Climate change, peace and conflict: Perspectives from the European Union

By Lorenzo Angelini

In 2020 EPLO, together with adelphi and the Climate Diplomacy initiative, with support from the German Federal Foreign Office, organised two series of online workshops on integrating peacebuilding and climate adaptation. The series brought together civil society experts and policymakers to discuss challenges, lessons learned, best practices and recommendations relating to how to address the linkages between climate change, peace and conflict. The policy brief, report and recordings from the series are available here.

As part of the same project, we interviewed policymakers from the European External Action Service and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships and Service for Foreign Policy Instruments on these issues. We invited them to comment on how the European Union (EU) and their respective institutions approach these linkages, and on some of their priorities in responding to them moving forward.

Please scroll down or click on the links below to read the interviews.

European External Action Service


Interview conducted with Mariko Peters (Senior Peace and Conflict Advisor, ISP.2: Conflict prevention and mediation support) and Iina Lietzen (Policy officer, ISP.1: Integrated Approach – Methodology and Implementation).

How are the links between the climate crisis, peace and conflict relevant to the work of the EEAS, particularly of the Integrated Approach for Security and Peace directorate?

Mariko Peters: These links are extremely relevant to our work, and this has been increasingly recognised over the past years. The main question now involves determining what to do in response. A first priority relates to translating this awareness of the links between climate, conflict and peace into the EU’s institutional ways of working, into our policies and into our tools. There has been significant progress on this front: until recently, addressing these links was not in the mandate of ISPD whilst now it is a policy priority and we have a climate change focal point – but we need to go further. This comes with challenges, of course, but also with opportunities. One challenge is that some still do not consider it necessary to prioritise addressing these links in our work: they argue that climate change ‘only’ exacerbates drivers of conflict, and that the aim should be to focus first and foremost on the drivers and root causes. Another challenge relates to ensuring that climate sensitisation of the EU’s crisis response does not become a ‘tick the box’ exercise (a pitfall that gender mainstreaming has sometimes run into). It is also important to look at the climate sensitivity of our engagements in an integrated manner, crossing siloes between the security and climate experts, over the full spectrum of crisis response, from missions to conflict prevention and mediation and development cooperation. Finally, it can be challenging both (1) to upscale local experiences in addressing climate change and conflicts, and (2) to translate high level commitments and declarations into concrete new actions and practices in fragile and conflict-affected countries. One example of how we have been making progress in addressing these challenges is by working to enhance the focus on climate and environment in our conflict analyses. These conflict analyses are a mandatory requirement for EU programming in fragile countries and we are now bringing in the climate experts to join that effort.

Iina Lietzen: I agree with Mariko’s points; as the European Union is a global security actor, it is crucial that we manage to fully take climate and security considerations on board if we do not want to risk the efficiency of our foreign and security policy. In the Integrated Approach for Security and Peace directorate, our mandate involves ensuring the effective co-ordination of EU responses throughout the conflict cycle, and in order to achieve this objective it is essential to indeed take climate risks into consideration and to ensure that our approach to these risks is not a ‘tick the box’ exercise, as Mariko emphasised.

How has the relevance of these links to your work evolved in recent years? Have there been specific factors which have helped contribute to a growing awareness of the need to address them?

Mariko Peters: I would say that different factors have played a role. I would like to commend civil society actors, including EPLO, for actively organising public debates with policymakers around the topic – this has certainly served to spread awareness within our institutions on these issues, but also to connect us to the networks and knowledge bases around us that we can partner with when addressing these challenges. Discussions and debates under the German presidency of the Council of the EU, but also in the United Nations, in NATO, in academia, etc., have helped considerably.  Altogether, this has led to a new type of environment, and the new European Commission’s embrace of the Green Deal has also created opportunities for us in the security sector to address this agenda.

Iina Lietzen: In addition to the debates under the German presidency, there have been a number of Council conclusions on climate diplomacy and security which have contributed to the recognition of the need to address these links. However, the issue has been on the EU’s foreign policy agenda for several years already, and the momentum has particularly grown over the last two years specifically. The Council conclusions on security and defence of June 2020 played an important role, as the Council tasked the European External Action Service with looking into the specific connections between climate change and defence matters within the wider climate-security nexus. These links were again recognised in the Council conclusions on climate and energy diplomacy in January [2021]. The EU roadmap on climate change and defence, which was finalised in November, also sets a framework that puts forward certain short-, medium- and long-term actions for security and defence actors in the EU to better link security, defence and climate matters in their work.

What are some of your priorities for 2021 and beyond in addressing these links?

Mariko Peters: It is going to be essential to address the challenges which I highlighted earlier. Gaining a better understanding of the climate-conflict links will present us with new choices in our policies, programming and engagements. For example, when we looked in our conflict analysis at climate change and environmental degradation in Somalia last year, we were able to observe that armed groups were particularly concentrated around rivers, in an otherwise very arid country suffering from rapid desertification. The next step is then to learn to act on such insights in our work. We also need to learn to enhance our use of the vast amounts of data available on climate change and environmental degradation and to translate these, for example, into options for environmental peacemaking.

