COP26: Impact of climate emergency on peace and security exacerbates the vulnerabilities of those most affected by conflict: Children

As world leaders are gathering in Glasgow, UK, to take part in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, calls for bold and urgent climate action.

The Special Representative highlights that it is the duty of today’s leaders to protect children from harm and to preserve their future and that of coming generations. Tackling climate emergency can contribute to building peaceful and resilient communities, and thereby contribute to the protection of millions of conflict-affected children. She fully supports the Secretary-General repeated calls for climate action, including to maintain international peace and security.

“The adverse impact of climate change is not the sole cause of conflict but can significantly aggravate fragilities and exacerbate conflict dynamics. I am very concerned about the consequences of such dynamics for conflict-affected children, who are already the most vulnerable group in times of crisis,” said Virginia Gamba. Studies are indeed showing that climate change impacts vulnerable groups the hardest, in all countries.

The links between climate change and conflict are more visible when they intersect with fragile contexts and when climate change impacts countries affected by past or current conflict due to the already limited capacity of people, systems, and institutions to adapt.

“Whether by increasing the scarcity of resources and sharpening competition for them, accelerating desertification, impacting crops, or forcing the displacement of population, climate change exacerbates the risks of instability and conflict. Decisive action on climate change and ending and preventing grave violations against children go hand in hand with preventing the emergence of conflict in the first place,” Gamba added.

The Sahel, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, is one of the regions most impacted by climate change and is regularly hit by natural catastrophes such as droughts and floods, with dramatic consequences on communities and families. Simultaneously, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin and Sudan are all situations in which children suffer grave violations in conflict.

In the Horn of Africa, extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, as well as desert locust infestations continue to exacerbate food and economic insecurity and drive displacement, intensifying resource competition and conflict. In Somalia and South Sudan, for example, climate-related security risks coupled with already dire humanitarian situations and protracted conflict dynamics ultimately cost lives and livelihoods, including those of children.

Access to water is further challenged in some regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. The region, already amongst the world’s most water-stressed and climate-vulnerable one, is also facing several protracted conflicts. Asia-Pacific is besides facing extreme weather incidents severely impacting the resilience of populations in countries already direly impacted by hostilities such as Afghanistan, with dramatic consequences for children and their families.

Climate change further poses challenges to development, which can impact post-conflict environment and affect the recovery of children. The United Nations is thus integrating climate risks into political analysis, as well as conflict prevention and peacebuilding initiatives. Tackling climate change through global action as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is also crucial if we aim to reach the furthest behind.

The Special Representative echoes calls from other UN Officials to translate climate emergency commitments into actions and invest in adaptability and resilience so that children, including those affected by today’s armed conflict, can realize their rights to grow and thrive in peaceful societies.

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