Multilateral cooperation in the area of climate-related security and development risks in Africa

Background Paper for UN75 Sub-regional Meeting on Multilateral Cooperation to Address Climate Related Security and Development Risks in Africa, 3-4 March 2020, Dakar, Senegal

 Dr. Cedric de Coning, Senior Researcher, NUPI & Dr. Florian Krampe, Senior Researcher, SIPRI

Full report available at:

Executive Summary

Over the past decade the impact of climate change on people’s everyday lives have become tangible. Its effects have contributed to loss of human life, it has undermined livelihoods, destroyed infrastructure, harmed national economies and stressed state budgets. Across the globe, its impacts have contributed to widened gender inequalities in different contexts (Park, 2019). Climate change is also transforming and redefining the global security and development landscape. The implications of climate change for security and development has become increasingly recognized within the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and Regional Economic Communities (REC).

As part of a special initiative by African and Nordic countries, a sub-regional meeting, involving the countries from West Africa and the Sahel, will be hosted by Norway and Senegal on 3 and 4 March 2020 in Dakar, on the topic of multilateral cooperation to address climate-related security and development risks in Africa. The purpose of the meeting is to deepen our collective understanding of the impact of climate-related human security and development risks, and how multilateral cooperation can contribute to preventing, mitigating and adapting to its effects. The aim of the meeting is to generate policy recommendations for enhanced multilateral cooperation in the area of climate-related security and development risks. These recommendations will be considered by the UN75 partner countries when they draft their joint declaration for the 75th United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

The aim of this background paper is to provide a synthesis of the existing research literature, policy guidance and recent developments related to multilateral cooperation in the area of conflict-related human security and development risks on the African continent, in order to inform and frame the discussion at the meeting in Dakar. The paper also offers a number of recommendations for strengthening and further enhancing the role of multilateral cooperation in the context of climate-related security and development risks, that can serve as an input for the discussions in Dakar.

The framing of climate change in the security and development discourse is undergoing an important change. In some spaces it is moving away from seeing climate change as a security ‘threat,’ and instead frames it as climate-related security and development ‘risks’. This approach, which is also the approach we take in this paper, emphasizes that climate change must not be seen as predominantly external in its cause, but rather that it exposes and compounds risks that are inherent in social-ecological systems, – especially in fragile and conflict-affected environments (Mobjörk et al., 2016; Born, 2019). Climate-related security and development risks stem from the broad societal impacts of climate-related environmental change on social-ecological systems and expose and compound inherent societal vulnerabilities that may undermine development and raise the probability of individual, community, state, and international insecurity (Mobjörk et al., 2016; Krampe & Mobjörk, 2018). When an existing conflict situation is also affected by climate change it tends to prolong violent conflict, inhibit peacebuilding and increase the human costs of war (Krampe, 2019). Climate-related changes compound social, political, economic and environmental challenges, and the risks that ensue include that of violent conflict—which then further undermine the resilience of communities and societies to adapt to climate change.

According to the August 2019 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that focused on climate change and land, Africa is disproportionately affected. 20 of the fastest warming countries globally are in Africa. In a sample of 30 African countries, two-thirds or over 60% of them are warming faster than the globe, and the trend is projected to continue in the coming decades (IPCC, 2019). African countries are economically dependent on natural resource based-sectors, which account for roughly one-third of GDP and are a basis for food security, employment and development. As these sectors, most notably rain-fed agriculture, are likely acutely affected by climate fluctuations, populations that depend on them are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

This paper explores what we know about multilateral cooperation in the area of climate-related security and development risks by analysing developments in two African regions, namely the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel.

It is now internationally recognised that climate-related security risks are shaping the security and development context around Lake Chad and the Sahel. The governance deficits, under-development and socio-economic plight of the communities living in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel have been further exacerbated by environmental stresses. Climate-related droughts exacerbate water shortages and related stresses, aggravate existing social vulnerabilities and impaire the abilities of communities to adapt to changes in their social-ecological systems. The combined effect of climate and social drivers contribute to increased tensions between pastoralist and farmers that all depend on the same dwindling resources. Changes in the climate contribute to water scarcity, which has an effect on food and livelihood insecurity. These livelihood stressors also make people, especially young men, more vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups. Climate change thus serve as a risk multiplier and has exacerbated conflict over scarce natural resources in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel.

Climate change thus exacerbates pre-existing social vulnerabilities and adds additional stresses to social-ecological systems. In some contexts, this can result in increases in the frequency and intensity of inter-communal conflict, which in turn undermines the resilience of these communities to cope with and adapt to climate change. The impacts of climate change also inhibit economic development in the many conflict-affected countries and regions in which the majority of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Extreme weather events in particular overwhelm already fragile institutions that are unable to cope with responding to the effects of either slow- or rapid-onset disasters. The impacts of climate change therefore tend to further erode the already weak capacity of states to prevent and manage conflict.