Iina Lietzen: As ISP.1 (‘Integrated Approach – Methodology and Implementation’) is in charge of ensuring the efficient and systematic integration of climate security aspects into the EU’s crisis and conflict management, we are looking into making progress on different fronts and developing a conceptual approach that will lay out how to address this. These efforts involve looking at the different parts of the EU’s toolbox – including the analytical tools, the sectoral approaches, the financial instruments (including the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and the European Peace Facility (EPF)) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations – and ensuring that climate and security considerations are integrated in a manner that adequately fits the specificity of each tool. We are also looking at capability development, which involves taking a more systematic approach to knowledge gathering and sharing, identifying lessons learned in the integration of climate and security into crisis management, and pursuing training opportunities. Thirdly, addressing the climate-security nexus through the EU’s integrated approach also involves bringing together the different EU institutions and the EU Member States, and engaging multilaterally with a range of actors, including with civil society organisations, on the topic.

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Directorate-General for International Partnerships


Interview conducted with an EU officer from DG INTPA.

How are the links between the climate crisis, peace and conflict relevant to the work of DG INTPA?

The links are very relevant as we strive to mainstream resilience, peace and security approaches in our action with fragile and conflict affected countries. This dimension is key to the implementation of our analytical tools and processes to promote the EU Integrated Approach to Conflict and Crisis and to support programming in countries affected by significant dimensions of fragility, that are at high risk of conflict or in open conflict. We also sustain that climate change actions should be conflict sensitive but also that peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management should be climate sensitive.

How has the relevance of these links to your work evolved in recent years?

There has been a growing inclusion and consideration of climate change impacts in relation to resilience building, conflict prevention and conflict sensitivity. Climate change risks and opportunities (mitigation, adaptation, disaster risk reduction, green economies, etc.) are being more systematically included in processes of conflict analysis as well as in the EU conflict Early Warning System. This approach is also complemented by Do-No-Harm and Leave No one behind perspectives and has synergies with the Rights Based Approach and general due diligence.

What are some of your priorities for 2021 and beyond in addressing these links?

The start of programming cycle for the next seven years provides a huge opportunity to work on climate change issues and their links to peace and conflict. There is also a more sustained focus on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and resilience-building, as well as on mainstreaming conflict sensitivity in all programmes and external action. In this regard, the experiences from the conflict analyses prescribed by the NDICI instrument will provide key lessons for going forward and also how to continue the work after the Mid-Term Review of the current programming cycle.

Moreover, the focus on green and blue (circular) economies will provide valuable entry points for conflict risk mitigation and do-no-harm approaches, especially in relation to natural resources management, renewable energies, green jobs and growth, etc. Nonetheless, there is a real risk that climate change and peace & conflict issues will be framed mainly within climate security, and also that they might not consider issues such as bottom-up and inclusive decision making, inclusion of marginalised groups and women in green and blue economies, etc.

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Service for Foreign Policy Instruments


Interview conducted with Ana Lukic (Crisis Response Planner, FPI.2: Crisis response, Conflict Prevention and Peace Building).

How are the links between the climate crisis, peace and conflict relevant to the work of FPI?

There has always been a link between access to resources and conflict. Climate change increasingly fuels these dynamics as it upsets our habits and challenges the status quo across the globe. The focus of the current Commission on climate change, including the European Green Deal, is unparalleled. This, combined with a continued commitment to pursue the EU’s geopolitical role and interests, means that we already have the policy framework we need to pursue an ambitious agenda on climate, peace and security. What is crucial now is to mobilise our collective capacities to identify the point where we can best mobilise our resources. For that, the importance of finding effective ways to factor in climate change through all aspects of our work, from conflict prevention, crisis response to peacebuilding and mediation cannot be overstated. In addition to that, work in building resilient states and societies, able to cope with climate change challenges affects will remain essential.

How has the relevance of these links to your work evolved in recent years?

While there is a widespread recognition that there is a link between climate change and conflict, we still need to be better at understanding the dynamics behind these and how to address them – how to transform our policy into action. FPI already responds to climate change affected conflicts based on an understanding of conflict dynamics, now the focus needs to be on better understanding the climate change dynamics and how to respond to them – preferably in a preventive manner, before risks turns into conflict.

Relevant examples among FPI actions include work to address the farmer- herder conflict in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, where we first mobilised mediation expertise that helped the Nigerian authorities develop a strategic plan – the National Livestock Transformation Plan – to address underlying dynamics to the conflict, and once adopted, additional support for a conflict-sensitive implementation of the strategy.

Another example is from Yemen where access to water has long been a source of conflict. The need for access to water was amplified by the essential part it plays in preventing the spread of COVID-19. This allowed us to start a new initiative under our COVID-19 response, to promote a more effective and inclusive approach to managing natural resources, water in particular, in Yemen. If successful, we will perhaps scale up our engagement to facilitate mediation around broader environmental challenges in the country, including climate change.

The EU is putting a renewed emphasis on both climate change and on peace from the highest levels and this is having an impact on all parts of the institutions, including the EU crisis response instruments.

What are some of your priorities for 2021 and beyond in addressing these links?

Actions under NDICI are expected to contribute 30% of the overall budget to climate objectives, which means that the fight against climate change, environmental protection, much like the promotion of human rights, democracy and gender equality should be mainstreamed throughout all programmes and actions, including the crisis response pillar.

To achieve this target our priority will be to mainstream climate change in our actions to the extent possible, tackling the root causes of conflict and how they interact with climate related factors, as well as supporting standalone climate related actions on topics like; climate change forced displacement, facilitating agreements on transboundary resource sharing and transboundary cooperation, conflicts around natural resources, building capacity of institutions to manage resources, support conflict sensitive, innovative, climate change solutions, etc.

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