy for building resilience and securing adaptation gains in a fragile region and be ready for plans to evolve as the context changes. This strategy should be aligned with local peacebuilding and development strategies.

6. Don’t flood local partners with money

Local climate actors in fragile settings may be small, with limited capacity for managing funds. Giving them too much money in one go can be counterproductive and risky for both the donor and the recipient organization.

This is another area where partnering with established peacebuilding organizations could be advantageous. For example, they can help smaller local organizations and even state actors to negotiate climate funds’ demanding application procedures. They can offer capacity building in financial monitoring and reporting.

Another possible model is to channel climate finance through larger peacebuilding actors, who can then distribute them to local partners with whom they have closer contact and rapport. This would also potentially reduce the transaction costs for climate funders of working with multiple local partners.

Have you read?

We are in an age of polycrises, driven by interacting global and local factors, teleconnections and hard geophysical realities. With funding already far below what is needed to address these crises, the case has never been stronger for cooperating across traditional policy siloes and exploiting synergies wherever they exist. As climate funders venture further into the unfamiliar territory of fragility and conflict, peacebuilders can be invaluable guides and partners.

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