Posts Tagged ‘South Asia’

Climate change can result in violent conflicts – peacebuilding NGO

Friday, December 4th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 4th December 2009

One of the effects of climate change is a heightened risk of violent conflict, especially involving poor, badly governed countries with a recent history of armed conflict, the independent peacebuilding organisation International Alert says in a new report. This risk adds to their burdens and makes it harder for them to adapt to climate change. Climate change negotiations focus on the availability and control of finance, rather on the complexities of climate adaptation and the need to harmonise adaptation initiatives with development.

As climate change unfolds, one of its effects is a heightened risk of violent conflict, says the independent peacebuilding organisation International Alert in a new report, ‘Climate change, conflict and fragility – Understanding the linkages, shaping effective responses’.

This risk is at its sharpest in poor, badly governed countries, many of which have a recent history of armed conflict. This both adds to the burdens faced by deprived and vulnerable communities and makes it harder to reduce their vulnerability by adapting to climate change.

According to the organisation, which has worked for over 20 years in areas such as Africa, South Asia, the South Caucasus, Latin America, Lebanon and the Philippines to lay the foundations for lasting peace and security in communities affected by violent conflict, policy discussions about the consequences of climate change are beginning to acknowledge the conflict and security implications.

“However,” International Alert says, “these concerns are not being properly taken on within the complex negotiations for a new international agreement on reducing global warming and responding to climate change. In the negotiating context, the discussion focuses on how much money should be available for it and how that money will be controlled. This discussion pays scant attention to the complexities of adaptation, the need to harmonise it with development, or the dangers of it going astray in fragile and conflict-affected states and thereby failing to reduce vulnerability to climate change.”

Shaping adaptation policies means going beyond the most immediate natural and social effects of climate change and looking to the context in which its impact will be felt, the report states. This is because it is the interaction between the natural consequences and the social and political realities in which people live that will determine whether they can adapt successfully to climate change.

“Doing this means addressing the realities of the system of power in fragile and conflict-affected societies, a structure of power that often systematically excludes the voices of all but a privileged few,” International Alert says. “Policies for adapting to the effects of climate change have to respond to these realities or they will not work. At the same time, the field of development itself will have to adapt in order to face the challenge of climate change. Neither development, adaptation nor peacebuilding can be regarded as a bolt-on to either one of the other two. The problems are interlinked and the policy responses must be integrated.”

In establishing the overall goal of international policy on adaptation as helping people in developing countries adapt successfully to climate change even where there is state fragility or conflict risk, the report makes eight specific policy recommendations:

  1. Adaptation to climate change needs to be conflict-sensitive – responding to the needs of the people, involving them in consultation, taking account of power distribution and social order, and avoiding pitting groups against each other.
  2. Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof, ensuring that its progress is not disrupted by the effects of climate change that could and should be anticipated.
  3. Shifts towards a low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace – unlike what happened with the rapid move to biofuels.
  4. Steps must be taken to strengthen poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks.
  5. Greater efforts are needed to plan for and cope peacefully with climate-related migration.
  6. Institutions responsible for climate change adaptation need to be structured and staffed in a way that reflects the specific challenges of the climate-conflict inter-linkages. For this to be possible, institutions must restructure in such a way as to maximise the participation of ordinary people and build accountable and transparent public institutions.
  7. Development policy-making and strategic planning in the future, at both international and national levels, need to integrate with peaceful climate adaptation planning. Compartmentalisation between these areas is no longer viable.
  8. A large-scale systematic study of the likely costs of adaptation is required, including the social and political dimensions along with economic sectors that have so far been left out of most estimates.

The consequences of climate change, the incidence of violent conflict and the corrosive effects of state fragility are all major problems, and taking them on together is to take aim at a very difficult target, International Alert says.

“But they must be taken on together because these problems are not isolated from each other,” the organisation says. “At the same time, the fact that they are linked problems helps identify linked solutions that benefit from synergies and that have an impact on several targets at once.”

International Alert says the appropriate overarching goal of international policy on adaptation is to help people in developing countries adapt successfully to climate change even where there is state fragility or conflict risk – which it sums up in the policy goal ‘building resilience’ with the backing of five policy objectives that together constitute a coherent agenda:

  1. Adaptation to climate change needs to be conflict-sensitive. In fragile and conflict-affected contexts, all interventions must respond to the needs of the people, involve them in consultation, take account of power distribution and social order, and avoid pitting groups against each other.
  2. Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof. For example, post-conflict reconstruction and the reintegration of ex-combatants into their villages must take account of the long-term viability of the land and natural resources available for lives and jobs.
  3. Shifts towards a low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace. For example, there must be no repeat of the rapid move to biofuels, which not only reduced food availability, but also threatened to drive millions of people off the land.
  4. Steps must be taken to strengthen poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks.
  5. Greater efforts are needed to plan for and cope peacefully with climate-related migration.

