The Lake Chad region in West and Central Africa is a striking example of climate impact that has emerged as an issue in the peacebuilding field. A broad, shallow lake at the intersection of four nations, Lake Chad provides water to about 68 million people—and has lost nearly 95% of its area in the last 50 years. The UN places half the blame for this disaster on global warming. In the same region, Boko Haram is expanding. It is part of an increase in violent extremism throughout West Africa, a region heavily affected by climate changes that in turn fuel conflict.
It is clear that climate change contributes to violent conflict. But the flip side is also true: War drives climate change. We do not hear about this as much, because military carbon footprints were largely exempted from Kyoto reporting agreements—a mistake that, fortunately, was not repeated in Paris. Imagine the carbon footprint of fighter jets, aircraft carriers, exploding munitions, burning neighborhoods and villages, training exercises, and factory production of arms. In fact, U.S. Military maintenance and operations alone are widely understood to have the largest carbon imprint of any single institution in the world—even larger than most nation-states.
There is a deep connection between climate change activism and peace work.
The African continent is predicted to feel some of the worst impacts of climate change. At Karuna Center, we collaborate with the Economic Community of West African States to spot and prevent emerging conflicts, and to respond quickly and effectively—and we are pushing to integrate an environmental analysis into peace and security plans. Global warming is similarly emerging as a factor in South Sudan, where we work in camps of internally displaced people. Desertification of grazing land disrupts the delicate balance that had been struck between cattle herders and farmers; when grazing patterns change, it threatens both of their livelihoods and the resulting violence uproots thousands of families and costs lives.
In the United States, we are using our consensus-building skills, as peacebuilders, to strengthen the Pricing Carbon Initiative—which is now bringing together 83 organizations in confidential dialogues to promote policy changes in the U.S. These dialogues uniquely “reach across the aisle” to find climate solutions we can agree on and move forward. This year is pivotal. The Pricing Carbon Initiative is working to galvanize public support for a platform to succeed when it has the best chance: the first 100 days of a new Administration in 2017.
Whether you are working for peace, or to protect the Earth, to us it’s all the same.