From Samoëns to Berlin and back

How do we make climate security action a reality?

As a Junior Research Associate with Alp Analytica, my days in the French Alps are a mix of engaging international organizations, running down mountains and chopping wood among other mountain activities. I credit where I am now to my experience as an exchange student in Berlin. It was there, on the benches of the Freie Universität, between techno nights and museum visits, that I discovered my interest in natural resources and environmental protection. This is why I was thrilled to return to Berlin in early October for the Berlin Climate and Security Conference. This event is a key forum to transform evidence into action, as it brings together actors from the climate change, diplomatic, development and defence fields, and I was anxious to witness the progress made in the field. 

After a rather rocky train journey, I arrived in Berlin eager to make the most of my time there. And the conference did not disappoint. The two-day forum underscored the importance of some of the key work happening in this field and highlighted some new perspectives. My main takeaway was that, although we have a solid evidence base for the links between security and climate change, the governments and international organisations that put their money where their mouths are to support coordinated, comprehensive and effective climate security action are still few and far apart. 

Among the field’s usual themes, speakers repeated key messages. These included a call for developed countries to take on more responsibility for climate mitigation and the urgent need to financially support and technically empower vulnerable countries. To achieve this, actors needs to work together better across national borders and institutional silos and more effectively include local stakeholders. Strong political leadership is necessary to act on climate and conflict data and early warnings and more and better funding is vital.

Three things stood out to me: 

  • First, although most panels rightly underlined the serious the situation in Ukraine, they did not make it their sole focus. Sessions were able to give adequate attention to other urgent humanitarian crises, such as in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Given the prominence of the Ukrainian crisis in Western, and notably German, media this was likely not an easy sell. Foreign Minister Baerbock underscored the importance of a global outlook when she declared that the 21st century’s biggest international security challenge was climate change. A radical position given the current geopolitical situation, coming a week after the presumed Russian sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, crucial infrastructure supported and financed by successive German governments.  
  • Second, I heard several compelling ideas on ways to improve climate security. These include the fact that the coordination of the multitude of actors and projects in the field receives little interest and funding despite being so crucial. To avoid this funding gap, actors must instead refine their understanding of programming gaps and communities’ needs and, build effective projects that avoid duplication and address what local stakeholders find most relevant. This also has the potential to make responses more attuned to local contexts and avoid a one-size-fits-all mentality. For example, one speaker mentioned that in Yemen respondents thought preserving the environment was more important than ending the civil war, while another stated that in Somalia, physical security was deemed more important than water security! 
  • Third, and, in my mind, most thought-provoking, speakers highlighted the increasing inclination for collaboration with non-state actors in fragile countries, who could become implementing partners in climate resilience activities. In general, it seems like actors of the field, conscious of the urgency of the situation, are finally ready to act more decisively in fragile and challenged governance contexts, despite the range of risks involved. As consultants, it will be our responsibility to guide them to do this in an effective, sustainable, and safe manner. 

Overall, I was especially impressed by the Foreign Office’s ability to highlight a broad range of important issues throughout the conference agenda. Indeed, events tackled the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and Central Asia, areas where climate security risks and opportunities are very present. Moreover, gender sensitivity and equal participation, a hallmark of German Feminist Foreign Policy since the coalition formed its government in 2021, featured throughout the conference, be it in the speeches or the composition of panels.

Now back to my mountain lifestyle on the French side of the Alps, I, like my colleague Anneka who joined me, am rather daunted by the challenges that lie ahead. But I’m also grateful for the opportunity to attend such high-level discussions about what is happening already and what needs to happen moving forward. 

I hope that here at Alp Analytica, we can contribute to improving climate security programming and that next year’s Berlin Climate and Security Conference will showcase progress on the many questions and challenges raised by last week’s conference.