Climate and Conflict on the U.N. Agenda
Team: Richard Rogers, Bernhard Rieder, Sophie Waterloo, Liliana Bounegru
The issue of climate change as an indirect cause of human conflict is steadily gaining ground in different fields of study, as well as in popular media outlets. Headlines depict bleak climate futures that are conflict-related: Will the next war be fought over water?
' Could hotter temperatures from climate change boost violence?
' How could a drought spark a civil war?
undertaken at the 2013 DMI Summer School
also found indications of a connection between drought and the Arab Spring, which others have found, too, in the discussion about rising food prices underlying regional tensions
in the Middle East. Against this background, we would like to further study the emergence of the link between climate change and conflict. The starting point for the enquiry here is to ascertain the extent to which the link is recognised, particularly on the international agenda. Does the U.N. for instance recognise that the relationship between climate change and conflict is worthy of attention? How may the recognition (or lack of recognition) of the link between climate change and conflict be studied?
The first entry point for the study of the climate change agenda at the U.N. and the question of the place of conflict on it is the U.N. systems climate change gateway subsite (un.org/climatechange). It lists the issues (in the form of links to further information) as the Science, Mitigation, Adaptation, Technology, Financing, and the Negotiations, each of which referring to how the U.N. has organised the issue. For the science, the U.N. reports on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for mitigation on governmental commitments to emissions reductions and the U.N.s REDD program, for adaptation to U.N. agency work on resilience and living with climate change, for technology to initiatives that support environmentally sound technology such as the designation of 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and so forth. One could also view the issues or at least the first three of them as an evolution of the issue, from the establishment of (anthropogenic) causes of climate change, to calls for measures to reduce them, and finally to how to cope with them as climate change worsens as time goes by. But what comes after mitigation and adaptation? When mitigation and adaptation go wrong (so to speak), conflict may arise, which is increasingly the focus of climate change scholarship and debate. Here the question is the importance given to climate change and conflict, in relation to its other phases, by the international community. How present is conflict on the climate change agenda at the U.N.? How to characterise the entrance of conflict to the climate change issue space? For example, does it give the issue more urgency?
Of course there is a peace and security agenda at the U.N. dominated at the time of writing by chemical weapons in Syria, U.N. peacekeepers in Mali and the ever present question of Palestine (according to the in focus section of the U.N. website). Is climate change making inroads on the peace and security agenda? That is, we are not only interested in the place of conflict on the climate change agenda, but also of climate change on the conflict agenda.
U.N. Homepage featuring 'in focus' section with top issues on the U.N. agenda, 24 October 2013
For both the climate change as well as conflict issue agendas, the U.N. has copious information on its website. Climate change is currently an urgent issue (on the U.N. website), for it is also listed in the in focus section. Conflict is represented under peace and security with a dedicated a dedicated U.N. body (the Department of Political Affairs), which is not the case for climate change, unless one counts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as such. Both climate change as well as conflict have lists of U.N. partner organisations, which together serve useful starting points to understanding the place and resonance of conflict on the U.N.s climate change agenda, and climate change on the U.N.s conflict agenda.
The leading research question is the extent to which conflict is recognised as a climate change issue by the U.N., and as such perhaps eventually reconfigures U.N. priorities and activities, granting climate change more urgency. We are also interested in pinpointing the emergence of conflict as a climate change related issue. Are we indeed able to identify a fourth 'phase' or chapter in the climate change issue evolution? In order to answer the research questions two substudies are undertaken, one which queries and makes findings concerning U.N. issue commitment (according to mentions on the U.N. websites) and a second which queries the U.N. systems document repository (un.org/en/documents/ods/), and charts over time the composition of the climate change issue. In terms of the first approach, where is climate change situated in the U.N., and how can we characterise it as an issue according to the distribution of agency commitment? Particularly, is conflict a climate issue, and climate a conflict issue? In terms of the second approach, how has climate change been described over the past twenty years? May we take notice of attention granted to particular approaches to the consideration of climate change, such as its very existence (the science), how to lessen its causes (mitigation), and how to cope with it (adaptation)?
The first step is to identify the dominant actors who define the climate and conflict agendas. To define the climate change agenda we use the Gateway to the United Nation's Systems Work on Climate Change. A list of U.N. partners on the climate change issue was compiled, and the URLs were checked (for OK 200 response codes). Each is queried with the Lippmannian Device for [climate skepticism], [climate mitigation], [climate adaptation] as well as [climate conflict].
