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Preventing climate-related conflict: A challenge for cross-disciplinary research, policy and practice?

Published: 10 Dec 2021

Climate-related peace and security risks are receiving increased attention on the international arena. But how do we ensure that different academic disciplines work together on the challenge of preventing future wars on conflict related to climate change? NUPI and SIPRI’s joint Climate-Related Peace and Security Risks (CPSR) project explored this issue in a webinar held on 24 November.

Global warming is taking place at an unprecedented speed. The sixth IPCCC report, published this year, finds that global temperature in the 21st century is on average 0.99°C  higher than 1850-1890. The world is, in other words, well on track for global warming that exceeds 1.5°C. Whilst IPCCC data reflect global averages, climate change and associated risks do not affect everyone equally. Temperatures in the Sahel are, for instance, expected to rise 1.5 faster than the global average. Risks associated with climate change also have a disproportionate effect on those vulnerable due to their socio-economic position.

In this context, increasing attention is being paid to the links between climate change and tension and conflict. On the 23rd of September, the United Nations Security Council held an open debate on climate and security, in which several member states, including Norway, stressed the need to consider climate-related risks in their conflict prevention efforts.

Increased attention to climate-related peace and security risks on the international plan relies on reliable research. Leading the NUPI-SIPRI CPSR project together with Dr. Florian Krampe from SIPRI, Research Professor Cedric de Coning explains that ‘climate change is underscoring the ways in which humans rely on the wellbeing of the ecosystem on which they depend, a dependency which points to the need for a new holistic social-ecological systems approach to the challenge of preventing future wars and conflicts related to climate change.’

With this need for a new holistic social-ecological system approach to climate-related peace and security risks as a point of departure, the joint NUPI-SIPRI webinar set out to explore how we can overcome the challenges of getting different academic disciplines - e.g. political science and security studies on the one hand, and environmental or sustainable studies on the other - to work together.

‘One of the objectives of the CPSR project is to create opportunities for dialogue between researchers from the Nordic-Baltic Climate Security Network and researchers from other regions. We have earlier done a dialogue with researchers from China, and wanted to expand on this by arranging a research dialogue with colleagues from India’, says Prof. de Coning.

Speaking at the webinar where panelists Dr. Dhanasree Jayaram, Assistant Professor, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India; Dr. Florian Krampe, Senior Researcher and Director of the Climate Change and Risk Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); Dr. Saurabh Thakur, Associate Fellow, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi, India; and, Dr. Cibele Queiroz, Researcher, Global Resilience Partnership & Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Highlighting different aspects of the need for a cross-disciplinary approach to climate change, Dr. Jayaram stressed the progress the field has made in its move away from a strict security studies approach to the climate-conflict nexus whilst underscoring the continued challenge of translating this into practice and policy. Dr. Jayaram also stressed the ways in which a global-north approach to the nexus continues to define the global narrative, often paying less attention to the issue of development which tends to be at the forefront of the agenda for the global south.

Other contributions to the webinar included Dr. Krampe’s elaboration of SIPRI’s pathway analysis of the interlinkages between climate change and conflict and Dr. Thakur’s overview of the history and current state of climate policy and thinking in India. Speaking from the perspective of a researcher with a background in food landscapes,  Dr. Queiroz shared her experiences working with researchers with a social science background in the Seeds for Peace project.