Climate Change and Conflict Part I

Climate Change and Conflict Part I

There is a lot of talk about climate change leading to conflict, but how are these really related?

  • Why do we talk about climate, peace and security in context?
  • Does climate change lead to conflict?
  • How has the agenda developed in recent years?
  • What can Norway do?

Climate change and global warming have become visible to people all over the world in recent decades, but we are also seeing some areas being hit harder than others.

The western world is responsible for over 2/3 of the world’s emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, but it is often vulnerable countries in the South that are affected by conflict or poverty, who feel the consequences of climate change most strongly.

Vulnerable countries in the south that are already affected by conflict or poverty feel the consequences of climate change most strongly. In the worst case, this contributes to exacerbating existing conflicts, but how does this actually happen?

We still lack a lot of information to be able to understand all the consequences of today’s climate change, and several researchers have pointed out that we can not see a direct link between climate change and increased conflict.

However, there is not always one specific reason why a country experiences conflict, but there are often many different reasons that come into play, such as low levels of development, weakened state apparatus and history.

Many also believe that climate cannot be directly linked to conflict, as climate change occurs over longer periods, for example that rising temperatures lead to droughts or rising sea levels.

What we still know for sure is that climate change contributes to exacerbating existing challenges in vulnerable countries, which can exacerbate inequality and indirectly increase local and regional conflicts. Climate change can destroy people’s livelihoods, create competition for resources, contribute to food insecurity and force people to flee their homes.

The consequences of climate change often hit women harder than men, both because of traditional gender roles and power structures in society. Furthermore, conflict and war can also prevent societies from adapting to the consequences of climate change.

Climate change is therefore often called a “threat amplifier”, and can undermine states’ adaptability and preventive work. It is these indirect consequences and connections that will be important to understand in the future.

2: The vulnerable countries in the South

The African continent is only responsible for about 4 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but is unfortunately also the continent hardest hit by climate change. A survey in 30 African countries showed that 2/3 of these countries heat up 60 percent faster than the rest of the globe.

Half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not only affected by climate change, but they are also very politically unstable. Some countries struggle with socio-economic, ie both social and economic, and political challenges such as poverty, corrupt governments, conflicts and high population growth. These challenges alone weaken countries’ capacity to deal with climate change, which in turn may exacerbate existing challenges. It will be a vicious circle.

Many African societies depend on agriculture as a source of income. More frequent cases of floods, droughts or sandstorms can lead to increased competition for agriculture or arable land. More people will also move when food and sources of income disappear. This has led to, among other things, the Sahel region in Africa being a hotspot for migration, and a transit area for people trying to flee to Europe.

The African Union (AU), Africa’s regional organization, works on climate-related security challenges. They are in the process of developing stronger dialogue and cooperation on the topic, especially in work with agriculture. In March 2021, the AU’s Peace and Security Council held the first meeting on climate, peace and security for heads of state from the continent. In 2019, they also signed the Bamako Declaration on access to natural resources and conflicts between local communities.

3: South Sudan and Somalia

We will now take a closer look at two countries that are very vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, namely South Sudan and Somalia. More extreme weather such as floods and droughts destroy much of the countries’ agricultural production. In addition, there has been an ongoing grasshopper invasion in East Africa since 2019 that threatens the crops of several million people.

These consequences of global warming are indirectly undermining peace and security in South Sudan and Somalia.

In South Sudan, a country located in Africa according to physicscat.com, 90 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture. An increase in the number of floods and droughts makes this work difficult. In 2020, the country experienced the worst flood in over 60 years, and 85,000 people had to flee. In such situations, there is fierce competition for arable land, water and pastures. In some cases, it has also led to looting and theft of livestock.

In rural South Sudan, it is often women who are in charge of the household and are therefore the ones who provide work, food, water and firewood in the house. A large part of this work is based on agriculture, and during droughts, women have to travel long distances to fetch water. These trips put the women in a vulnerable position and many are exposed to assault and abuse.

The people of Somalia face many of the same challenges that exist in South Sudan. For a country that is already very vulnerable, where 2.6 million people were forced to flee due to war and conflict in 2019, climate change is an additional burden. Sandstorms, droughts, changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures affect income and livelihoods coming from agriculture and livestock. As in South Sudan, competition over viable land has in several cases led to conflict between farmers and shepherds.

In Somalia, there are several clans, or kinship groups with the same ancestor or ancestors, who live in different areas. Various clans that are driven into exile because they have lost their crops can end up together in camps for internally displaced people. These may be central sites for clan conflicts in Somalia and are an indirect consequence of climate change.

There are also cases where the terrorist group al-Shabaab has benefited from climate change. Terrorist groups recruit vulnerable people, people in camps for internally displaced persons and others who have lost their livelihoods, and offer them an alternative life in the groups. In other cases, they assist the local population with water and food after events such as droughts and floods, similar to what an emergency aid provider would have done.

Troops from AU's peacekeeping operation in Somalia