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Climate, peace and security and the need for a coordinated approach

The African continent is young. Over 60% of its population is below the age of 35 and often unemployed. It is also a continent with economies and citizen’s livelihoods largely dependent on the environment, and thus also on our climate. The linkage between climate change and conflict is no longer debatable. Climate change is an imminent threat to human security, reverses progress towards sustainable development, and makes peace harder to achieve. It disrupts where people live, what they can eat, and how they earn a living.

Both slow onset changes such as temperature rise, ocean acidification and changes in precipitation patterns, as well as fast onset events such as storms, drought and floods can affect economic and political stability, and the security of people’s food, health and environment. This is especially relevant for Africa, where political instability and conflicts, governance problems, rapid population growth and urbanization, rising inequality, livelihood insecurity and environmental degradation combine with increasing scarcity or limited access to natural resources. There is an African saying: “show me a conflict and I will show you a natural resource in dispute."

This has led to the increasing recognition of the topic by the African Union (AU) and its member states: The Assembly of Heads of State that met in February 2022 tasked the AU Commission to expedite the finalization of a climate-related security risk assessment study and to develop a common African positon on the nexus between climate, peace and security in preparation for the COP27 to be hosted by Egypt.

The AU Peace and Security Council, the legal decision-making body of the African Union has deliberated 8 times in the last three years on this matter. It is in these sessions that they declared that the AU Peace and Security agenda is affected by the far-reaching implications of the deteriorating environmental conditions. 

So how do we mitigate and adapt to the potential consequences? First, leadership and governance do matter and it is important to trust science. The science is unambiguous: climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier. When compounding impacts of climate change interact with other stresses, the cascading effects can overburden weak states, spurring social upheaval and sometimes violent conflict. Even seemingly stable states can be pushed towards instability if the pressure is high enough or shock is too great.

Second, as we discuss climate adaptation and mitigation, we should ensure that the response measures do no harm. As such, when we are creating programs, effective climate security policy should be driven by the principle of collective security and the responsibility to respond and protect the most vulnerable amongst us. Limiting the warming of the planet also means limiting the number of lives affected by climate-generated fragility and conflict. Effective climate adaptation and building resilience are therefore closely tied to effective peacebuilding and our progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that climate mitigation and adaptation, when implemented in a conflict-sensitive and inclusive matter, can bring co-benefits in terms of diversifying livelihoods, opening dialogue spaces, creating trust, increasing cooperation and ultimately contributing to well-being.

How should we manage the politics around this? Policy needs to be coherent. We need overarching frameworks that appreciate the linkages between climate, peace and security. These can then again inform adaptation and mitigation measures that should be implemented at the continental, regional, national and community level. The AUC has been lauded for being one of the few multilateral platforms creating regional response to climate security risk. 

Currently, the AU is in the process of implementing the outcome of the 984th session of the AU PSC which was held at Heads of State level on 9 March 2021 where the AU PSC directed the commission to draft a Common African Position on the nexus between climate, peace and security. As the Commission embarks on this process in particular the PSC guidance for the appointment of an AU Special Envoy and a climate change fund which should be African owned and funded are important.

These are also being accompanied by the technical processes such as mainstreaming climate security analysis, inclusion of climate change indicators into what has been largely a conflict analysis tool commonly known as the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS). The advantage of the technical and political processes is that it benefits the continent on all tracks, for example the inclusion of climate change into CEWS will benefit AU, RECS, RMS and the national early warning center thus allowing to have a shared understanding on emerging threats and creating mutually beneficial responses.  Lastly, no single entity can handle climate, peace and security as it is cross cutting. Therefore, clusters at the institutional level are needed to bring everyone on board to build on entry points, create solutions to the multilayered challenges, and make smart partnerships with multilateral, regional, and bilateral actors, advancing our common agenda. Lastly, a solidarity framework is needed to foster collective action, secure populations by increasing information sharing and investing in sophisticated capabilities. The disarmament of non-state actors and arms control should also be high on the agenda.


Ambassador Frederic Gateretse-Ngoga is Head of the Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Division at the Peace and Security Department of the African Union Commission.