The experiences in the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel, show that multilateral cooperation at the sub-regional level, amplified, echoed and supported at the AU and UN levels, can contribute significantly to preventing, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and managing climate-related security and development risks.

A number of best practices are emerging. The regional stabilization strategy in the Lake Chad basin connects and combines the networks, capabilities and resources of the local, sub-regional and multilateral governance mechanisms. It thus serves as an example of how such strategic frameworks can be used to connect key stakeholders both horizontally and vertically, as well as establish mechanisms and instruments that facilitate and institutionalize their roles in co-governing a shared social-ecological system. This type of multilateral cooperation enables local-global coordination that can address the cross-scale dynamics that emerge from connections between local and global-scale systemic processes associated with climate-change (Downing et al., 2019). It does so by mobilizing and leveraging political, technical and financial support on sub-regional, regional and international scales, and by focusing on locally coordinated context specific needs-driven initiatives.

The regional strategies for the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel are both examples of the need for comprehensive multidimensional and multidisciplinary approaches. Both strategies reflect that climate-related security and development risks require a system-wide prevention and mitigation strategy that integrates security, governance, development, socio-economic, environmental and humanitarian dimensions, amongst others. Whilst the security situation needs to be managed, sustainable solutions require that the emphasis needs to be on addressing the vulnerabilities of the affected communities by investing in strengthening their resilience and adaptive capabilities. These strategies aim to do so by improving local governance and services, and by investing in infrastructure, public works and other socio-economic recovery and job creating initiatives. Both strategies emphasize that these initiatives should have a focus on gender and youth and that they should be climate proof, i.e. sensitive to climate-related security and development risks.

Many multilateral institutions are underprepared for the fact that climate change is already affecting key elements of their mandates. To better prepare for and adequately respond to what are increasingly complex security and development contexts, peacebuilding, security and development agencies must become more climate-sensitive. This paper offers a number of recommendations which are briefly summarised here:

Strengthen early warning and response mechanisms by strengthening multilateral cooperation and integrating information and indicators of climate-related security risks

Cooperation between the African Union and RECs relating to climate related security risks need to be strengthened. There is a need to establish inter-departmental and cross-agency initiatives to collect and analyse data disaggregated by sex, age, ethnicity, disability and location. Further, assessment indicators and tools for climate-related security and development risks, vulnerabilities and resilience should be developed in close synchronization between AU and RECs. There is a need for increased investment in evidenced-based research that increases our knowledge and understanding of how to better manage the different and connected dimensions of climate-related security and development risks.

Increase multilateral cooperation, knowledge exchange and learning

The multifaceted effects of climate change on social, economic, security, development and political dynamics, across all local to global scales, have important implications for how all multilateral actors currently function. If these institutions try to address these challenges from the perspective of their specialised mandates without investing in cross-scale and multi-dimensional analysis and coordination with other multilateral institutions, and other agencies within their own institutions, they will become increasingly ineffective and irrelevant. The paper offers a number of recommendations for further improving and scaling-up cooperation, knowledge sharing and learning.

Ensure gender is comprehensively mainstreamed across all scales of initiatives focusing on climate change and related security risks

The active participation of diverse groups of women in decision-making, in policies and programs focusing on climate change and related security and development risks, should be enabled on all levels. Structural barriers that may inhibit their meaningful participation should also be addressed. Climate change has the potential to exacerbate gender inequalities, and women in many parts of the world will experience unique and profound human security impacts, especially in settings also affected by insecurity or conflict. Investment and effort should be increased in research, policies and programs surrounding climate change, gender and peacebuilding.

Invest in prevention, mitigation and adaptive capacities

The deployment of security forces to contain and manage conflict, and humanitarian efforts to assist affected communities or displaced populations are often too little too late, yet costly in terms of political attention, bureaucratic organisation and financial resources. Sustainably managing conflict-related risks require proactive investments, and this paper offers a number of recommendations for scaling up our investment in prevention, mitigation and adaptive capacities.

Invest in conflict-and climate resilient agricultural employment specifically targeted to young people

Sustainable livelihoods are key for both peace-and climate resilience. Africa, being the youngest continent in the world, faces huge demographic shifts, urbanisation and growing youth unemployment. Possible ways to build social cohesion within and between communities include equitably securing land rights and providing access to justice and mechanisms for improving dialogue. By combining knowledge of peacebuilding, agriculture and climate science, innovative programmes undertaken to employ youth and bolster agricultural activity could benefit entire societies.

Regularly assess climate-related security and development risks

Given the complex effects of climate change, multilateral actors need to not only consider the local context, political economy and regional dimensions of a particular conflict system, but also factor in the climate-related security and development risks. There is a need for increased investment in developing context-specific knowledge on climate-related security and development risks as experienced by different demographics. One tool that would be of great use is a report that culminates in a major inter-governmental meeting where matters pertaining to climate change, natural resources and its risks to security are placed at the core.


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