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The impact of climate change on Africa’s peace and security
29 Apr 2021
Think Piece
The gradual increase in global temperatures, erratic rainfall and flooding have indirect, complex and interlinked implications for peace and security.

Climate change increasingly undermines human security and shapes violent conflict on the African continent. Yet there are no hard security solutions to combat these effects.

On 9 March, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) met at the level of heads of state to address these challenges. The PSC stressed that the AU and African societies can improve how they prevent and manage climate-related security risks by investing in preparedness, analysis and early warning. The PSC also called for better integration and coordination across agencies, in close cooperation with civil society and affected communities.

Although there is no direct causal relationship between climate and conflict, climate change interacts with political, social and environmental stresses through multiple pathways, compounding existing vulnerabilities and tensions. How climate change impacts societies and fuels conflict also has a lot to do with responses from governments – as well as communities.

Climate change interacts with political, social and environmental stresses, compounding existing vulnerabilities and tensions. Click to Tweet

The gradual increase in global temperatures, erratic rainfall and flooding have indirect, complex and interlinked implications for peace and security. These changes significantly disrupt livelihoods and food security, and have resulted in forced displacement and migration. Climate change exacerbates vulnerabilities and weakens the resilience of agriculture-dependent communities. Female-headed households are especially vulnerable, as most are dependent on agriculture to sustain their families and rely on natural resources like firewood and water.

Across the Sahel, South Sudan and Somalia, climate change and existing conflicts also fuel clashes between herding and farming communities over access to land, water and pastures. Changes in weather patterns affect the movements of pastoralists, bringing them closer to farming communities, causing tensions over resources.

Climate change can contribute to displacement, which can in turn make youth more vulnerable to recruitment by local militias or armed groups. Disruptions caused by the effects of climate change can also create opportunities for organised criminal and armed groups. In Somalia, for example, al-Shabaab positioned itself as a service and relief provider following droughts and floods.

The effects of climate change can also create opportunities for organised criminal and armed groups. Click to Tweet

At its 9 March summit, the PSC called on the AU Comission (AUC), regional economic communities/regional mechanisms (RECs/RMs), member states and partners to pursue holistic approaches to boost climate-change resilience. It also emphasised the need to pay particular attention to prevention, and strengthening the humanitarian-development nexus.

The PSC identified four approaches that the AU should adopt. These include the establishment of a climate fund; enhancing the capacity of the AUC’s Continental Early-Warning System, streamlining climate security across the AUC and appointing a special envoy; developing a common African position and signing and ratifying existing global and continental frameworks; and coordination – where experience-sharing among RECs/RMs and member states should be enhanced, and African countries should have a coordinated voice at the global level.

The PSC urged African institutions to improve their preparedness by investing in analysis and early-warning capacities. Enhancing African capacities to take early action to pre-empt, prevent and respond to emerging climate-related insecurity will increase societies’ resilience to already unavoidable climate impacts.

The 9 March PSC meeting signals a step towards the AU and African countries taking ownership of the challenges posed by climate change, and a number of actions that need to be taken were identified. These actions – to be taken at the AU and RECs levels – should also inform national climate adaptation plans and processes. Closer collaboration between the security sector and those dealing with environment and food security will be critical.

Africa has significant expertise within government, academia and civil society, which should be leveraged and mobilised to inform and support decision-making. Which stakeholders should be engaged depends on specific conflict drivers, and response mechanisms need to be adapted to the context.

At the national level, this can include strengthening traditional conflict-resolution and justice capacities, as well as investing in local capacities for peace and leveraging the social capital of youth, women and community resilience. At the continental level, African think tanks should consider establishing a network to support the AUC, PSC and the African members of the United Nations Security Council with evidenced-based information, analysis and recommendations.

By taking the steps identified by the PSC, the AUC, African governments and civil society are investing in Africa’s collective resilience to better prevent and manage the impact of climate change on peace and security.


Dr Cedric de Coning is a research professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and a senior advisor for the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). He tweets at @CedricdeConing.

Dr Florian Krampe is a senior researcher and director of the Climate Change and Risk Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). He tweets at @FlorianKrampe.

Anab Ovidie Grand is a junior research fellow with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) where she works on the Training for Peace (TfP) programme, the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON) and the Climate-related Peace and Security Risks project (CPSR). She tweets at @AnabGrand.


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