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What is possible for Peace and Conflict sensitivity at COP 28?

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Picture: Igor Rugwiza / UN – On December 3, 2023, for the first time in the history of the annual climate change conference, COP 28 features peace, relief, and recovery as a thematic day, the writer says.

By Annika Erickson-Pearson

October 2023 was the warmest in history. Official adaptation and emission gap reports do not paint optimistic pictures. We need to focus on limiting the damage to 1.5º C. Even the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s 2023: A New Agenda for Peace painted a challenging picture of our shortcomings on peace and security as a global community. The urgency is obvious, and the pressure is on.

Since December 2022, our participatory collective of more than 150 individuals across more than 60 institutions and five continents have convened under the umbrella name “Peace@COP28,” all with an agenda of making the climate change policy more peace-responsive and conflict-sensitive. We represent UN agencies, community-based organisations, think tanks, academic institutions, and more. We collaborated for Stockholm+50 in June 2022 and are proud that our work contributed to the inclusion of peace language into the outcome documents.

As a community of peacebuilders whose work has engaged intimately with the impacts of climate change, we are continuously seeking ways to contribute and strengthen conflict sensitivity across projects. We bring this expertise to help ensure climate action upholds the principles of ‘do-no-harm’ and at best ‘leave-no-one-behind’. As a basic principle in our human rights-based approaches in peacebuilding work, people participation has been critical in leveraging the experiences of local actors, and securing the place of indigenous knowledge in climate and peace related programmes.

The Peace@COP28 community identified two goals, in early 2023, to serve as our North Star as we approach COP 28: to raise awareness and mainstream peace and conflict sensitivity into the COP conversation, and to do it in a way that busts silos and convenes a diverse group by discipline, geography, language, and more.

Implementation of the Paris Agreement urgently requires a conflict sensitive and peace responsive approach

Why peacebuilders care about what happens at COP 28

Implementation of the Paris Agreement urgently requires a conflict sensitive and peace responsive approach. In 2023, 42 institutions came together to draft and endorse a set of shared policy recommendations for COP 28 (available in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic) which emphasise the call for conflict sensitive and peace responsive approaches by States, multilateral funders, civil society actors, community practitioners amongst other stakeholders.

The distribution of climate finance is uneven, despite the fact that trillions of dollars will be spent to accelerate the green transition over the next decade. This will risk leaving behind communities and countries most vulnerable to climate change, of which, more than half are plagued by conflicts.

In 2021, according to a Mercy Corps 2023 report, “only $223 million was received in climate adaptation finance across the 10 most fragile states, which is less than 1 percent of the total adaptation finance flows”. Peacebuilders have long navigated challenges around sustainable, flexible funding for communities facing conflict and crisis. We elevate calls of urgency for increased funding to conflict-affected areas, and share our expertise on what conflict sensitivity and peace responsiveness looks like in practice, as institutions are already doing.

Moreover, the COP 28 United Arab Emirates (UAE) Presidency has incorporated peace within their thematic programme. Workshops and bilateral meetings convened over the past year are culminating in an official first-ever COP Declaration on Climate, Health, Recovery, and Peace. The declaration calls for enhanced financial support for adaptation and resilience, improved good practice and programming, and strengthened co-ordination, collaboration, and partnerships.

The spotlight is on. We as peacebuilders are positioning to contribute expertise and sustain the conversation.

What is possible for peace, conflict sensitivity at COP 28?

  1. Attention and interest for peace and conflict. We are hoping to generate a tidal wave of discussion on peace at COP 28. The Peace@COP28 community members will follow discussions online, while nearly 40 representatives will be onsite hosting side events, convening discussions, and amplifying the peace agenda. Our art exhibition called Nature Footprints will launch both in the Blue Zone and online. It will tell stories of climate change, conflict, and peace from the perspectives of 19 artists from around the world. By working together, we hope to raise the profile and define the relevance of peace to the climate change conversation.
  2. Inclusion of peace or conflict language into negotiated outcomes. In order to advance progress over the next decade, we hope to see language on peace, conflict sensitivity, and/or the impact of climate change in conflict-affected areas featured in key outcome documents. Such inclusion could then unlock negotiations around formal inclusion of peace responsive and conflict sensitive practices across the board.
  3. Formal endorsement of the Declaration by a number of states. While the COP 28 UAE Presidency’s declaration is not a negotiated document, and the programming for peace on 3 December will happen outside of the negotiation process, it has already served as a meaningful start to discussions on peace among parties to the convention. The secretariat predicts that the declaration will be formally endorsed by a number of states, which would represent public commitments of interest that should be built upon. Even if the Declaration does not provide the level of ambition or nuance that peacebuilders may desire, it is a step in the right direction.

In order to advance progress over the next decade, we hope to see language on peace, conflict sensitivity, and/or the impact of climate change in conflict-affected areas featured in key outcome documents

After COP 28: An action plan for peacebuilders

Change can move slowly within UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes. The peacebuilding community should plan for continuous and consistent engagement with the UNFCCC processes in the years to come. Specifically, we can:

  • Monitor the negotiations closely and issue a response to COP 28, setting an agenda for the year to come.
  • Capitalise on existing platforms, like the Environmental Peacebuilding Association, the Community of Practice on Environment, Climate, Conflict, and Peace, amongst others around the globe, to come together and deliberate on peace responsive and conflict sensitive action points from one COP to the next.
  • Produce policy briefs and mobilise dissemination platforms to keep the momentum of the peace discussions towards preparation for COP 29.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, build relationships with different stakeholders throughout the climate change world (negotiators, civil society, experts, etc.) in order to understand and contextualise opportunities and challenges.

Engagement in the UNFCCC process is not a one-year project. It will require our time and sustained investment. Peacebuilders inherently work in the delicate balance between urgency and patience. Let’s show COP 28 how it’s done!

Annika Erickson-Pearson is the Community Management Lead at the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform and Munini Mutuku works at the Kenya National Cohesion and Integration Commission and is Africa Director of the Environmental Peacebuilding Association.

This article was first published on ACCORD