Peace@COP28: New commitments on climate, relief, recovery and peace

13 December 2023 Peace@COP28: New commitments on climate, relief, recovery and peace

Following COP28, we take a look at how the impacts of climate change on people affected by conflict deserve strong political recognition, concerted action, and the inclusion of community-led approaches.

“While the climate crisis affects everyone, women are disproportionately affected yet are often excluded from decision-making, and their important efforts in the community are not recognised," says Grace Dorong, Executive Director of Root of Generations – a South Sudanese organisation (and a Saferworld partner) which she set up to support and inspire young women across South Sudan. Grace is from Budi County in Eastern Equatoria, an area of the country that has been affected by climate change-induced drought, causing tensions and affecting conflict dynamics. Last week, she was at COP28 – the annual United Nations climate change conference – and she is determined to help ensure that communities on the frontlines of climate change and conflict are able to inform global policies, and in particular that women and girls are included in decision-making processes.

On 3 December, COP28 featured its first ever Relief, Recovery and Peace Day. This day also saw the official launch of the COP28 declaration on climate, relief, recovery and peace, which was endorsed by 74 countries and 40 organisations. The conference president, Dr Sultan al-Jaber, has invited governments and institutions to make commitments supporting the acceleration of climate action to countries and communities affected by fragility or conflict or facing severe humanitarian needs.

Integrated approaches to climate action

In the run up to COP28, which took place in the United Arab Emirates, Saferworld joined a collective of diverse organisations spanning five continents calling for peace, conflict prevention and conflict sensitivity to be part of the official conference agenda, discussed in negotiations, and included in decisions and other outcome documents. The Peace@COP28 collective released policy recommendations with guidance on how governments and institutions can take conflict-sensitive climate action. The collective also published a draft response following the release of the declaration on climate, relief, recovery and peace, welcoming the declaration but calling for mechanisms ‘to guarantee this is not a one-shot occurrence, that this is just the beginning, and the Declaration will be carried into COP29 and beyond’.

Saferworld welcomes the growing recognition of the need for more integrated approaches to tackling climate change, given the disproportionate effect of climate crises on those affected by conflict and fragility – more than half of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are also impacted by conflict. Climate change and conflict are mutually reinforcing and destructive: the effects of climate change and environmental degradation can exacerbate the risk of conflict; at the same time, the effects of violent conflict – including military activity and environmental destruction – can also contribute to or exacerbate the effects of climate change itself. Our response to climate change can also risk aggravating conflict if approaches are blind to the existing dynamics of a specific context.

Commitments to fragile and conflict-affected states – and ensuring conflict sensitivity

The compounding impacts of climate change on those affected by fragility, conflict and severe humanitarian needs deserve strong political recognition alongside concerted action. Climate change affects communities across the globe disproportionately – extreme weather events affect three times as many people in fragile and conflict-affected settings annually, yet people living in extremely fragile states receive up to 80 times less in climate finance per head. Those most affected by fragility and conflict and who are on the frontlines of the climate crisis also have the fewest resources to be able to adapt or cope with shocks.

It is important to address these imbalances in a conflict-sensitive way that responds to people’s needs and circumstances, and which is informed by and adapts to the specific intricacies of national, regional and local contexts. Uniform or overly technocratic approaches may otherwise risk causing or worsening tensions, reinforcing marginalisation or excluding vulnerable groups (particularly women), and ultimately may miss chances to shore up community resilience and opportunities to support peace. The increased focus on conflict sensitivity at this year’s COP is therefore very welcome; however, translating this into best practice and policy will take further action and cross-silo working, including investing in understanding what this means in different contexts.  

The Relief, Recovery and Peace day demonstrates a greater spotlight on the aid sector, in recognition that aid organisations are increasingly dealing with the devastating effects of climate change on humanitarian crises and development. It’s important that this attention outlives the conference, with governments and institutions understanding how a climate and peace lens can better inform aid approaches – for example, through ensuring conflict-sensitive aid strategies that also incorporate a strong climate and environment focus; more attention given to climate action and access to climate finance in conflict-affected areas; and integrated approaches to disaster risk reduction, early warning and anticipatory action, and resilience. Recent papers by the Conflict Sensitivity Resource Facility in South Sudan and the Conflict Sensitivity Facility in Sudan looked at the links between climate change and conflict in these countries, and at the implications for aid strategies and responses that take into account the environment and climate change.

Local ownership of climate change policy and action

The format of much of the discussion on climate change – involving heads of government and their representatives – has excluded and overlooked the critical role of community voices and approaches. A serious flaw, given that communities a) bring an immense amount of wisdom, understanding of their environment and frontline experience; and b) are essential to the success of efforts to implement climate policy.

As Grace from Root of Generations points out, “This existing local knowledge and indigenous expertise are vital to address the climate crisis in conflict-affected countries. With the focus on the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28, we also need to look at this in a more holistic sense – not only looking at material loss, but also the wider well-being of those most affected. This needs a joined-up approach – which enables those directly affected (especially women) to have their say in the design of funds and how these are used, which combines peacebuilding and climate expertise, and which looks beyond immediate emergency response to sustainable longer-term support and social programmes. As civil society organisations from these contexts that are often spoken about in a disconnected way, we have a huge contribution to make to finding ways to respond that empower communities, support peace, and restore hope to those most affected by the impact of climate change.”

Follow the #PeaceAtCOP28 across social media platforms to track emerging outcomes and what we hope will be more concrete commitments from COP28.

Photo: Flickr/UN Climate Change