Climate change is the behemoth of our age. It defies description, is too large to comprehend, and what we do understand about it is often terrifying. This is for many, a good reason to stop thinking about it or, like Scarlett O’Hara, decide to “think about it tomorrow”. Thinking about the role of conflict in climate change policy is an even more challenging exercise, but one that this paper tries to address. Briefly I propose that climate change governance could productively utilise conflict as a transformative agent for decision making, rather than try and avoid it, or ‘solve it’ by embedding conflict resolution mechanisms within those governance frameworks.
There are many points at which governance and climate change intersect, there are multiple entry and exit points, and policies need embedding from local to international levels to work. At the heart of the problem however is conflict: between states and territories, between cultures, between the ideas of rights and responsibility and between the environment and economics. But as with Scarlett O’Hara, our society is fundamentally incapable of dealing with conflict. We seek answers based on win-win solutions, and ways of engaging with each other that are diplomatic, and politically correct.
Conflict as such, is feared as the blunt stone that will bludgeon and ruin negotiations and damage already fragile egos, societies and potential environmental outcomes. When societies cannot or will not change, or when the changes required necessitate unacceptable cultural compromise, disjuncture between them can develop into forums of conflict. Conflicts arising are partly explained by the fact that worldviews, perceptions of the problem, and ideas about solutions differ.
I argue for the transformative potential of conflict to facilitate adaptive governance and policy around climate change and climate change adaptation.
- Climate change governance could productively utilise conflict as a transformative agent for decision making, rather than try and avoid it, or ‘solve it’ by embedding conflict resolution mechanisms within governance frameworks.
- Climate governance frameworks should enable the conflict to become the conflict resolution process itself. This means identifying likely conflicts up front and then using them as the basis on which decisions about the most appropriate policies and planning are made, ensuring that such decisions are cognisant of and provide forums for effective ways around conflict in implementation.
- This process might take longer to negotiate, but will mean less likelihood of climate related policies stalling in implementation due to intractable conflict.
- One way of operationalising this model is to employ a three-dimensional local adaptive conflict governance framework comprising: (i) adaptive management (which includes anticipatory adaptation/foresight), (ii) communications, and (iii) reflexive practice.