Climate Stories Episode #6: Climate Change, Peacebuilding, and Business: Lise Grande and Dr. Teagan Blaine, USIP.

Climate Stories author Jacqueline Adams serves on the International Advisory Council of the United States Institute of Peace, a non-partisan organization founded by the U.S. Congress in 1984 to promote a more peaceful, inclusive world. When she learned that USIP had begun working with a consortium of global NGOs to craft an Environmental Peacebuilding Framework, she began learning more about the confluence of climate change and peace.

“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.” – Dr. Tegan Blaine, Director of Climate, Environment, and Conflict at the U.S. Institute of Peace

A series of White Papers and dire predictions about the imminent global impact of harmful carbon emissions have been circulating for months in anticipation of the June 2-4th meetings in Sweden, Stockholm+50 international environmental meetings. The United Nations General Assembly has convened the sessions to accelerate actions to tackle what organizers call the “Earth’s triple planetary crisis – climate, nature, and pollution” five decades after the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.

Dr. Tegan Blaine, director of Climate, Environment, and Conflict at the United State Institute of Peace, has been in the thick of the preparations. Her focus, with the support of her boss, USIP President Lise Grande, is to help a relatively new field gel – to consolidate political and business leaders’ appreciation of the linkages between environmental “tensions and grievances” and war and then, to drive action.

It’s a relatively straightforward equation: climate instability exacerbates the risk of armed conflict around the world. Examples are happening around the world every day. They include mass migration as food and water resources literally dry up; mass death resulting from extreme heat; disputes over access to rare earth mineral rights as the need for new technologies like electric vehicle batteries expand. More crises and less peace are bad for everyone, certainly including businesses. As Lise Grande explained in an interview with Climate Stories: “The stakes are so high but the climate change peril has been under-conceptualized. That’s why the subject of climate and peace matters so much for business.”

Ms. Grande continued: “There’s currently no global cooperation on a range of climate issues that impact business and the private sector. One example is financing green technologies in poorer countries. How can property rights be protected as these new technologies are implemented? Another deals with those countries that are going under water. Who pays restitution for future damage and losses?”

“Climate change is a governance issue. It’s a short step from governance to peace building,” Dr. Blaine said, as she ticked off several imminent global flashpoints. “People are beginning to recognize that they rely on the environment for food and water. Look at the impact of soil erosion and population growth on herders and farmers in Nicaragua or the lack of water and human security in Afghanistan. We need to get ahead of the negative impacts of climate change in vulnerable areas.”

In addition to Dr. Blaine’s work, climate change took center stage at USIP last October. That’s when Josephine Ekiru of the Ngara Mara community in Isiolo County in Northern Kenya received USIP’s 2021 Women Building Peace Award, the second of these annual awards.

Ms. Ekiru explained: “Our pastoralist communities in northern Kenya face environmental conflict on a daily basis, often driven by land degradation and increasing pressure on the scarce natural resources in our region. My work focuses on trying to avoid or calm these conflicts.” Her solution could provide answers for the policymakers about to gather in Stockholm. “Our experience in Northern Kenya has taught us that the best means of conflict prevention is building resilience through inclusive and sustainable development which addresses inequalities and strengthens community-led institutions.” You can learn more about her work, bringing peace to nature and peace to individuals here.

USIP’s award is one means of addressing a missing link that’s been identified in environmental peacebuilding: spotlighting the influence of women. As described in the recent White Paper, THE FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PEACEBUILDING: Nurturing an Ecosystem for Peace: “The field of environmental peacebuilding still tends to see women, Indigenous Peoples, youth and other marginalized groups as passive targets for aid rather than as change-makers and knowledge-holders in their own right.”

And Dr. Blaine believes that business leaders can help drive positive climate outcomes by including “community consultants” in their business models. “Businesses have to re-think their practices. They have to look at how their investments benefit local stakeholders, not just their shareholders.”

The range of global climate issues is wide. Publicizing and honoring innovators like Josephine Ekiru is one approach. Dr. Blaine has tried to sharpen her focus into areas in which USIP can help guide policy decision-making. Migration and displacement top that list.

