Main page content

Addressing Radicalization and Violent Extremism Through Climate Action

Placeholder image

[This article originally appeared on UNDP's blog "Our Perspectives".]

Climate change and violent extremism will be two of the major threats to the stability of states and societies in the next decades. In many countries in the continent (Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, etc.) climate change has significantly increased instability by over-stretching the already limited capacity of governments to respond.

Boko Haram and Al Shabab threats and attacks in West and East Africa, continued fragility in Central African Republic (CAR) and renewed instability in Burundi and South Sudan are among some of the conflicts that contribute to this fragility cycle. It’s estimated that there have been over 4000 terrorist attacks since 2011 in Africa and 24,000 people killed. Some 2.8 million people are displaced in the Lake Chad Basin alone, and 700,000 Somalis are languishing in refugee camps.

It is worth exploring how a changing climate and its impacts on the continent are contributing to exacerbating radicalization on the African continent.

Violent extremism is currently devastating economies in the Sahel, Horn of Africa and Lake Chad Basin. For these and other fragile contexts, adding climate change as a ‘threat multiplier and shock accelerator’ triggers further frustration, tension and conflict.

It is worth exploring how a changing climate and its impacts on the continent are contributing to exacerbating radicalization on the African continent.

Radicalization leading to violent extremism is the result of religious, ideological, economic and historical situations where unemployment, deficient social contract between a state and its people, poor governance and rule of law, failure to ensure citizen engagement and participation, among others, have led to social exclusion, mistrust and frustration. Climate change, on the other hand, affects our natural capital (water, food, land, forest, biodiversity, etc.). Compounded with more frequent occurrence of natural disasters (drought, floods, landslides, cyclones, etc.), it leads to disruption, as livelihoods are affected and local economic opportunities lost.  The inability of fragile governments to meet the needs of their population or provide protection in the face of climate change-induced hardship can trigger frustration, lead to tensions between different ethnic and religious groups within countries and to political radicalization. This could destabilize countries and even entire regions.

Such a situation will undoubtedly increase forced migration from rural communities, highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, to urban areas, where lack of opportunities, unemployment, poor health conditions, social exclusion and inappropriate living conditions in slums will leave people highly vulnerable to radicalization by extremist groups.

Competition for natural resources, especially water, has never been so intense on the continent, leading to climate change-induced migration in countries like Ethiopia and Uganda from Eritrea, Somalia and eastern Sudan.

Climate action through adaptation measures can help strengthen peace and stability and remove social and economic barriers in many fragile countries of the continent. This has the potential to contribute to preventing radicalization and violent extremism by strengthening the capacity of vulnerable and excluded communities to adapt to climate induced or man-made shocks.

If livelihoods are sustained, economic opportunities are created, frustration and exclusion are diminished and self-confidence reaffirmed, many desperate communities and individuals will not feel compelled to embrace radical beliefs, or engage in violent extremism.

For Africa to overcome climate and conflict threats, it is important for governments to understand the connection and make sure that violence and conflict prevention measures are fully integrated in climate change adaptation plans and programmes.

Aliou M. Dia is Team Leader, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change, UNDP Africa.

This article originally appeared on UNDP's blog "Our Perspectives". Read more about UNDP's work on climate change and preparedness and early warning.

Photo credits: Retlaw Snellac Photography/