Towards a Community of Practice on Climate Security and Environmental Peacebuilding in Mindanao

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On March, 2014, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which intended to end an armed conflict that had endured for decades in parts of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. As has been widely recognized, issues related to environmental resources and the management of land in Mindanao played a crucial role in driving the conflict. Political and cultural structures, both historical and present, that influence people´s access to natural resources and the benefits of economic development from land and agriculture have, under a Mindanao context, exacerbated underlying drivers of conflict. Acknowledging this, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro integrated a focus on increasing access and representation of local populations in the management of natural resources. This crucial point is especially relevant in a context whereby a majority of the population directly relies on natural resources and small-scale agriculture for its livelihood.

This welcomed development comes at a time when climatic stressors and shocks are altering food, land, and water systems for millions, and driving important socioeconomic challenges for food security and the stability of rural livelihoods across the Philippines. Although climate change and environmental degradation affect everyone, social groups experience these effects differently, at times reinforcing patterns of marginalisation and inequality. As such, environmental and climatic threats to livelihoods and access to resources can compound existing drivers of conflict. At the same time, societal efforts to increase resilience in the face of climate threats can serve as an entry point to protect the livelihoods of conflict-affected populations, foster engagement and trust between conflictive parties, and strengthen the relation between states and societies. If planned accordingly, climate action can be an instrument for peace.

Despite an increasing recognition of the interconnections between climate change and natural resources, vulnerabilities, and peace and conflict, there is not a clear understanding of how these complex dynamics operate in conflict-affected areas such as Mindanao. Furthermore, international and local actors lack the comprehensive strategies to account for these interconnections in peacebuilding efforts. Understanding these intricate linkages and integrating them in governance systems demands interdisciplinary collaboration and comprehensive assessments conducted for specific settings.

CGIAR’s Climate Resilience Initiative (ClimBeR), is working to address these gaps. Between the 24th and 26th of October, the initiative ran a climate security and environmental peacebuilding workshop in Butuan, Mindanao: Towards a community of practice for Climate Security and Environmental Peacebuilding in Mindanao. The workshop was organized jointly by Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology, Caraga State University, Agusan Del Sur State University College of Agriculture and Technology, ECOWEB, CGIAR’s Initiative on Fragility, Conflict, and Migration (FCM), and CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security,  and benefited from the participation of government institutions, international organizations, NGOs, and universities.

The context

The Philippines is highly exposed to various natural hazards and the impacts of climate change. The country’s geographic location in the western Pacific Ocean exposes its populations to tropical storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other disaster threats. Additionally, the Philippines is susceptible to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, all of which are influenced by climate change. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Country Index places the Philippines at 122 out of 185 countries in terms of vulnerability to climate change.  

Populations in Mindanao, specifically, experience a constant threat of climate and environmental hazards, mainly in the form of typhoons, intense rainfall, flooding, landslides and drought. Climate projections for Mindanao suggest increasing average temperatures and overall reduced precipitation. Although significant variation across the region means that communities will face a combination of increasing drought associated to El Niño events, unpredictable precipitation, a higher risk of heavy rains, floods, landslides and tropical storms.

A heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture in Mindanao, hence, exposes the region’s agricultural sector to significant risks. Less than half of the potentially irrigable land in Mindanao currently benefits from irrigation systems. This substantial dependence on rainfall for crop production makes the agricultural sector vulnerable to droughts and excessive precipitation.

These effects of climate change have economic and social impacts, including food and water insecurity, the loss of agricultural livelihoods and subsequently increased inequities, and competition over access to scarce natural resources – all potential drivers of conflict and insecurity. The interaction between climatic and non-climatic factors can result in compounding risks that exacerbate insecurity and fragility, a complex linkage which is particularly relevant for Mindanao´s post-conflict context and ongoing threats of conflict resurgence.

Conflict in Mindanao is a complex and longstanding issue with multiple drivers. It involves a range of ethnic, political, economic, and historical factors that have contributed to its persistence. Historical injustices, such as land dispossession and marginalization of the Moro Muslim and Indigenous Peoples, have fueled long standing grievances. Historically, Moro and Indigenous communities have been politically marginalized, leading to feelings of exclusion and a desire for greater autonomy. The region is also home to multiple ethnic groups, leading to ethnic and religious tensions.

Populations in Mindanao also grapple with the persistent menace of local violence, often manifesting as inter-clan feuds. These feuds, primarily involving the most influential clans, have had far-reaching consequences for the local population. They have hindered mobility, obstructed access to essential public services, discouraged investment in the region, and significantly permeated the formal policy system through municipal and regional governance structures. Mindanao is rich in natural resources, including minerals, agricultural land, and fisheries. Competition for control of these resources has fueled conflict, as different groups seek to gain access and control. Corruption and ineffective governance regarding the management of benefits from natural resources have hindered development, contributed to instability, and led to a context marked by low political legitimacy.