International Alert says these tasks are feasible – “demanding, certainly, but distinctly achievable.”

Two fundamental shifts are required: in the way institutions are organised, and in the way the climate-conflict inter-linkages are addressed.

  1. Institutions responsible for climate change adaptation – whether under the architecture of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), international financial institutions, development agencies or peacebuilding organisations – “need to ensure that their internal systems and structures promote adaptation even where there is state fragility or conflict risk. In these complex and delicate situations, adaptation must do no harm, and ideally help the goal of peace along its way. For this to be possible, institutions must restructure in such a way as to maximise the participation of ordinary people and build accountable and transparent public institutions.”
  2. Strategies must adapt to meet the combined challenge of climate change, conflict risk and state fragility. It is wrong to imply that henceforth there will be old-style development with adaptation on top. It may be that there will be a continuum from development activities that are not affected by climate change to development activities whose entire purpose is adaptation, but overall policy and strategy will present a new form of development. That means development assistance will need to adapt too.

According to the report, a crucial step towards these objectives and the appropriate modes of implementation is a large-scale systematic study of adaptation costs.

Current estimates of the costs vary widely and are reportedly so short of the mark that they will not very helpful to planners, International Alert says.

It adds that these estimates “ignore costs of climate change impacts against which adaptation – as presently conceived – cannot protect people, such as those that stem from elite resource capture and discriminatory regulations on land rights. A comprehensive and holistic assessment and costing of adaptation is a priority if we are to have any hope that climate change adaptation can reduce the risk of conflict and fragility.”

Whether the new form of development is (or can be permitted to be) more expensive than the outlay to which donors are already committed has yet to be calculated, the organisation says.

“But it seems likely that much and probably most expenditure on adaptation will simply be indistinguishable from expenditure on development because the activities will be fused,” it adds. “It is in the context of this challenging agenda and these practical considerations that the next steps on an uncertain road need to be designed.”

The report, prepared by International Alert and the Initiative for Peacebuilding – Early Warning (IfP-EW), is based on a research paper that was originally commissioned by the UK Department for International Development.

Countering extremist ideas needs viable, attractive political alternatives to radical groups’ dark vision

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 1st April 2009

Al-Qaeda remains the major threat to the United States, not only because it can conduct large-scale terrorist attacks against the US and its allies, but also because al-Qaeda spreads its ideology and propaganda far and wide from its safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a strategic response to extremism, the US and its allies must offer a viable and attractive political alternative to the dark vision offered by radical extremist groups.

“There is no single path that leads people to violent extremism,” a British government official said when speaking about individuals’ connections to extremist ideology, according to a new report on counter-radicalisation. “Social, foreign policy, economic, and personal factors all lead people to throw their lot in with extremists,” the official said.

The report, ‘Rewriting the Narrative: An Integrated Strategy for Counterradicalization’, was released last month by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which was established in 1985 to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East.

Prepared late last year by the second of three independent task forces focused on critical and discrete issues high on the Middle East policy agenda facing the incoming administration, the report represents the findings and recommendations of the Washington Institute’s Task Force on Confronting the Ideology of Radical Extremism.

Matthew Levitt, director of the institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told a seminar hosted today by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) that the task force’s definition of radical Islamist extremism includes the ideologies of takfiri jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, nationalist Islamist terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah, and the so-called conveyor belt groups such as Hizb al-Tahrir (HT). While groups like HT do not perpetrate acts of terrorism per se, they help lay the groundwork for al-Qaeda’s toxic message to take hold and for individuals to take action.

“We do not consider anti–United States or anti-West attitudes alone to constitute radicalism,” the report states. “The task force also distinguished between radicalization and religious piety/devotion to Islam. The extremist ideology at issue is a distortion of Islam, and in fact, many who have been radicalized remain surprisingly ignorant about the religion, particularly as the radicalization process has accelerated in recent years.”

According to the report, many Muslims sympathise strongly with the underlying extremist narrative offered by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Al-Qaeda charges that the United States and the West, more broadly, are at war with Islam and that the Muslim world must unify to defeat this threat and re-establish the caliphate.

