After the annual PeaceCon featured climate change as one of the conference’s main themes, USIP’s Tegan Blaine says, “It’s no longer possible to say that climate change does not intersect with peacebuilding. The realities are there … we need to be more honest about what the likely impacts are going to be.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason 
Hi, Tegan.

Tegan Blaine 
Hi. It's always great to be here with you, Julie.

Julie Mason 
Yeah. Nice to have you back. So, tell us about PeaceCon.

Tegan Blaine 
PeaceCon is an incredible conference. It's the major annual gathering of international peacebuilders taking place in the United States, hosted by the Alliance for Peacebuilding with support from the U.S. Institute of Peace. This year's focus was climate, COVID and conflict. And it was a really incredible gathering.

Julie Mason 
So how did those threads come together?

Tegan Blaine 
It started out early on, we had a major plenary panel with a variety of peacebuilders speaking about what climate change currently means for their work. But then there was a series of seminars around a variety of different topics. One of the most important parts of the plenary panel for me was having people like Patrick Youssef, from the International Committee at the Red Cross, along with people who are real peacebuilders who are working on the ground, talking about what their experience is. It's no longer possible to say that climate change does not intersect with peacebuilding, the realities are there, and people working on peacebuilding are already having to deal with it.

Julie Mason 
Is it because of migration and other issues? Hunger?

Tegan Blaine 
Climate change is impacting a lot of natural resources on which people depend. And so it's changing how people use land, what kind of water is available, food security quite honestly, because crops are being impacted as well. The crops are not as reliable as they used to be now that we're in the era of climate change. All of these things are beginning to come up. But it's also affecting bigger things like the choices that people make about whether to migrate for work, on a temporary basis to gain additional income, or whether to leave their homes for good.

Julie Mason 
And how does COVID intersect with the issues of peace and climate?

Tegan Blaine 
You know, COVID is complicated. And I must admit, I'm not as well versed on that as climate change. But I think one of the things that climate change, COVID and conflict all do is impact the capacity that governments have to respond to challenges. Whether it means that there are institutions that can't perform so well, because they're dealing with so many different stresses, whether it's disruptions of essential services, hospitals, you know, just the basic act of providing services like schools, and other government services. The economic impacts, which are incredibly difficult to project and to know how to expect them to plan around, all of these kinds of things are impacted. But one of the things that has also been shown recently to be really critical, whether it's in the climate change space, the COVID space, or the conflict space, is how people feel about each other, how they trust each other. And whether there's a weakening of social cohesion.

Julie Mason 
Tegan, you also mentioned that climate change is leading to militarization and false solutions. Can you explain what that means? How that's manifesting?

Tegan Blaine 
Absolutely. One of the things that we're beginning to see is that because of stresses related to climate change, compounded on all sorts of other things, people are potentially going to be on the move more than in the past. How that comes up sometimes in discussions is, "oh wow, those of us in the United States are going to experience significant more stresses on our borders, because people are going to want to come to the United States, people are going to want to come to Europe, and we need to shut down our borders and really control who we let in." In fact, the majority of people who are likely to be on the move because of how climate change is intersecting with other stresses, are likely to stay local. They're likely to stay in their own countries, or to stay regionally and not to be, you know, creating these major complicated political crises on other countries. And so we need to be realistic about that. We also need to recognize that migration has always been an approach that people have used to environmental stress. This is not new. In fact, it can actually be a really positive approach to climate and environmental change. And so we need to be first more honest about what the likely impacts are going to be, but also recognize that people generally want to stay close to their homes. They have a community, they have a culture, they have places that are important to them, and not try to create major politicization, or a militarized response to something that is more in our heads than in reality.

Julie Mason 
I mean, for so long, we've been hearing environmentalists warn about this and it seems like it is finally upon us, Tegan.

Tegan Blaine 
It is, it has been for a while.

Julie Mason 
Tegan Blaine is director of climate environment and conflict at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Tegan, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

Tegan Blaine 
Thank you for having me.

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