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ISS Seminar Report: Mapping Climate Change, Displacement and Conflict in Africa
Date: 2 October 2012
Venue: , Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Addis Ababa Office, through its Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis (CPRA) division, organised a seminar on ‘Mapping Climate Change, Displacement and Conflict in Africa` on 2 October 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The seminar was held at the Hilton Hotel Ballroom was attended by more than 40 diplomats, civil servants as well as members of civil society. The ISS public seminar is part of CPRA effort to provide a platform for quality discussion through sharing information, encouraging policy debates and dialogue on Africa`s Human Security agenda.


The event was chaired by Negusu Aklilu, an advisor on climate change at the Department for International Development (DFID) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In his opening remarks, Mr Aklilu welcomed the participants and applauded the initiative of the ISS in providing a discussion platform on climate change, displacement and conflict casual links in Africa.

He started by pointing out that global warming is a reality, as confirmed by a recent study by the Berkeley Earth Centre. In that research, funded by climate sceptics such as the Koch Brothers, scientists reconfirmed the occurrence of global warming based on three main findings. The first one is the impact of urban heat island effect, meaning that the average temperature observed in urban areas is higher than in their rural surroundings. However, despite considerable urban heating, there is no global influence on temperature land average.  The second one is that only a third of temperature stations had registered a cooling effect while the rest had registered a heating effect. The third is that the poorly sited stations recorded the same average temperatures as the well-sited stations.

Furthermore, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Commission, the carbon dioxide concentration increased by 3% in 2011, a record high emission. Therefore, the multilateral negotiations meant to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide have not yet had the expected impact. On a positive note, he mentioned that the share of renewable energy had increased during the last two decades. For instance, the use of renewable energy across the globe was only 0,5% in 1990, but had increased to 2% in 2010. According to estimates, this had avoided the emission of one billion units of carbon dioxide. 

More specifically, on climate change and security, he said that even though scientific research on climate change was solid, there was little empirical proof of a causal link between climate change and the emergence of violent conflict in the continent. The debate on the link between climate change and security is even more controversial when considering that research is based on projections.

He also stated that Africa was the most vulnerable continent in terms of climate change according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report, and there were three basic fundamental reasons for this vulnerability. Firstly, Africa is already a warm continent and has been experiencing climate variability; secondly, Africa`s economy is resource intensive and depends on agriculture, forestry, fishery and tourism (agriculture represents approximately 30% of GDP, and 55% of total exports and employs 50 to 90% of the workforce); and thirdly, its socio-economic and political context, for example the prevailing governance, conflict and poverty issues.

Moreover, he said, initiatives addressing climate change issues should take into account the population, the urbanisation trend and the economy. In fact, the population of Africa is increasing drastically and is expect to double in the coming two decades. Regarding urbanisation, it is expected that by 2050 50% of the African population will be urban. Ultimately, Africa economy is growing and the environment is being degraded.

Before giving the floor to the two speakers he raised the following questions:

Is climate change a driver of conflict? Could climate change be considered a threat to security in Africa? Do we have success stories and effective approaches in managing climate change in Africa? Do we have empirical evidence in Africa linking climate change and security?


The first presentation was made by Dr Debay Tadesse, a Senior Researcher at CPRA-ISS Addis Ababa Office, on ‘Climate Change, Displacement, Security and Development in Africa`. Dr Tadesse started by mentioning that climate change is recognised as a major issue, which poses serious challenges and threats around the world in the quest for sustainable peace, security and development. The challenges in Africa are mainly related to food security, access to health and reduction of poverty. More specifically, climate change is a real security threat for the African continent because it affects countries and regions` socio-economic and political stability. In fact, the potential for conflict as a consequence of socio-economic and political marginalisation is high. Marginalisation can lead to radicalisation, terrorism, resource-based conflicts, and inter- and intra-state conflicts that can escalate into regional conflicts or even lead to state collapse. He posed the problematic of coordination and organisational capacity as climate change overburdens states and regions.

The case of Somalia, where vulnerable populations such as children and women suffered from famine as a consequence of drought, was used as an example.

He underlined the necessity to implement effective policy response at national level, but also the need for collective international action due to the global nature of the causes and consequences of climate change. Internationally, there is recognition of the importance of climate change. The United Nations Security Council in June 2007 held a historic debate, acknowledging climate change as a threat to human security. The IPCC was set up to assess and synthesise the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature on global warning. The organisation shows evidence of an increase in ocean temperatures. At present, the world is warning between 1,4 to 4 degrees. This is due to Western industrialisation, which contributed 1,3 deg C to global warming during the last century. This argument is often used by emerging powers like China and India as a way to justify their contribution to global warming during the last quarter of the century.

