Women washing clothes in a river, Nigeria.
USAID – Photojournalist Fati Abubakar captures everyday life in Borno State Nigeria, in December 2016, showing that despite the violence and destruction of Boko Haram, there is beauty, resilience and diversity in her home state.

Translating Research to Action: Global Fragility and Climate Risks

By Ashley McIlvain Moran

At the February 7 Adaptation Community Meeting, Ashley Moran from the University of Texas at Austin presented the findings from a global USAID study on the intersection of global fragility and climate risks.

When states face fragility and climate risks simultaneously, the challenges of each are compounded. Translating the research into action, the compound fragility-climate risk assessment can support policy and program planning in five key ways.

1. Identify focal points for intervention. Climate risks pose multi-faceted and increasingly urgent security threats for fragile states. Physical and livelihood risks to the population can force governments to redirect scarce resources to adaptation or humanitarian response efforts and strain the capacity of already fragile states to deliver basic services and security. Since states with compound fragility-climate risks may be more vulnerable to humanitarian emergencies or political or economic instability, understanding the distinct fragility and climate challenges they face presents opportunities and focal points for intervention.

2. Prevent compound risks from emerging in new areas by building the capacity of moderately fragile states with high climate risks. Some states are not highly fragile today, but climate vulnerabilities place extreme stress on their population and territory. If fragility worsens, and these states cannot effectively address their climate risks, large numbers of people could become more vulnerable to the very high exposure risks they already face.

3. Support policy coordination across agencies and issues. Increasingly, there is a convergence of military and aid interventions in fragile states experiencing localized conflict, political upheaval and humanitarian crises. Of the 26 countries with the highest compound fragility and climate risks today, the United Nations has peacekeeping operations in 20 and the U.S. military has troops deployed in all but four. Further, the U.S. government has provided $97.8 billion in security, humanitarian and development aid to these countries over the last 10 years.

Climate risks can exacerbate the underlying fragility issue or complicate responses. Knowing where and how fragility and climate risks intersect offers important information for determining how policies that promote peace, political stability and resilience can be best designed to reinforce each other and reduce both the fragility and climate risks that contribute to instability.

4. Broaden strategies for reducing fragility. Assessing fragility and climate risks together allows us to see how climate vulnerability can be compounded by fragility and where resilience initiatives can reduce both climate and fragility challenges. In states with high compound fragility-climate risks, poor state legitimacy—meaning public perceptions that the state is unwilling or unable to meet public needs—contributes more to overall fragility than poor state effectiveness does. Thus, state actions that respond to public needs to reduce climate vulnerabilities—like improving access to clean water—could reduce both climate risks and the legitimacy deficits that contribute substantially to fragility in these states.

5. Identify the best channels for climate actions in fragile states. Assessing fragility and climate risks together also allows us to see how climate policies may be most effectively implemented in a given state. On the one hand, knowing the specific sectors where a state is experiencing fragility can help in designing robust climate policies that will not be undermined by a lack of state capacity in related governance spheres. On the other, more positive side, knowing the strongest facets of governance in a state—whether in the political, economic, social or security spheres—presents an opportunity for action to reduce climate risks by directing reforms through that sphere.

Additional resources are included below:

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Climate Risk Management, Conflict and Governance
Ashley McIlvain Moran

Ashley McIlvain Moran

Ashley McIlvain Moran directs the State Fragility Initiative at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, where she leads research on state fragility dynamics, governance challenges in the Middle East and democratic institutional development.

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