As a consequence of conflict and its associated hardships, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes. Furthermore, the lack of investment in the region has only served to accentuate its marginalization, leaving it grappling with economic and social disparities. Socio-economic and political inequalities play a significant role in exacerbating this challenging scenario. Despite significant progress in peace negotiations and the reintegration of former combatants over the past decade, Mindanao continues to face numerous challenges in its journey toward stability. The past and present effects of violence across the region significantly hinder local capacities to cope with climate change.

Climate, peace, and security in Mindanao

In a region where climate and environmental challenges put stress on individual households and drive adverse societal consequences, it is crucial to understand the potential implications of environmental issues for peacebuilding and security. This understanding is essential for developing strategies aimed at addressing the multiple drivers of conflict across Mindanao, which often arise from effects over water, land, and food systems.

The compounding effects of poverty, marginalisation, and violent conflict weakens efforts for resilience building in the face of climate change and undermines recent progress for sustainable peacebuilding in BARMM and the wider Mindanao. Furthermore, climate impacts and limited adaptive capacities compound existing drivers of conflict, such as low levels of political legitimacy. Under a context of high political exclusion, and high levels of clan-based politics, impacts over livelihoods and well-being increase anti-state sentiments, the risk of recruitment by armed groups, and local-expressions of violence.

The effects of climate change on the availability of natural resources also poses increasing threats of conflict over access to these resources. Conflicts related to land and natural resources across Mindanao can lead to antagonistic sentiments that cut across ethnic, religious, and ideological divisions, thereby increasing local-level conflict. In addition, the unequal distribution of benefits from development and resilience building efforts undermine social cohesion, worsen the political legitimacy of local-level institutions, and prompt strategic exclusion from disaster recovery efforts. For example, inadequately planned relocation processes have led to increasing conflict in certain regions.

Given the above challenges, it is crucial for climate adaptation to become an instrument of peace across Mindanao. Environmental peacebuilding is a field of research and practice that investigates the multiple ways in which the management of environmental issues can support conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery. It is premised on the notion that the sustainable management of natural resources that competing parties may come into conflict over, or the environmental risks shared by these parties, can also serve as a platform for peacebuilding.

In recent years, natural resources have been a tool for decreasing conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). During negotiations leading to the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a more equitable sharing of resources in the Bangsamoro played a crucial role in sustaining peace talks. This emphasis on creating responsive policy systems, promoting economic development, and safeguarding livelihoods through natural resource management provided an effective foundation for building trust between conflicting groups.

Despite this encouraging progress, many local communities in Mindanao still feel the effects of exclusion, inequality, and corruption in the management of natural resources. Moreover, obstacles to effective resource management hinder the adaptive capacity of people in the face of climate change, exacerbating the risks posed by extreme weather events and climate variability. This indicates a need to develop natural resource management and climate adaptation strategies that account for and address the socio-economic, cultural, and political factors driving conflict in Mindanao.

Towards a community of practice for climate security and environmental peacebuilding in Mindanao

Addressing the above challenges requires actionable evidence, cross-sectoral expertise, collaboration, and partnerships to promote a substantial shift in how climate change strategies are designed and implemented. Considering this, the aforementioned workshop brought together experts from government, international organizations, civil society and academia to discuss a common agenda for environment, climate, peace and security in Mindanao.

During the event, participants worked together to define the relevance of climate security and environmental peacebuilding in Mindanao. They did so by analyzing the main drivers of conflict in the region, and identifying ways in which these may be exacerbated by climate or environmental factors. Participants then explored entry points through which climate adaptation and natural resource management can contribute to peacebuilding efforts by mitigating specific drivers of conflict.

During the event, workshop participants launched a Community of Practice (CoP) for Environmental Peacebuilding and Climate Security in Mindanao. The CoP is intended as a space for ongoing collaboration and coordination of conflict-sensitive climate adaptation and sustainable peacebuilding strategies in Mindanao. The CoP will focus on four priority areas of action:

  1. The CoP will harness the unique organizational capacities of all members to generate new evidence and knowledge related to climate and environmental peace and security in Mindanao.
  2. The CoP will promote inter-institutional collaboration to identify opportunities, develop funding proposals, and implement research and/or projects related to climate security and environmental peacebuilding in Mindanao.
  3. Through its evidence and information generation activities, the CoP will support the integration of climate and environmental concerns in security policies, as well as foster the development of conflict-sensitive climate and environmental policies.
  4. The CoP will foster learning and innovation in Mindanao´s higher educational system through the integration of climate and environmental security topics into educational programs.


Authors: Leonardo Medina (Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research, ZALF), Adam Savelli and Stephanie Jaquet (CGIAR Focus Climate Security, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT), Jon Hellin (International Rice Research Institute), Mark Anthony Torres (Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology), Jayrold Arcede (Caraga State University)

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