Dr Tadesse discussed the impact of climate change on Africa. In a vast part of sub-Saharan Africa, models had predicted negative impacts on water, land, agricultural production and food security. As a consequence of those negative impacts, natural disasters became more frequent and intense. Global disasters had increased in recent decades, especially since the 1980s, with disastrous repercussions for the economy. According to OXFAM estimates, developing countries will require at least US$50 billion annually to adapt to climate change in areas where the impact is significant.

He also discussed the linkages between climate and resource-based conflict. The competition over scarce resources is a source of displacement and migration, among others. The factors that cause environmental insecurity are often interconnected. Resource scarcity, a decrease in the quality and quantity of environmental renewable resources, population growth and unequal resource access will lead to environmental insecurity. The consequences are migration exposure, and a high potential for ethnic conflict because of marginalisation in terms of access to resource and power (even coups d`àƒÂ©tat can occur).

On the issue of displacement and migration, the potential of violence could increase in areas where the arrival of climate change displaces populations and leads to competition over degraded scarce resources such as water and land. Particularly in the Horn of Africa, environmental conflicts include pastoral disputes, conflict arising from displaced populations, rural-urban migration, struggle for arable land, rapid urbanisation, disputes over oil and water, etc. To illustrate, he discussed in detail the dispute between pastoral and agrarian communities. Pastoral communities depend largely on pasture and water to feed their herds, but they are suffering because of severe droughts as a consequence of climate change. The cultural and traditional lifestyle of pastoralists is based on travelling during the dry season looking for grazing areas. At the end of that season, they return to their home areas. However, at present they cannot go back since the drought is severe and constant. They have to settle and that is the main cause of dispute with agrarian communities, who have already settled in the areas for hundreds of years. 

Hence, there is conflict between pastoralists and agrarian communities over grassland and water, which are reduced as a consequence of desertification and human activities. Nevertheless, there has always been conflict between these two communities with such different ways of life. Today, the tension is exacerbated by the shrinkage of grassland and reduced water resources. These tensions in many cases lead to inter-communal violence but sometimes it is the conflict itself that damages the environment. Dr Tadesse mentioned that presently there is no inter-state conflict on the continent, which is a tremendous accomplishment, but intra-state conflicts remain a challenge. In the future, as climate change progresses, conflict may occur mainly for territorial expansion and access to resources, and so lead to inter-state conflict. The best example of potential inter-state conflict is between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan over natural resources, including water, land and oil.

In addition, he underlined the degradation of the ecosystem near refugee camps and internally displaced people (IDPs) as effects of climate change. The search for temporary housing materials as evidenced by the surroundings of camp El Fasher in northern Darfur is creating an environmental disaster. Hence, there is a need to rethink the location and construction of refugee camps. With regard to rural-urban migration, he emphasised that cities are generally over-populated because of rural-urban migration, which happens as a consequence of drought, the vulnerability of rural households, etc. But people`s living conditions in cities (urban slums, homelessness, panhandling, and unemployment) are far from their expectations. This leaves an open door to organised crime, which negatively affects the African economy.

Moreover, he pointed out the role of the private business sector in intensifying social tensions. Africa in its quest for development has attracted several investors, but there is no regulation to control industrial processes and wastage. This lack of regulation has consequences for the population. In the production process, waste products such as sewerage are simply discharged into the environment. Sewerage is disposed in the closest river and downstream communities are affected. This leads to river contamination and to accumulated grievances, which pose a threat to investors and by extension to the market and the economy in general. In Western countries there is a central sewerage system and waste is recycled. Therefore, states should strengthen mechanisms to protect environmental resources.

Dr Tadesse then raised the issue of climate change adaptation. Adaptation is what Africa needs the most. He gave two definitions of adaptation. The first one defines adaptation as ‘the process through which society made themselves better, adapting to climate change entails taking the right measures to reduce the negative effects of climate change or exploit positive ones by making appropriates adjustment and changes`. The second one from the IPCC defines adaptation as ‘the adjustment in natural or human systems to respond to actual or expected thematic or their effects, which moderate how or exploit beneficial opportunity. Adaptation also involved learning to manage new risk and strengthening resilience in the face of change`.

