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Cancun Climate Talks: Still Much Work to do on the Conflict-Climate Connection

January 5, 2011

Image: Adopt a Negotiator Flickr

I had the opportunity to attend the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico from November 29-December 10 with the Adopt a Negotiator program, a group of young people from all over the world who follow their countries’ delegations at the UN climate talks and blog about what’s going on to help folks back at home follow along and get involved.   While I spent a lot of my time following the U.S. delegation and the overall direction of the talks (you can read more about my impressions of the talks on the Adopt a Negotiator blog), I also kept an eye out for any news about the connections between climate change and conflict, since this is an important and fascinating part of my work here at FCNL.

Unfortunately, discussions about these connections were notable by their absence.  The negotiations themselves were accompanied by hundreds of informational side events organized by the many NGO observer organizations, which brought together academics, scientists, development practitioners, politicians, negotiators and others to discuss many of the issues that climate change entails.  I attended several events concerning climate change and its connections to migration, development and even national security, but was unable to find one that concerned violent conflict.  At many of these side events I asked the panelists about their thoughts on the conflict-climate connection, and their answers were almost universally the same: they acknowledged that this is a growing issue that is commanding more and more attention, but that there is little understanding of how the international community and individual countries can go about preventing climate-related violent conflict.

In terms of the decisions that countries made under the Cancun Agreements, mentions of the connections between climate change and conflict, let alone what the international community can do about them, are also notably absent.  This is in part because many of the decisions are merely preliminary steps in fleshing out a more proactive response to climate change.  For example, the Agreements decided to establish a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, adapt to the effects of climate change and mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions, and established a set of principles for how this fund will be set up over the next year or so, but did not say how the spending of these funds would be prioritized.  However, the discussions surrounding finance, technology transfer and the many other contentious issues at the Cancun climate talks lacked an awareness about the connections between climate change and deadly conflict.

Although I was disappointed, I can’t say I was particularly surprised to find that this was the case, since in our work on Capitol Hill we at PPDC are confronting a similar lack of action about this issue.  Although some policymakers seem to understand that there may be a connection between climate change and violent conflict, they may not understand the specific connections or feel that the issue is important enough to merit legislative action by the U.S. Congress, especially when seemingly more pressing issues dominate most of their attention.  My experiences at the UN climate talks have shown me that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making the connections between climate change and preventing deadly conflict.

For more information on the connections between climate change and conflict, check out FCNL’s policy brief “Global Warming Heat Up Global Conflict.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. andrea permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:52 pm

    Thanks you for your many interesting experieinces. I like your Quaker suggestions and hope they are used. Blessings, Andrea,osb

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