“As evidence for their narrative, extremist groups point to the war in Iraq, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, US support for Israel, and Washington’s reluctance to compel changes in authoritarian regimes in the Middle East,” the report states.

“In addition,” it says, “there is strong evidence that al-Qaeda’s efforts to spread its destructive ideology have encouraged terrorist groups previously focused on more local targets, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (formerly known as the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), to shift their ideological focus to the global struggle. By appropriating the al-Qaeda brand, other ‘homegrown terrorists’ have become far more dangerous than they otherwise would have been. And terrorists inspired by, but with no direct ties to, al-Qaeda continue to perpetuate violence globally, justified by al-Qaeda’s global narrative.”

According to the Washington Institute report, “Al-Qaeda remains the major threat to the United States, not only due to its ability to conduct large-scale terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, but also because of al-Qaeda’s demonstrated ability to spread its ideology and propaganda far and wide from the increasingly secure safe-haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like-minded terrorist groups located in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, with varying degrees of ties to al-Qaeda, also play a key role in radicalizing Muslim youth and encouraging them to pursue a path of violence.”

The report lists some 30 recommendations for strategic, functional and organizational changes that the Obama administration should make in the Bush administration’s efforts to counter radicalisation.

To stop the ‘disturbing’ cycle of radicalisation, the report states, “the United States and its allies must stimulate competition for the would-be ‘radicalizer’, loosely defined to include al-Qaeda and like-minded groups that engage in global propaganda efforts, influential extremist clerics, and local-level recruiters.”

This competition could be in the form of supporting and empowering mainstream Muslim voices who offer other visions for society, while not trying to improve ‘the American brand’. Another way would be to promote economic, democratic and other changes in Arab societies, so people’s grievances – real or perceived – are resolved; in this way the radical extremists’ global narrative does not resonate with individuals’ daily lives.

“While supporting as many challengers as possible, the United States must simultaneously work with governments on greater systemic reform,” the task force report states. “Choice is a critical concept in dissuading would-be extremists from becoming violent. The more alternatives available to young people, the greater their freedom, and the more credible the voices exposing them to alternative arguments, the less vulnerable they are to extremist ideas. However, the United States should also deepen its efforts to counter the extremist narrative, both by better using its existing mechanisms and by increasingly relying on and partnering with the private sector and NGOs.”

At a time when, according to the World Bank, the Middle East region must create 100 million new jobs by the end of 2010 to meet a youth bulge, the situation is exacerbated by the global economic crisis, which has weakened the position of many people and generates grievances, whether real or perceived, that people will look for a scapegoat to be held responsible for.

Levitt told the DIIS meeting that there are two ways of combating radicalisation – tactical methods, hands-on efforts with telephone taps, law enforcement and similar initiatives that seek to clear up and prevent the results of radicalisation; and strategic methods that aim at preventing the start and growth of radicalisation through ‘soft diplomacy’.

“We (in the US) can learn from our European colleagues, who are much further ahead,” Levitt added.

This situation has arisen because of differences in attitude towards immigration and integration. Whereas in the US, because of the country’s history, immigration, integration and the feeling of being an American are natural for someone moving there to live, while he or she simultaneously retains an identity with the home country, this is not so in European countries, where immigration policies and integration requirements are often very stringent.

“Europe has attracted huge numbers of Muslim political and economic refugees from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries in recent history,” the report says. “Some of these immigrants and their children are failing to or are not allowed to integrate into European societies, creating profound questions centering on identity. No longer identifying with their ‘home’ country and feeling excluded from and resentful toward their adopted society, these individuals search for belonging or a cause. Some choose to accept an ideology of violence or define themselves by a radicalized form of Islam; though their numbers are small, their potential impact is large.”

As a consequence, countries such as Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have gained experiences from their different ways of tackling radicalization.

Countering moves towards radicalisation, Levitt said, must include talking to radical movements. But as governments are not necessarily the best organs for doing this, they should instead provide opportunities and framework for NGOs and other private operators to carry out this task.

As a strategic response to extremism, the US and its allies must offer “a viable and attractive political alternative to the dark vision” offered by radical extremist groups. “Prosperous democratic societies that respect the rights of their citizens are more resilient and less susceptible to political instability and radicalization,” the report says.

The report, ‘Rewriting the Narrative: An Integrated Strategy for Counterradicalization’, focuses on Al-Qaeda because this organisation remains the major threat to the United States, not only due to its ability to conduct large-scale terrorist attacks against the US and its allies, but also because of al-Qaeda’s demonstrated ability to spread its ideology and propaganda far and wide from the increasingly secure safe-haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.