Challenges to climate-related security include but are not limited to resource competition, shocks to food security, climate-induced migration, transboundary water management, and unintended consequences from climate policies. Mainstreaming a climate perspective into existing programming can help reduce the risks. However, to ensure success in fragile states, progress may sometimes depend on whether the domestic elite finds it is in their self-interest to embrace such policies.
West African fish stocks are under constant pressure from foreign distant fishing fleets accessing West African waters both licitly and illicitly. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, while artisan fishers and local processers were complying with lockdown restrictions, foreign industrial fleets continued aggressive fishing. While food insecurity rose in the region, fishmeal factories, processing tons of fish into feed for industrial aquaculture and livestock in Europe and Asia, continued unabated. The situation revealed the need to institute strong regional measures to change the fisheries management system, particularly on pelagic fish stocks shared between countries.
In the Liptako-Gourma region, violent extremist groups frequently have direct or indirect links to the political economy of arms trafficking, drug trafficking, poaching, cattle rustling, artisanal mining, and the organized theft of fuel and motorcycles. Jihadist groups tend to be pragmatic and opportunistic in their linkages to organized crime, and sometimes use links to criminal groups to procure sustenance, equipment, and supplies; tax the flows of illicit products that others are moving; or regulate local opportunities to conduct illicit activities.
Climate-dependent livelihoods in West African countries have been under increasing pressure due to climate change. As a result, the growing need for alternate sources of income has spurred an expansion of the illicit economy and predatory behavior from criminal organizations. West Africa is, thus, facing a dual challenge to both mitigate climate impacts on regions that are conflict prone as well as address structural issues such as poor governance and limited state authority in large swathes of the region.
“Climate change causing conflict” arguments are not supported by the evidence. There is no evidence, for example, that pastoralist versus farmer conflicts in Africa are due to climate change. There is, however, much evidence that these conflicts are the result of government interference in local distribution of resources, access to land, and even, in the case of Nigeria’s Middle Belt, the disappearance of state presence. The scenario of conflict related to water and food scarcity has not played out. Climate is not a threat multiplier to political violence. Those involved in the violence are not those most affected by climate change, the poor. Rather the actors involved in conflict are those with the most to lose, the powerful. The only country where the evidence supports climate affecting conflict is in South Sudan. The warring parties employ the climate into their strategies (i.e., take as much land as possible before the rainy season when conflict must stop). This is an environmental strategy, however, not a response to climate change.
Conflict rarely stems from climate change alone, but the phenomenon is increasingly a contributor to conflict in vulnerable regions and states. In Africa, climate change tends to worsen livelihoods, fuel migration, change pastoral mobility patterns, change tactical considerations of criminals or armed groups, and lead to exploitation by elites of fluctuating resource supplies. Without adequate governance and security provision, these effects can all snowball into sustained violent conflict. Practical policy steps to interrupt such scenarios include weather insurance for farmers, formal regulations on rotating pastures for pastoralists, more migration assistance, and strengthened conflict resolution mechanisms.
While governments consider how much effort they want to expend on addressing climate change, a team of scientists, policy analysts, and financial and military experts suggest we consider (a) what global warming could do to us and (b) as a result, what we might do to each other. Global warming-induced food and water shortages may cause mass migration, competition for resources, and state failure. This, in turn, would provide fertile ground for conflict and terrorism. Thus, before reaching such a worst case scenario, even small changes in policy could have a profound effect.
Climate change is likely to impact on Africa far more than other regions. Rapidly growing populations and urbanization in Africa strain current water resources, making water security fragile for many people. Although conflict does not directly result from climate change, evidence suggests that climate change can trigger and accelerate of conflict in Africa. Since conflict is affected by climatic fluctuations, unpredictable rainfall and changes in agricultural growing seasons will influence different kinds of conflict.
Nearly one fourth of people in Africa experience water stress, and over half of the continent lacks access to sanitary, sufficient amounts of water. This challenge is exacerbated by climate change, as water resources are being depleted more rapidly and rainfall has become less predictable. Countries that share river basins, lakes and aquifers experience tension over water rights. Important lessons and potential conflict resolution techniques can be derived from examining past water conflicts.
Multiple climate change models foresee future environmental pressures in the harsh Sahel region that could trigger the collapse of community coping mechanisms, mass displacement, and regional fragility. At the same time, no deterministic relationship between environment and insecurity is apparent. Political and economic circumstances display a stronger role in the region’s conflict dynamics. However, adjustments to development strategies to prepare for uncertainty, diversify livelihood opportunities, and include vulnerable communities in decisionmaking could simultaneously address climate change challenges and reduce conflict drivers.
Security Topics: Environment and Security