Dennis Taenzler

After days and nights of negotiations, the United Nations climate talks reached an agreement at the very last minute, the "Durban Platform." A compromise in many ways, the platform comprises decisions on negotiating a global climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for all countries by 2015; on a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol; and on a structure for a Green Climate Fund. However, many scientists warn that this ambition is in no way sufficient keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. As a result, the international community needs to prepare for the costs of this slow negotiation process. The political costs to be born may most likely also affect peace and stability in many regions, as the Security Council noted in the Presidential Statement agreed upon during its session on climate change on 20 July.

Today, this perspective on the security implications of climate change is established in significant parts of the foreign policy community. Limited progress in the international negotiations have encouraged numerous organizations and initiatives to enter the debate on how to avoid the outbreak of violent conflicts as a result of increasing resource scarcity and environmental degradation – especially in conflict-prone countries and regions. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Christina Figueres, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, two of the most prominent representatives of global environmental governance, have warned that climate change is threatening peace and stability.

The climate negotiations in South Africa may not have established only one “Durban Platform”, but in addition, the debates on climate change as a foreign policy challenge may have also created another, virtual platform. What does this mean? For a long time, climate policies have mainly been the domain of decision makers representing ministries for the environment, although most agreed that climate change is a cross-cutting challenge affecting the fields of economy, trade, development, and finance, among others. Even comprehensive assessments in recent years on the security risks of climate change, as well as the first Security Council meeting on climate change as a threat to peace and stability have not immediately led to a policy change. Not least, because to move from risk analysis to risk management is far from simple.

This situation is apparently changing. Some observations on the discussions before and in Durban can help to back this observation: First, foreign policy makers – especially in Germany and the UK – are promoting activities to illustrate how climate diplomacy can make use of the convening power of foreign policy structures to move from early warning to early action, for example by supporting regional dialogues and cooperation. There is a clear willingness to strengthen the conflict preventive potential of climate policy and make it a main pillar of foreign services. Second, this is not only a European debate. Representatives from regional organizations, like those in Africa, and civil society organizations are calling for a design of climate policies that are conflict sensitive to contribute to peace and stability. One example is a policy brief by the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), which asks for conflict-sensitive adaptation policies based on an international conference held in Durban a couple of weeks before the actual climate negotiations. Finally, as the climate finance landscape becomes more and more concrete, questions about financial accountability have been raised. Well-known institutions like Transparency International are working to ensure that the people managing and spending public money allocated for climate change will be held accountable, both in developed and developing countries. There is no doubt the climate community cannot afford to lose financing due to misuse or corruption. Guidelines for transparency and accountability as well as the principle of do-no-harm can help to inform the design and implementation of climate policies to this end.

If the observation is correct, then the mainstreaming of climate change in the field of foreign policy can support constructive international negotiations towards a comprehensive and fair climate regime and, at the same time, contribute to strengthening crisis and conflict prevention. Seen in this way, the “Durban Platform” may in fact turn out to be a platform of cooperation.

For further information on the international dialogues regarding climate change and security, please see here.

For the Policy Brief by ACCORD, “Climate change and conflict: Conflict-sensitive climate change adaptation in Africa”, please see http://www.accord.org.za/downloads/brief/policy_practice14.pdf

Published in: ECC-Newsletter, 6/2011

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