“A changing climate has been a feature of life in West Africa for thousands of years,” explain Oli Brown
and Alec Crawford of the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Assessing the security implications of climate change for West Africa: Country case studies of Ghana and Burkina Faso
. “Ghanaians and Burkinabes have not been passive recipients of climate change in the past and have developed many ingenious ways of adapting to their climate. Some analysts suggest that the inherent adaptability of the Sahelian peoples is one of their greatest assets. Nevertheless, this adaptability has been severely tested in the last few decades.”
Brown and Crawford identify several ways in which climate change could challenge economic and political stability in West Africa in general and Burkina Faso and Ghana in particular. They wrote their report after consulting with local agronomists, hydrologists, development specialists, and other experts. Responsibly, Brown and Crawford have deliberately narrowed the report’s focus from climate change’s potential security implications (which they acknowledge includes an extremely broad range of events) to climate change’s potential threats to 1) economic and 2) political stability.
In Ghana, climate variability is expected to aggravate five preexisting challenges: the north-south social divide (with poverty more pronounced in the rural north); the sharing of water between the north and the south (with the north using water primarily for agriculture and the south primarily for energy); the management of regional water sources; border security; and economic stability (if changes in climate reduced the profitability of cocoa production). Four main challenges were identified in Burkina Faso: food security; water availability; relations between pastoral and agricultural communities; and internal migration.
Non-climate factors—including governance, regional relations, and income distribution—play a significant role in determining a society’s vulnerability to climate-induced insecurity. Brown and Crawford emphasize that only extremely high levels of climate change will pose insurmountable challenges to economic and political stability in Ghana and Burkina Faso, which have both enjoyed relative peace over the past decade.
For more on climate change and security in West Africa, see Anthony Nyong’s article in ECSP Report 12.