The Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) within the United Nations Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA) works to enhance coherence and collaboration across the UN system and, with partners, support nationally-owned efforts to build sustainable peace. It draws together expertise to advance impactful action, policies and guidance, and fosters an integrated and inclusive approach to prevention and sustaining peace. PBSO assists the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) with technical support and strategic advice. On behalf of the UN Secretary-General, PBSO manages the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), the organisation’s financial instrument of first resort to provide fast, flexible and catalytic funding to sustain peace in countries or situations at risk if or affected by violent conflict. The PBSO serves as a ‘hinge’ or ‘connector’ between the peace and security pillar and the wider UN system on peacebuilding action. It plays a leading role in advancing implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security-related Security Council resolutions.
The impact of the climate crisis continued to worsen around the world in 2022 and 2023: flooding in Pakistan and the United States, wildfires in Europe and Canada, severe drought in Africa, and record ice melt at the poles are just some examples. While climate change is rarely – if ever – the primary cause of conflict, it can act as a risk multiplier, exacerbating underlying social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities. In doing so, it can compound existing grievances, leading to potential displacement and forced migration, raising food and water insecurity, threatening communities’ livelihoods and stalling economic growth.
The impacts of climate change are felt by everyone, but not equally. Gender norms and power dynamics shape how women and men of different backgrounds experience or contribute to insecurity in a changing climate.1 The effects of global warming and environmental degradation can compound other conflict drivers or become additional security risks. They also undermine prevention efforts.
The World Bank estimates that climate change will create up to 86 million additional migrants in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia and 17 million in Latin America as agricultural conditions and water availability deteriorate across these regions, leading to an anticipated total of 143 million climate migrants anticipated by 2050. Population displacement on this large scale creates resource pressures on host communities, which exacerbate existing instabilities and increase the potential for conflicts.2 How best to respond to these so-called ‘climate security’ challenges is still an emerging area of practice within the peacebuilding field. Despite growing research around the interlinkages between climate change and peace and security, country and regional scans of such risks and their impact, there is limited funding and or programmatic responses addressing these correlated challenges.
Over the past five years, the Secretary-General’s (PBF) has received increased demand from around the world to respond to these emerging challenges that differ from region to region.
In Colombia, conflict impacted the environment negatively for decades through illegal mining, deforestation for extensive agriculture, the establishment of illicit crops, and land grabbing, fuelled by the financing needs of illegal armed groups. Here, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Enviroment Programme (UNEP) and Fundacion Estudios Superior (FESU) received PBF support to implement projects on forest and biodiversity preservation, with private sector engagement. Peacebuilding Fund support helped mobilise private sector investments in carbon emission offsets as a way of improving development prospects, increasing peace dividends, reducing potential recruitment by armed groups, and ensuring environmental protection in the most conflict-affected communities.
In Mauritania, a decline in both rain and pasture, combined with an influx of refugees from Mali, is putting pressure on the diminishing natural resources. This in turn is causing a multiplication of conflicts between communities for access to natural resources, including water and grazing fields. Climate change adaptation measures were implemented by UNDP, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Food and Agricultgural Organization (FAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as a peace-building tool. This as a means of to encouraging social cohesion and cooperation, positing that greater community resilience against climate change also strengthen conflict prevention.
In addition, PBF supports a UNDP and UNHCR programme to restore degraded land, which has led to the reforestation of 35 hectares, transplanting of 20,000 plants and rehab-ilitation of water points, gardening and fodder areas, thereby supporting the management of pastoral areas and other natural resources in the region. The initiative created temporary employment opportunities for 500 women and young people, while also fostering stronger relations between refugees and host communities.
In the Pacific region, climate change is perceived as the single most critical security threat to the islands, drawing together risks associated with sea-level rise, droughts, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms. A climate-security project was piloted by IOM and UNDP, with PBF funding based on a prevention perspective. In the process, food security was improved, resilience to climate-related food security issues and conflicts over natural resources addressed. Another element of the work involved integrating climate security risks into the small islands’ policy and budgetary processes. In addition, climate security risks assessments were finalised and used for advocacy purposes, including at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 27.
In Yemen – one of the most water-scarce countries in the world and one of the most challenging operating environments in terms of governance and conflict dynamics – FAO and IOM supported water-related peacebuilding programming with PBF funding. A combination of natural ecological features, exploding population growth, overuse of water-intensive cash crops such as qat, and poor water infrastructure and management means that the water crisis, and other sources of environmental degradation, are not only casualties of the conflict, but also contribute to conflict drivers.
These are just illustrations of the growing PBF portfolio on climate, peace and security. Between 2016 and 2022, PBF invested more than US$ 167 million towards climate security and environmental peacebuilding efforts through 74 projects in 33 countries implemented by 17 UN entities and 13 civil society organisations.
