Climate is also a security policy issue

“The fight for natural resources is a common trigger for conflict in many places. When I was in Uganda, I saw what an immense impact climate change and loss of biodiversity have on people’s lives,” says Anna Merrifield, Director of the recently created Unit for Climate and Environmental Diplomacy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Anna Merrifield works as a Director of the recently created Unit for Climate and Environmental Diplomacy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Photograph: Karoliina Romanoff  

Anna Merrifield has been a diplomat for nearly two decades. She has worked in Finland’s embassies in Tunisia and South Africa, among other countries. She served as Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda as her latest assignment. 

The four years in Uganda confirmed Merrifield’s view of the significance of climate and environmental issues for development policy and, more broadly, for foreign policy. “Developing countries need us to support them in adapting to the challenges and problems created by climate change,” Merrifield says. 

A key learning from the years in Africa was to understand the disparity of perspectives. “In Europe, the bulk of news coverage is now focusing on the energy concerns of households. They are major problems for people, and they can affect the daily lives of us all. However, they are global concerns, too, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having dramatic adverse effects on Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In many countries, first the pandemic took away jobs and then drought wiped out crops. Now the price of food has reached a level that forces people to choose between school fees and food,” Merrifield describes the worsening food security in the world.  

“We must show the developing countries that we have not forgotten them now that Europeans have had to focus on Ukraine and on countering the effects Russia’s aggression has on Europe.”

Swift action is needed to adapt to climate change 

Drought and lack of jobs are driving migration flows, first to big African cities and then to Europe. “Climate issues are also part of foreign and security policy. That is why people in Finland should be interested in them. For example, China’s ongoing water crisis may have greater consequences for the global economy than the COVID-19 pandemic,” Merrifield says.

Finland has invested heavily in climate action in recent years. Around 12 per cent of Finland’s development cooperation appropriations go directly to climate projects. Climate resilience and environmental protection are crosscutting objectives of development cooperation, too. Finland is set to raise its annual share of international climate finance to around EUR 200 million in the coming years.

“In the COP27 climate change conference to be held in Egypt this November, we expect developing countries to demand significant increases to climate change adaptation finance,” Merrifield estimates.

As a new Director of the Unit, Merrifield wants to integrate international climate and environmental matters into mainstream foreign policy. “Climate diplomacy is already part of all our work. In the future, we should pay more attention to safeguarding biodiversity, because it is our lifeline,” Merrifield says.

“Finland has a lot to offer not only in terms of policies but also as a supplier of solutions and as a promoter of sustainable climate and energy policy. The new unit will focus on bringing different policy areas and solutions on the same table. By working together, we can be a bigger global player than our size would suggest,” says the new Director of Unit.