Copenhagen: Creating a Climate for Conflict?

International Alert is an independent peace-building organization that has worked for more than 20 years in 25 countries affected by conflict. Dan Smith, secretary general of International Alert, and Janani Vivekananda, senior policy Adviser on Climate change, are authors of Alert's latest report "Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility," and of "A Climate of Conflict," published by International Alert in 2007.

Thousands of negotiators, activists and lobbyists have descended on Copenhagen for two weeks to discuss a global deal on climate change.

VIDEO: Climate Conference Opens in Copenhagen
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The high-profile issues are about reducing carbon emissions and how much money the developed countries, which have the main responsibility for global warming, will put on the negotiating table to help people in poorer countries cope with the consequences. But these are not the only important issues.

One issue that will only be discussed in the margins at Copenhagen is the heightened risk of violent conflict. Factors linking climate change to an increased potential for conflict include water scarcity, accelerated land degradation and decreased food production.

The risk will be greatest in poor, badly governed countries, many of which have a history of armed conflict. International Alert's report "A Climate of Conflict" estimates that just under 3 billion people live in 46 conflict-affected countries, where climate change could increase the risk of violent conflict, with a further 2 billion people living in an additional 56 countries that face a high risk of political instability.

The Obama administration has already indicated its awareness of the important interlinked effects of climate change on increased instability and conflict. During his campaign, Obama stated that "investments to assist fragile states in coping with the challenges of climate change are in the interests of U.S. national security."

Climate Change Is Not Just a Climate Issue

Last week, the U.K.'s shadow foreign secretary William Hague stated that the "growing risk of armed conflict in some of the most fragile regions of the world due to climate change" was to be a foreign policy priority should a Conservative government take office next year.

The climate negotiators, however, remain largely silent on the matter.

International Alert's latest report warns that new funds, set to be agreed as part of an international deal that will probably be finalized next year, could make the situation worse if they don't take account of these linkages.

Policies for adaptation have to respond to political and social realities in the countries where they are implemented or they will not work.

Climate change is not only a climate issue. Climate change will affect conflict, development, government, human rights, trade and the world economy.

All these issues affect the ability of people, and their governments to respond constructively to the challenges climate change generates. The problems are interlinked, so the responses must be too.

International Alert's latest report, 'Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility', recommends that adaptation strategies should be made conflict sensitive.

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