The projects operate in contexts that range from those in which climate change has already contributed to active conflict, to those that raise awareness about the existential threat of climate change, aim to prevent future conflict by nurturing social cohesion, or encourage regional climate change adaptation as an integral part of peacebuilding strategies. These projects further test integrated responses to gender issues, climate and security; promote youth inclusion in natural resource management; and emphasise cross-border or transnational programming approaches. The projects focus on farmer–herder conflicts, competition over natural resources including conflict and disputes over water, climate change adaptation strategies, and other initiatives that contribute to sustaining peace.
Thematic review on climate security and peacebuilding3
In the context of this growing portfolio, PBSO commissioned an independent Thematic Review on Climate Security and Peacebuilding, in partnership with FAO, UNICEF and the UN Climate Security Mechanism, in 2022 with additional support from the United Kingdom. Led by UN University’s Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR), the thematic review is informed by primary research in the Liptako-Gourma border region between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger; Yemen; as well as the Pacific islands of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.
The thematic review found that we can address the climate, peace and security nexus even in active conflict contexts. It also revealed that PBF invests in areas or situations other donors may deem the risk to be too high. Of the ten countries that received the most PBF climate security funding, nine were the most vulnerable to climate change according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative National Index (ND-GAIN Index), six countries were ranked among the most fragile states (Fragile States Index).4 The PBF plays a critical role when investing in the climate, peace and security space, as well as pulling climate financing and donors into otherwise neglected conflict-affected and fragile areas.
Investments in improving agriculture, water sources, pastoral routes and other natural resource infrastructure get to the heart of what many communities view as both the most pressing human security concerns, and the factors that contribute to conflict and competition in many fragile and conflict-affected environments. The interventions supported by PBF suggest that climate security and environmental peacebuilding approaches may offer novel entry points for addressing other trenchant issues, such as gender inequality and elite capture, strengthening modes of local governance even in the most volatile environments.
The reviewers further noted that the PBF’s cross-border work is crucial in the climate, peace and security area, given the transnational nature of climate-security threats and should continue, despite implementing challenges.
While the PBF’s climate security-related work has a strong focus on cross-border approaches, this is not true for climate financing and funding as a whole. Other climate adaptation funds, and also other broader peacebuilding approaches, tend to operate on a country-specific level. By supporting cross-border and regional initiatives, PBF provides a unique and relevant entry point to mainstream climate-related peacebuilding initiatives, with a cross-border approach and contributing to the codification of good practice. For example, the Liptako-Gourma case study illustrates how environmental pressures on regional transhumance patterns, in combination with active trans-national armed groups, trafficking, and weak or absent governance, has fuelled violence and contributed to dire conditions.
Whereas these dynamics created stark challenges for project implementation, PBF investments in climate security offered some promise in terms of being able to address the root causes, shifting the narrative from overly militarised approaches, offering a more regionalised lens to peacebuilding, and focusing on peacebuilding approaches that address the needs of vulnerable populations. The review found that cross-border climate security programming needs to further build political engagement and dialogue between countries around this issue.
The climate, peace and security nexus demands more attention from partners in terms of joint programmatic solutions to address and anticipate pressure points on social cohesion and the livelihoods of communities around the world. This is a growing area of work where more investments are needed, not least given that only a very small share of climate finance currently flows to conflict-affected contexts, as highlighted in the Secretary-General’s policy brief on a New Agenda for Peace. We need to deepen knowledge and understanding of pathways to address combined grievances, gender and youth dimensions, in-country and at a regional and cross-border level. COP 28 represents an opportunity for Member States and partners to recognise the importance of this agenda and the need to invest more, in particular in conflict-affected states. PBF investments prove this is possible and that scaling-up opportunities await.
As demands continue to grow, PBF will continue to explore this area of work with support from its partners around the world, applying the findings of the thematic review in a new generation of projects at national and cross-border levels through strengthening and reinforcing project design, learning and innovation. The PBF will further take into account recommendations from the New Agenda for Peace, and engage with larger climate funds and donors, private sector and international financial institutions, leading on climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and resilience.5 The goal will be to identify potential synergies with their portfolios, to enable more climate security and peacebuilding projects to be taken up with a particular focus on more fragile environments.
United Nations Environment Programme, UN Women, UN Development Programme and UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs/Peacebuilding Support Office, ‘Gender, Climate & Security: Sustaining Inclusive Peace on the Frontlines of Climate Change’, 2020, www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/06/gender-climate-….
Erica Gaston et al., Climate Security and Peacebuilding: Thematic Review (UN University, 2023), www.un.org/peacebuilding/content/thematic-review-climate-security-and-p…. As part of its continuous monitoring and learning process, the UN Peacebuilding Support Office commissions annual thematic reviews to examine past practices and promising innovations in specific areas of peacebuilding.