Human violence and planetary change

December 11, 2017

 Just as Climate Change can no longer be argued against – the mutually reinforcing interaction between human violence and planetary change can no longer be seen as separate issues. 


We have known for some time now, that the effects of violent conflict on ecology suggests three clear dynamics (conflict impacts the environment): (1) armed groups that must generate revenue to fund their fight turn to the natural environment for cash- think Blood Diamonds; (2) refugees add pressure to fragile or saturated ecosystems - such as over-populated urban centres or semi-arid areas, (3) conflict reduces a state’s ability to protect its environment and to adapt to climate change - such as in the Congo River Basin.


In this blog article however, the direction of causality we will concentrate on is how environmental stresses can increase the likelihood of human violence and conflict (the environment impacts conflict). A lesser examined subject, but one which we can expect to increasingly experience as our climate invariably warms-up and become more and more erratic. We will also look into how this impacts the economy and individual businesses.


Environmental stress causes conflict



There are two main ways, that we know of, that climate change and its resulting environmental stresses can result in violent clashes.


Firstly, a scarcity of resources can lead to the competition over resources and consequently contribute to conflicts. The competition for resources such as water and food is likely to increase, as variance in climate becomes more severe, as arable land changes, and storms damage infrastructure - communities will need to move and/or fight for the little remaining resources.


The second is that climate change can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security. Climate change is a ‘threat-multiplier’ that may intensify existing social, economic, political and environmental problems that communities are already facing. The environmental stress, interacts with the socio-economic and political systems, which according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “can lead to unsuspected economic shocks, threaten rates of economic growth, lower per capita income, undermine political institutions and result in inadequate public policy responses and the under-provision of much-needed local and global public goods”. All these, in turn, are among the factors known to increase the risk of violent conflict.


As a result of these increasingly observable pressures, communities across the globe are becoming aware of the precarious state of their natural environment, and of the danger that ecological services are in. They are becoming more and more responsive to these pressures, building social movements to oppose foreseen environmental damages. Thus, further binding societies and the environment in an intrinsic and complex relationship.


So, what is the role and impact on the private sector?


Your business has a large infrastructure project. On paper, the project seemed like it would be a hit: the investment will bring jobs, 21st-century technology to an economically poor area, tax revenues to the government and other beneficial services like restaurants and supermarkets.


So why were citizens blocking the roads and protesting in the streets, drawing considerable attention from NGOs and the media and delaying the project?


Maybe, what you haven’t considered is that last year this community lost half its infrastructure due to a flood, and is still waiting for government to put it back-up and running. It's not your fault, but the community doesn't want to hear about another development for the ultra-rich before they get basic services. Or maybe you haven’t noticed that this community's fresh water resource is in the middle of your development, and they are very worried to be cut off from it. 


Look no further than the recent protests against the completion of the Keystone and the Dakota Access pipelines in the US. According to calculations, Energy Transfer Partners, the company developing the Dakota Access pipeline, incurred over US$800 million in damages as a result of conflict with local indigenous communities and activists. Conflicts like these with local communities are not only divisive and can lead to violent clashes, they are also expensive. 


In Mauritius, such social movements are a relatively new phenomenon. But we are increasingly witnessing community mobilisation against such projects, and they have started to include bouts of 'civil disobedience'. They haven't turned violent yet, but they have started to cost money. It is important to note, that as these movements increase, the state will likely react with more police force, increasing the likelihood of violent conflict.


 Recent examples include:


  1. The protests against fish farming and the company GrowFish International - the worries expressed being that it will pollute the water affecting corals and natural other life forms, and attract sharks – in turn hurting the tourism industry.

  2. Or against Pelangi Resorts’s project of building a big hotel on the previously public beach of Pomponette; where protestors have been mobilising for months and have recently pulled down fences. They are fighting over a precious resource – access to the beach and the sea - which have grown increasingly scarce due to increased infrastructure, environmental degradation and pollution affecting other public beaches which are no longer viable (eg. Sable noir, Baie du Tombeau, and Bain des Dames in Port Louis).


Environmental and Climate-induced conflict is not inevitable.


The quality of public policy and the institutional setting, civil society, and how businesses respond to these challenges will likely prove the determining factor. The complexity of the challenges faced requires new ways of working together. Human conflict and destruction of the environment were viewed as separate problems; today, they must be seen as interlocking parts of the same problem.


At the macro-level, we must analyse our economic vulnerabilities and resilience factors as a nation, and integrate analysis of economic with non-economic conflict factors. Analyse and understand the multi-facetted challenge between climate change and security issues including violent conflicts. Align climate change policy and the transition towards a low-carbon economy, and explore the risks of a fossil-fuel dependency in a future low-carbon world.


At the micro-level, companies that spend months and millions tweaking operational details, should also devote time and resources to understand and address the social risks they face, how they may be linked to their ecological and communal environments, and recognize how their decisions affect — and are affected by — local problems and concerns. While at the same time, address the root causes of the problem and work on their own impact on climate change and the environment, by for instance reducing their carbon footprints.


The key, is for organisations – public and private - to respond by approaching this society-environment nexus, in an integrated and unified manner. 




Dynamia offers a number of services to help the private sector move towards this goal:


  • Social Impact Assessments

  • Stakeholder management and social integration into large scale projects

  • Climate-related risks and vulnerabilities at the macro and micro levels.

  • Business model review and sustainable development strategies

  • Courses on Climate change risks, vulnerability and managing your carbon footprint

  • Workshops on integrated reporting, which help you think about these issues in an integrated manner


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