Adaptation: instrument of conflict or tool for cooperation?

Results of research programme on conflict and climate change at Adaptation Futures 2018

28 June 2018

Climate interventions, including finance mechanisms, may well exacerbate conflicts when they do not address underlying social and environmental dynamics and thus build on existing inequalities. This was a finding from researchers of the DFID-funded, NWO-WOTRO-managed Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change (CCMCC) research programme at Adaptation Futures 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa, where four of the seven projects were represented.

Picture: Daniel Murdiyarso for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Flickr CC

While the four projects had different focus areas and covered different countries, each considered adaptation interventions and unintended, unanticipated or unforeseen impacts of adaptation interventions during the five year programme. NB: All projects presented their results at the CCMCC final meeting in the beginning of June.

Picture: Claire Mathieson (CrossConsulting)

“Adaptation interventions should use a social landscape approach,” said Sebastiaan Soeters of the TICCI project while referring to a case study on Fulani pastoralists and conflicts emerging from adaptation interventions in northern Ghana. “We need to move away from targeting communities without taking into consideration the wider social landscape they are part of; communities are not homogenous.” Soeters explained that understanding power and conflict dynamics is crucial and that is not limited to consulting communities. “The communities replicate the discrimination. Pastoralists are not part of communities and therefore have no voice when we talk about consulting communities. There are power-divides that need to be considered.”

For the CALCNR project, conflicts and injustices over natural resources have always been common and continue under adaptation interventions. “Climate change triggers, intensifies or multiplies conflict including undermining existing cooperation around natural resources in 50% of our cases,” said the project's principal investigator Dr Parvin Sultana. The project looked at water management in Bangladesh flood plains and multi-use landscapes around water and forestry in Nepal.

REDD+ findings

Picture: Claire Mathieson (CrossConsulting)

Two of the projects focused on REDD+, typically considered a mitigation mechanism. “Mitigation is a part of our global adaptation activity,” explained Courtney Work of the MOSAIC project. “Mitigation and adaptation are not two separate phenomena.”

“REDD+ is framed as mitigation globally, but is seen through an adaptation lens locally,” said Dr Poshendra Satyal of the CoCooR project. “REDD+ has clear linkages to enhancing adaptation capacity through co-benefits.”

He explained that conflict was not necessarily bad and it can be a key driver of change. “We have seen instances of conflicts over recognition and participation.” These conflicts reveal underlying injustices that the intervention may be enhancing. “REDD+ is a driver of conflict resulting from competing claims on land, but in some instances REDD+ has also provided a new space for discussion between stakeholders.”

All about transforming conflicts into more just outcomes

Picture: Claire Mathieson (CrossConsulting)

The audience, which included donors, researchers and practitioners, was challenged by some of the findings that confront current policies and practices. “Conflict as a phenomenon can be very revealing. It can surface underlying dynamics, mobilise people to make their voices heard and can create room for engagement for negotiation,” said Corinne Lamain, CCMCC programme coordinator. “Similarly, cooperation can be concealing. Do power dynamics in place allow people to make their voices heard, for instance in often promoted multi-stakeholder platforms? Is cooperation a more desirable outcome?” Lamain explained that progress was not always about reducing conflict, but transforming conflicts into more just outcomes. 

Research programme on conflict and climate change

The CCMCC programme, which is in its final phase, showed that conflict dynamics are omnipresent in contexts where climate policies are rolled out. Climate change interventions are often superimposed on existing policies and interventions and therefore build on to these existing inequalities. “In order to avoid inducing conflicts, possibly leading to violence, it is paramount to take into consideration learnings on conflict-sensitiveness that for long have been available when adaptation interventions are rolled out,” said Lamain.

Future development and implementation of climate interventions needs to be more conflict sensitive. The findings of CCMCC have provided pathways for achieving this in a range of contexts and the programme will continue to communicate these findings in order to enhance this purpose.

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Source: NWO