To demarcate the source set for the U.N. conflict issue space, three conflict-related (peace and security) U.N. link lists are used, two from the U.N. system global issues pages (http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/peacesecurity/links.shtml
) and the partners from the U.N. Department of Political Affairs (http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/undpa/main/about/pid/11605
). In order to query this source set for climate-related issues, and make the query results comparable (and compatible) with those from the climate-related U.N. sites, 'climate' was added to the query string. Thus we queried [climate skepticism], [climate mitigation], [climate adaptation] as well as [climate conflict].
We found that the UN's climate change and conflict agendas are largely separate in terms of agencies which compose these agendas. Only four organisations are shared by the two agendas, which are the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (Unitar).
To interpret the results we first viewed the overall result count, or overall issue cloud, for the climate change issue space which showed (climate) conflict as the top issue (on the UN climate change agenda, as defined by our method), followed closely by adaptation, with mitigation and scepticism a distant third and fourth.
Figure 1. Issue cloud. Distribution of resonance of climate change related issues on websites on "United Nations Partners on Climate Change," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Subsequently, we ascertained the top organizations per issue in this space, the top organizations for multiple issues (various issue combinations), and top organizations for all issues. In all we have ranked organizations by climate change issue resonance. Note that we have substituted skepticism for 'the science' and we have added 'conflict', both issues which do not explicitly appear on the U.N. climate change gateway. In looking at the issue cloud for climate conflict on the Climate Agenda, we notice that it is primarily UNHCR that accounts for the high resonance of the issue conflict, which fits with their mandate to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. In checking the results for this query, it appears that the agency refers to weather as a direct catalyst for violent conflict and discusses the growing link between climate change and conflict in the context of refugee issues. The organization that follows is the UNDP, which together with the larger attention UNCHR pays to the issue, one could say, reconfigures conflict as a refugee care and development issue. What is also of interest, is that 13 out of 37 organizations queried do not mention conflict as an issue, among them the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Figure 5. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of conflict on websites on "United Nations Partners on Climate Change," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
The climate-related top organizations for skepticism, or mentioning skepticism, again is the UNCHR. However, in comparison to the issue of conflict, the resonance is quite low. The Gobal Environment Facility (GEF), a grant-giving body initiated by UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank, follows together with the World Bank itself. For mitigation the leading bodies are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), followed by the World Bank and the GEF. For adaptation, the leading organizations are the World Bank and the UNFCCC. For conflict, it is UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) and the World Bank.
Figure 2. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of skepticism on websites on "United Nations Partners on Climate Change," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Figure 3. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of mitigation on websites on "United Nations Partners on Climate Change," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Figure 4. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of adaptation on websites on "United Nations Partners on Climate Change," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Cumulatively, the bodies dealing with climate change related issues are the UNHCR, mostly due to the resonance of the climate conflict issue, the UNFCCC, UNDP and the GEF. We also are interested in the inversion in this case, i.e., those U.N. bodies which appear to pay the least attention (in terms of mentions on their websites) to the climate change 'top level' issues. Of the 37 bodies queried, some 3 do not mention any of the four issues. The agency OCHA does not seem to have any of the issue on their agenda, even though they do deal with environmental emergencies as is reflected on the website. The second organization that does not appear to pay attention to either of the issues is the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, which promoted industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability. These results stand out since both these organization overall have close links to environmental problems and the facilitation of effective action in dealing with these environmental issues.
Figure 6. Source cloud. Top organizations for all climate change issues on websites on "United Nations Partners on Climate Change," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
For the U.N. conflict space we have a similar picture. As would be expected in this case, conflict is the leading issue. Again, the other main issues are stil adaptation coming second, and mitigation following. Skepticism resonates the least, as is the case in the U.N. climate change discourse.
Figure 7. Issue cloud. Distribution of resonance of climate change related issues on websites on "United Nations Partners on Conflict and Security," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
For the issue of climate conflict, as was also the case for the climate issue agenda, UNHCR occupies the top slot, followed rather closely by the UNDP. Here, statements on the threats that climate change poses to the Pacific Islands and the conflict that might results from this appear, among others. Unitar follows third. For adaptation, the UNDP comes up first, followed by the University for Peace, the UN's university in Costa Rica. Similar results are found for the issue mitigation, but with a slightly lower resonance count. For skepticism, UNHCR and the UNDP top the list, followed by UN Women, or the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. However, again the count for skepticism is low in comparison to the other issues, indicating that skepticism is not a a large issue on either the climate or conflict issue agenda.
