Conflict over adaptation funds may spur violence, report warns

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 December 2009 14:30 GMT

LONDON (AlertNet) Â? Many of the nations expected to be hardest hit by climate change are vulnerable in part because they are already badly governed and conflict-prone, researchers say. As a result, passing out funds to help them adapt to climate shifts risks fomenting violence rather than reducing it as rivals fight over the spoils, a new report on fragile states and climate-related conflict warns.

Making adaption funding work, the report says, will require incorporating adaptation spending into other development efforts and focusing on building strong government and society structures that will be resilient in dealing with climate change and other problems.

Those responsible for dispersing and accepting the money also need to acknowledge that cash transfers can have security implications, including potentially destabilizing governments as political rivals fight for a share of the income.

"It is the interaction between the natural consequences (of climate change) and the social and political realities in which people live that will determine whether they can adapt successfully," notes Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility, the new report by International Alert, a London-based peace-building organisation.

As part of a new global climate pact being negotiated at Copenhagen later this month, developing nations hope by 2030 to win $50 billion to $160 billion per year from rich nations to help them adapt to the changes climate shifts will bring.

That new spending potentially would be in the range of the $106 billion spent worldwide each year by governments on international aid, said Oli Brown, who researches security policy for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, headquartered in Canada.

Such large streams of additional money coming into fragile nations would have huge security implications, and could heighten the risk of violent conflict as effectively as climate change itself, said Dan Smith, the secretary general of International Alert, and lead author of the new report.

"It could do an awful lot of damage" and lead to greater political instability, he warned at the report's launch this week in London.

One way to reduce that risk is to ensure that much of the spending on adaptation goes to strengthening the resilience of governments and societies to deal with a wide range of problems, not just climate change, Smith said. Another is to be sure that funds to address climate change are integrated with development programs, to help ensure national goals are met.

"If adaptation means anything, it's adapting development," he said. While national programmes focused on climate change adaptation and development are often separate today, in the future "they will be indistinguishable from each other," he said.

In an era of financial and fiscal crises, "countries have to adapt to all kinds of things. Climate change is just one of them," noted Brown, who spoke at the report's launch.

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