For example, Dr. Blaine pointed to existential questions facing the Maldives and Pacific island nations where entire countries are being wiped off the map because rising temperatures and rising seas are eliminating their land. She asks: “Where will the people who live here go?”

She worries about the growth of megacities along coastal areas in West Africa and Sub-saharan Africa. She asks: “How can already dysfunctional governments provide critical water, transportation or education services as the seas rise? The challenges exacerbate urban fragility.”

As temperatures continue to rise, Dr. Blaine worries about the increasing inability of countries to sustain human life in geographies like India, Pakistan, the Sahel, the Middle East and Central America. She notes predictions that without decisive actions, by 2070, 30% of land masses, some 3 billion people, will see temperatures that are currently experienced by less than 1%. “People are already moving across borders for economic opportunities because water is scarce and agriculture is changing. How are we preparing to receive the newcomers?”

The risks are not limited to potential conflicts in the future. Ukraine has been a major producer of wheat, corn and barley. The current war with Russia has limited Ukraine’s grain shipments and increased the risk of famine in northern Africa and the Middle East.

In her interview with Climate Stories, Dr. Blaine was uncertain about the war’s impact on the transition to a green economy with the removal of this one link in the global food chain. “Global linkages between food and energy are hard to understand. Might cutting off Russian oil help drive green technologies in Europe? Might it increase oil production in the United States? I’m struggling to get ahead of the long-term implications.”

Tegan Blaine began studying climate change as a high school student, taking classes at the Cincinnati Zoo. She joined the Peace Corps after college. During the winter of 1997-98, she witnessed first-hand the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon on flooding and drought in northern Tanzania. “The hardest rains in memory fell during that winter, destroying railroad ties and washing away crops. We had to carry our water for six months because the hydropower machines were overwhelmed and had to stop producing. After the rain, there were droughts and fires. Parts of the forests in the mountains burned and crops were lost. I remember taking an international train, whose tracks were raised, and I could see acres of farmland under several feet of water.”

Those experiences drove her to pursue a Ph.D. in oceanography and climate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She later spent a decade at USAID building a climate change team. After a stint at National Geographic, she now has what she calls her “dream job.” As Dr. Blaine explained, “Environmental peacebuilding is still a new field. There’s a lot of experimentation.”

She continued, “The academic world assumed that countries who shared water resources would cooperate, because the stakes of not doing so were too high. The incentives were toward cooperation, not towards war. But with the impact of climate change, the promise of cooperation may not be something that we can count on. So how do we think about these huge challenges?”

In April, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres published dire predictions with the release of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His language was unvarnished:

“We are on a fast track to climate disaster: Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris. Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency.”

Dr. Tegan Blaine shares the Secretary General’s sense of panic: “The future is here and it gets worse. It’s getting to the point that even if we invest heavily now, greenhouse gases stay in the environment for so long that we still won’t see temperatures fall. I didn’t think this future would come so fast.”

About Climate Stories

Climate Stories is a series researched and written by Jacqueline Adams (MBA 1978) and Produced by Lynn Schenk, Director, Business and Environment Initiative

The HBS Business and Environment Initiative is excited to launch Climate Stories, a series of researched blog posts that tell the unique stories of the business leaders–CEOs, founders, advisors, and more–who are enabling climate solutions to thrive by seeing new business opportunities and focusing on the people who make those solutions both necessary and possible.

To accomplish the mission of Climate Stories, BEI is grateful to be working with Jacqueline Adams (MBA 1978). Adams has spent her career as a journalist, author, and convener. Over the next few months, she will share a variety of stories that we hope will teach, inspire, and motivate our readers to create their own positive stories - ones which prioritize the human side of climate change.

About the Author

Jacqueline Adams (MBA 1978) has spent her career as a journalist, author, and convener. She and Bonita C. Stewart (MBA 1983) are co-authors of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive” as well as a series of groundbreaking proprietary surveys, Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey©.