Figure 8. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of conflict on websites on "United Nations Partners on Conflict and Security," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Figure 9. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of adaptation on websites on "United Nations Partners on Conflict and Security," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Figure 10. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of mitigation on websites on "United Nations Partners on Conflict and Security," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Figure 11. Source cloud. Top organizations for the issue of skepticism on websites on "United Nations Partners on Conflict and Security," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Generally, the top organizations are UNDP, UNHCR, University for Peace, Unitar, and UNOCHA. In this light, climate-related issues are seen in relation to development and care issues, as well as a topic of discussion among the research focused bodies of the U.N.. At the bottom are 4 bodies without climate-related mentions, including the first and fourth committee of the General Assembly, which deal with disarmament, global challenges, Palestinian refugees and human rights, among others.
Figure 12. Source cloud. Top organizations for all climate change issues on websites on "United Nations Partners on Conflict and Security," 23 October 2013. Data source: un.org/climatechange. Output by Lippmannian Device, Digitalmethods.net.
Climate Change Issue Evolution at the U.N.
In the second study we examine a larger U.N. issue space, one comprised of results of a query from the U.N.s ODS or official document search. (See the document collection, with tool interface
, for the query, scepticism, mitigation, adaption, conflict). We limited our query to the documents from the general assembly (in English), queried once for "climate change" and once for "global warming" and the combined the collections into a single document set containing 1622 PDFs. Those we converted to txt, using the pdftohtml function provided by the xpdf package. The documents start at Session 44 (1987) and run to the current in 2013-2014, Session (68th). Our findings mirror those of the first study, with conflict resonating the most, followed by adaptation, mitigation and scepticism (which is by far the least significant). Adaptation and mitigation follow each other over time rather closely, spiking during the 62nd session (2006), whereas conflict has a rather different pattern of activity. While mitigation and adaptation are mainly on topic, not all issue mentions are in context. When zooming in on conflict, of interest is its initial appearance as well as its consistency of climate-related use over time, arising first in the 63rd session (2007) and appearing nearly annually (but sparsely) to the present session. Adaptation appears in context much earlier in the 44th session (1987), and like conflict is consistent. Mitigation also appears in the 44th session, but is not mentioned with the keywords climate change with some frequency until the 56th session (2000). Here it would seem that adaptation (counter-intuitively) predates mitigation as a climate change related concern at the U.N., albeit documents prior to 1987 should be consulted to make the finding harder. While the issue of scepticism is hinted at through the presence of the sub issue area 'the science' on the main climate change gateway, it is not language that is employed with any frequency or consistency. There is sparse room for scepticism (be it the British or American preferred spellings) at the U.N., or at least in the general assembly. This finding squares with the first study's, though query results for equivalences or other framings of scepticism would put the finding on more solid footing.
Occurences of climate change in results for query of UN system documents, sessions 42 (1985-1986) to 68 (2013-2014), General Assembly (in English) only, 23 October 2013.
Occurences of climate change related subissues in results for climate change query of UN system documents, sessions 42 (1985-1986) to 68 (2013-2014), General Assembly (in English) only, 23 October 2013.
Summary of findings
- On both the climate agenda as well as the conflict agenda, conflict is in ascendancy followed by adaptation and mitigation. Skepticism, or the science, is no longer a UN climate related issue, if it ever were.
- Over time, conflict is the latest issue to emerge and has risen precipitously. Mitigation and adaptation are often named hand in hand. Skepticism is not a UN related climate change issue.
- Whilst OHCHR (Commission on Human Rights) is present in both agenda spaces, climate change cannot be characterised currently as a human rights issues in terms of the amount of resonance.
- Climate Change in the U.N.s climate change space is distributed across agencies dedicated to refugees, development and the issue of climate change itself.
- Climate Change in the U.N.s conflict space is distributed again across refugees and development but also the more research-focused UN bodies of the University for Peace and the UN institute for training and research.
List of U.N. Partners on Climate Change
List of U.N. conflict and security related bodies