Addressing Climate-related Security Risks: Towards a Programme for Action

This policy paper proposes five steps donors and governments should take to deliver on the climate-security agenda.
Image showing the CS Risks Policy Paper

In March 2021, Weathering Risk and the UK government supported the three-part Climate Security in 3D event series organised by Wilton Park and adelphi, bringing together international and multilateral partners from across ‘the 3Ds’: diplomacy, development and defence. This policy paper responds to the development-focused session and offers bilateral and multilateral development agencies a path towards action. Following the event, supplementary information was gathered through desk-based research and 12 interviews with climate and conflict advisers in relevant governments and donor organisations.

The impacts of climate change on the Sustainable Development Goals are increasingly important to the UN and its partners. In the last decade, many countries have initiated new programmes, initiatives, and institutions focused on how climate change erodes resilience, especially in fragile countries. There have been several UN Security Council debates on the issue, and the establishment of the Climate Security Mechanism in 2018 increased the UN’s institutional capacity to deal with climate-related security risks. 

However, despite increasing recognition of the impact of climate change on security, many states have not translated climate-security into their development programming. This is due in part to financial and human resources constraints, but also due to broader political and institutional obstacles. Moreover, issues of inclusion – in particular around gender – are far from fully addressed in programming. Without taking such factors into consideration, development programming that seeks to address climate-related security risks can be limited by, or even exacerbate, existing inequalities.  

To take effective action on the climate-security agenda, bilateral and multilateral donors should take five key steps:

Step 1: Move towards integrated strategies that deliver on both climate resilience and peace

Climate change reverses development and peace gains, posing risks to human security and making peace harder to achieve. Environmental shifts can have an influence on livelihoods, socio-political dynamics, and community resilience. Climate-security work can therefore be linked across the development, political and security sectors. The key next step will be to translate the current fairly broad understanding of the climate-fragility-security nexus into tailored programming, based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data from the full range of sources, covering factors such as food security, demographics, population movements, natural resources.  

Step 2: Focus on inclusion and social transformation

Security risks emerge from a range of inter-related social dynamics, particularly those involving inequalities, differential access to power, and the governance of natural resources. Deep inequalities, including the marginalisation of women and youth, are therefore not tangential to climate-security programming but should be at the centre of future engagement. For example, the UN’s Joint Programme on Women, Natural Resources and Peace put women’s empowerment at the centre of its conflict resolution and economic recovery activities in Sudan and Colombia. The programme succeeded not only in increasing women’s participation in natural resource governance, conflict prevention and resolution, but also in shifting perceptions of women’s leadership capacities and contribution to building a sustainable peace. Future development and peacebuilding programming should learn from the successes of integrated approaches to date, and identify the immediate and longer-term structural changes necessary to combat the risks of deepening marginalisation, placing them as the core objectives of future programmes.

Step 3: Develop multi-scalar strategies that address local, national, and regional dynamics together

Climate security risks do not stop at borders. Both multilateral and bilateral donors should focus on climate, conflict and insecurity dynamics not just at the country-level but also across regions. The UN’s increasing practice of regional and transborder programming offers a good way forward, which could be adopted more directly by bilateral donors and governments. For example, the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund has introduced a number of cross-border projects cross-border programmes into its climate security portfolio, including between Chad and the Central African Republic, and Mali and Niger.

Working together with regional bodies can help bring more relevant actors to the table, improve data collection and sharing, and support the creation of long-term plans to address the causes of climate-driven insecurity and conflict, rather than its effects alone. In both the African Union and ECOWAS, for example, conversations about climate security are moving forward, largely led by African governments and experts. Importantly, transborder programming should always include local communities and actors, who can contribute their experiences of local specificities and cross-border challenges to inform and improve programming.


Step 4:  Invest more in learning and capacity-building 

The climate-security field is still relatively nascent, so there is an important opportunity to build expertise in order to integrate climate security across sectors and programming. It is important that this is done in ways that mitigate unequal global power relations and create broader political will and buy-in. Especially in climate-vulnerable and fragile environments, more investments into knowledge sharing, research capabilities, and piloting and testing programmatic approaches are needed. Monitoring & Evaluation is another important area for further investment. Priority should be given to the creation and implementation of indicators that capture results for all the intended and unintended outcomes and impacts by using multiple qualitative and quantitative methods. Benefits to local communities and participatory and emancipatory approaches should be brought to centre stage, reflecting the differential impacts of programmes on age, gender, ethnic and religious groups, as well as socially excluded communities, such as people with disabilities.

Step 5: Frame climate-security as a clear complement to the broader climate change discussion

To date, climate-security has been a politically fraught issue. Countries have expressed concerns that their development agendas might be “hijacked” by a security agenda. However, as the Wilton Park event highlighted, there is growing recognition that although climate change compounds hard security problems, hard security solutions are not the answer. Going into COP26, more work could be done to frame climate-security as an important aspect of the broader debate which crosses the 3Ds of diplomacy, development and defence, and which foster integrated analysis and responses across the different sectoral mandates which these risks and corresponding responses fall.

Find out more by downloading the full paper below.