Climate change can compound risks when these risks interact with existing vulnerabilities. In developing countries, climate change can interact with factors like underdevelopment, high dependence on natural resource-based livelihoods, inequality, weak state institutions and marginalisation, which can lead to insecurity and violent conflicts.
Climate change, per se, does not lead to conflict, but when its impacts threaten livelihoods and lead to migration, changes in mobility patterns could increase the risks for conflict.
Besides working on achieving sustainable development goals, and climate change mitigation strategies, climate adaptation is one of the solutions any developing country can take to address climate change-related risks.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Policy Brief, “The Social Side of Climate Change Adaptation: Reducing Conflict Risk”, defines climate adaptation as “the process of adjusting to the actual or expected effects of climate change. If it is well planned and implemented, adaptation can reduce people’s vulnerabilities and improve livelihoods and water and food security.”
It argues that most of the studies on climate adaptation efforts have been “technical, fragmented, narrow and top-down, and displayed significant gaps in planning and implementation” and often overlook the equally important if not critical factor that is social capital that could positively influence climate adaptation and mitigation outcomes.
The brief defines social capital as the relationships between individuals and between and within networks, which are built on norms of reciprocity and trust. It notes that evidence shows that social capital can break down during conflict, and it can also reinforce existing power imbalances, increase inequality and be used to incite violence.
Investing in social capital through promoting information sharing and common values and restoring or maintaining trust can also improve governance and build peace. Social capital can also give a voice to marginalised groups and allow them to take a role in decision making which can increase credibility, accountability, and ownership of interventions.
Social capital on various levels can also drive climate adaptation as individuals interact and work with and among community members – sharing resources, information, and shared values that will increase resilience to climate change.
The SIPRI policy brief offers insights into the importance of social capital for facilitating climate change adaptation and preventing and resolving natural resource-related communal conflict in developing countries.
The policy brief recommends: (a) improving trust between communities and governments through collaborative processes for knowledge exchange, setting priorities and determining appropriate climate change adaptation practices; and (b) increasing knowledge of climate change among traditional and local leaders to strengthen local conflict resolution mechanisms.
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