Iraq is classified as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change, facing significant challenges with rising temperatures, less rainfall and salinity, and frequent dust storms. Flood and drought, as well as changes in multi-year and seasonal variability, have become major risk factors of conflict – with the majority of climate conflict and security risks revolving around water. Such changes have already heavily affected communities in Iraq – especially lower-income groups. Water scarcity has contributed to a loss of arable land and agricultural productivity, as well as increased food insecurity and decreased access to safe drinking water. As a result, large scale climate-induced displacement is being witnessed across Iraq, which, in turn, is heightening competition for limited resources. All this contributes to the likelihood of and exacerbates clashes and outbreaks of violence. Furthermore, vulnerable groups – notably women, young people, and ethnic and religious minorities – are disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of climate change due to pre-existing gender norms and persisting inequalities. Given the significant threat climate change poses and the multiplier effects climate change has on Iraq’s already vulnerable social fabric – combined with a lack of understanding from communities about what climate change is – Search Iraq kickstarted the ‘Peacebuilding Series’ in October 2022 with a campaign on Climate Change in Iraq. The Peacebuilding Series initiative aims to shed light on issues that traditionally are not discussed in relation to conflict.
The campaign was rolled out in conjunction with the COP27 global climate change conference, to generate further noise surrounding the already existing discussions on climate change that took place in November. Both the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact have demonstrated that climate change cannot be solved by governments alone but rather requires cooperation of various societal levels to enhance public participation, and public awareness of climate challenges and solutions. Therefore, the climate change campaign was carefully designed to address definitions, scientific causes of climate change, and societal/livelihood consequences of climate change to effectively raise awareness about climate change to an audience that is not as familiar with the topic. The aim was to show how climate mitigation is not solely mitigating environmental degradation, but in fact a form of peacebuilding in Iraq.
The last week of the climate change campaign discussed prevention strategies, uncovering what Search Iraq and Iraq’s civil society is doing to further prevent harm and what the general public can do too. Search teamed up with local civil society organizations, to highlight their work and efforts, but also to provide a platform on which they could have a further outreach, and connect with audiences beyond their already existing established support network. Additionally, as a part of the ‘prevention week’, Search Iraq made a radio appearance during the ‘Breakfast Hour Show’ on the Iraqi radio channel Babylon FM, which has a significant youth viewership from Iraq. Here, Search discussed the conflict climate change nexus and what youth in Iraq can do, in terms of advocacy as well as individual practical behavioral changes. Reaching over 50,000 listeners, Babylon FM received great positive feedback from their youth listeners, with some requesting further information from Search Iraq on how to get involved in the fight against climate change.
Overall, the campaign received positive feedback, especially from the Iraqi youth, with 80% of the engagement coming from account users aged 18-25. This climate change campaign was only the first of many advocacy efforts from Search Iraq to raise awareness about climate change and its devastating consequences on Iraq’s social cohesion. It became predominantly clear considering the responses to the climate change campaign that this is an issue that Iraq’s civil society and youth have the tools and motivation to effectively address when provided opportunities, funding, and platforms to act and discuss. Search Iraq is committed to continue providing platforms for discussions and to raise awareness about climate change, ensuring that a conflict-sensitive lens is mainstreamed throughout discussions and debates on climate change in Iraq. The ambition is to do so through larger scale climate programming, the key objectives for the future climate change programming are:
- Equip the Iraqi youth in the South – the region hardest hit by climate change – with the skills and avenues for engaging in local governance, environment-based issues and decision making.
- Empower women leaders to strengthen community resilience to climate-related conflict through local resolution mechanisms.
- Facilitate spaces for cooperative action among diverse community groups to advocate for gender-informed climate change mitigation approaches at the local and national level.