Thus, adaptation needs attention at multiple levels in order to combat and build more resilience in managing key resources such as river basins, national plans for food security, etc. He said that the international community should work together because climate change does not stop at national borders: its impacts can be felt by people all over the world. Climate change impact will affect all countries, but it will have a greater effect on the poor and vulnerable countries of Africa that are least prepared to cope with it. Those investing in renewable energy today may be the leaders of tomorrow.

He made the following recommendations:

  • Integrate climate change into national decision making
  • Increase coordination across ministries and sectors  
  • Governments should design and implement instruments (priority in AU and RECs agenda)
  • Business contracts should include environmental clauses
  • Mainstream climate change adaptation into rural development processes
  • Integrate climate change adaption into agriculture and rural development  
  • Rethink global climate change  

The second presentation was made by Mr Murad Mohamed, a consultant on climate change and security at the Africa-Governance and Public Administration Division (GPAD-UNECA), on Climate Change and Human Security.

He started by stating that climate change is a broad reality, hard to manage and understood with difficulty. Climate has been altered over a long time as a result of human and natural influences, such as the rise in sea level, droughts, flood, famine, etc. Mr Mohamed also commented on the linkages between climate change and security, namely the emergence of conflict due to competition over scarce resources, which leads to displacement and migration. As an example he cited the clashes between the settled Pokoma farmers and the semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists in Kenya. The clashes between these two communities led to 100 deaths and thousands of people being displaced.

He further discussed the character of African economy depending largely on agricultural production. Therefore, the issue of climate change is highly linked to security problems. But security is perceived differently according to socio-economic conditions. Hence, security is not the same for rural populations as for urban populations, who are facing different realities. For that reason, it is not enough to urge people to change their habits towards the environment, as they need an alternative. Human security is not concerned with weapons; it is concerned with human life and dignity, and ensuring that dignity involves the implementation of new alternatives.

He emphasised the need for implementing adequate response mechanisms to tackle the negative impact of climate change. African governments` response should include improving access to health and education (water availability, disease prevalence), improving infrastructure, strengthening institutions, and improving access to information, etc. For instance, access to clean water has health consequences for African populations that may also affect the economy.

In addition, he rejected the argument that the climate change debate is a superficial construct from the Western powers that implicitly denies Africa`s desire to develop. In fact, development implies huge contributions in terms of pollution, but until now Africa has contributed the least to greenhouse emissions. Indeed, the main difference between developed and developing countries is the ability to adapt to climate change. In terms of adaptation, Africa should address the root causes earlier, meaning adopt preventive measures instead of mitigating climate change consequences. 

However, he said that one of the main challenges of climate change was related to the difficulty to determine which areas are affected by climate change. Not all countries are experiencing problems because of climate change, and for those facing climate change issues, the degree to which they are affected is not the same. During the last decade, the question of climate change has moved to the political agenda and at present, documentation on climate change is diverse. In conclusion, he stressed that Africa will gain in implementing cooperative instruments with comprehensive international strategies for better adaptation, and must unite to address the issue of climate change.

Question and Answer Session

During this session, a number of comments and issues emerged. These included comments on the existence of normative frameworks to address climate change`s negative impact in Africa. In establishing the African Union (AU) security framework, the root causes of conflicts formed part of the debate. Therefore, there is a commitment from the AU and regional economic communities (RECs) to address the consequences of climate change. However, it is important to contextualise the issue in the African agenda. In fact, the continent is facing more complex problems that are priorities. Nonetheless, this is not to deny the importance of climate change in the African agenda. The speakers respond by explaining that climate change is not a priority because African leaders are not well informed. Therefore, there is no conscientiousness regarding climate change`s negative impact.

Some expressed regret in terms of retracing the evolution of climate change since the 2009 Copenhagen worldwide climate meeting, which marked an unprecedented moment in the history of climate change policy. Researchers were encouraged to highlight African individuals` initiatives, which exist but are not well documented. In illustration, participants presented two cases. The first one is the Kenyan Green Belt Movement initiated by Professor Wangari Maathai, which has planted over 51 million trees. The second one is the Morocco initiative in developing solar energy.

The seminar was closed by Dr Tadesse, who thanked the panelists, the participants and particularly the donors who made this seminar possible.

End of Report

Prepared by: Ms Lucie Boucher, Intern-CPR, ISS

                                 Ms Seble Menberu, Intern-CPRA, ISS


Hilton Hotel
Addis Ababa

Debay Tadesse
Tel: +251 011 372 1154
Fax: +251 011 372 5954
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