Climate Change, Peace and Security in the Arab Region

04 Nov 2015

COP21 Refugees and internally displaced persons from Somalia are displaced due to drought and conflict. Photo: Stuart Price/NU Photo

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their perspective on issues of climate change, in the lead up to COP21 in December.

Among the various drivers of risk in the world today, two stand out: climate change and the evolving nature of conflict and insecurity. While each by itself has serious consequences for development, their convergence has become a subject of heightened attention. The U.N. Security Council has convened a series of debates on climate change in recent years and, for the first time, the latest global Assessment Report by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change includes a chapter on “Human Security”, mapping out the risks for resource scarcity, displacement, and conflict.

Leading UNDP’s local partnerships in the Arab region, I see first-hand how the converging forces of climate and conflict can reshape the prospects for development. The Arab region is experiencing one of the most dramatic periods of change in history - with an escalation of conflict, a 33 percent rise in poverty rates, and the emergence of twenty million refugees and internally displaced persons. The very places experiencing conflict and unprecedented refugee flows are also some of the areas most at risk to the effects of climate change.

Already the most water-scarce and food import-dependent region in the world, climate change is expected to trigger even more severe droughts, water insecurity and expansion of drylands. From 2006 to 2011, the Arab region suffered one of its worst droughts on record, contributing to famine, the widespread loss of livelihoods, and the displacement of millions.

As policymakers look to the future, more risk-informed models of development will be critical. Three issues in particular require urgent action:  

Climate-induced displacement: For rural farmers, more severe droughts and rising sea levels affect livelihood activities. Rural-urban migrations are already on the rise, adding pressures to infrastructure and social security systems in cities. Preventing the escalation of displacement and conflict will require countries to scale-up adaptation of agriculture and irrigation systems, expand early warning systems, and expand use of social protections such as climate-indexed insurance. Since climate-induced migration is expected to rise, it is urgently important that we create global mechanisms to manage risks and support displaced communities.

Resource competition: As climate impacts expand, natural assets (such as land and water) and ecosystem services (such as agricultural productivity) are expected to suffer. This will exacerbate social vulnerability and could amplify the risk of conflict, such as transboundary water disputes around the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile river basins. Natural resource developments must be done with climate-sensitivity, and transboundary agreements must be flexible enough to ensure that countries can continue cooperating when climate change affects availability.

Climate-resilient recovery: Most conflict-affected countries in the region are also climate risk hotspots, with communities hosting refugees and IDPs also suffering from water-scarcity and more frequent and severe droughts. Given the protracted nature of conflict in the region, climate risks must factor into early recovery and reconstruction efforts, including climate-resilient infrastructure and livelihoods and sustainable energy solutions. This can be an important way to marry growing levels of humanitarian assistance and climate finance.  

As we seek to assist those most in need in the Middle East, a more comprehensive approach is needed that engages the multi-dimensional nature of risks faced by communities. The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December will be followed next May by the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. The road from Paris to Istanbul is an opportunity to rethink the means of achieving humanitarian and climate change goals, as well as a chance to create a new paradigm of climate-resilient approaches to peace and security.

In the lead-up to the COP21 Paris climate change conference, UNDP's experts and practitioners highlight the challenges and opportunities in addressing this global concern. For more information, visit http://www.undp.org/cop21

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