New Partnerships for Climate Change Adaptation and Peacebuilding in AfricaApril 8, 2013 By Schuyler Null
“There is a huge gap between climate science, policymakers, and the end-users, in terms of understanding climate change and adaptation, and how that relates to conflict or peace,” concluded 26 experts from more than 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa at the Wilson Center last fall. But “climate change adaptation is crucial to achieving Africa’s aspirations for peace, security, and sustainable development.”
“What climate change does is it changes the game,” said International Alert’s Lulsegged Abebe. “We can’t use yesterday’s solution for today’s issue.”
Abebe and his colleagues spent two days discussing how to better address climate change, conflict, and peacebuilding in Africa. Co-sponsored by the Wilson Center, USAID, the U.S. Department of State, and the Institute for Security Studies, the workshop was part of a series of events organized by the Adaptation Partnership – a platform co-chaired by the United States, Spain, and Costa Rica with the participation of more than 50 countries, organized after the Petersburg Dialogue Ministerial Conference.
Sub-Saharan Africa is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change for several reasons. A large portion of the population is reliant on subsistence rain-fed agriculture; there are high baseline levels of rainfall variability; and high levels of poverty, reducing the resilience of many communities.
While there is little evidence of a direct causal connection between climate change and conflict in most cases – in other words, of climate change creating new conflict or instability – the workshop participants noted that climate change should be viewed as a “threat multiplier” that can increase tensions over access to natural resources and land and make conflict more likely in fragile societies.
They suggested reframing the question, from “does climate change cause conflict?” to “how is climate change consequential to conflict?”
From Niger to Kenya and Tanzania, one effect of climate change being seen in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is elevated tension between pastoral and agricultural communities. As weather patterns change, pastoralists are adjusting their traditional migration patterns, bringing them into closer and more frequent contact with settled farming communities. Tensions rise as herds trample crops or farmers defend their land by killing off livestock. In some places, this has sparked violent reprisal raids between tribes and communities.
Edna Wangui on East Africa’s changing pastoralists
In her work in northern Tanzania, Edna Wangui, an assistant professor of geography at Ohio University, found a noticeable lack of trained professionals working to peacefully resolve these issues and a lack of synergy between national level policies and activities on the ground.
Alfred Omenya, an associate professor at the University of Nairobi, argued that to address the infamous Pokomo-Orma conflict – which took more than 100 lives last fall in Kenya’s Tana River District – the government needs to address communications gaps between sectors in order to more holistically approach the problem, which involves land rights, food security, climate change, and questions about the process of justice over killings in the past.
Lulsegged Abebe, whose work centers on Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and the Niger River that flows through them, found similar stresses in West Africa. Climate change, in combination with other environmental changes, can create certain dynamics within a society that contribute to conflict, he said.
Lost in Translation
One reason that environmental security and climate-conflict research are not making the type of impact needed is communications, said Geoff Dabelko, ECSP senior advisor and director of environmental studies at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. There isn’t a single methodology for collecting and analyzing data on the linkages between the environment and conflict, he said. Environmental factors do not need to take precedent over other important issues when determining underlying factors of conflict, but they “need to be seen in the mix.”
“It is not very helpful to keep telling society ‘we don’t know,’” one participant said. The community needs new language and new data collection and analysis methods to better communicate why environment, conflict, and peacebuilding links are important.
For example, on the sometimes-contentious question of whether or not there’s a causal link between climate change and conflict, one participant pointed out that “Africa is a large continent. It is full of stories. Something can be true somewhere and not in other places.”
We can plan and take action before a catastrophe happens. It is a common sense issue and we need to sell it to the politicians in this way. For example, everyone has fire insurance, even if there is a small probability a fire will happen, because you are hedging your bets. It is about security, risk analysis scenarios, and making informed decisions to spend resources to prevent possible negative occurrences.
Nisha Krishnan, from the University of Texas, Austin, explained how the Climate Change and African Political Stability program is building a map designed to inform policymakers by showing multiple layers of climate change vulnerability alongside relevant responses (aid disbursement, development projects, etc.). The next step, she said is getting more local participation in building and contributing to the data sets used in these tools.
“Locally Identified, Locally Owned”
To bridge the gap between policymakers, researchers, and those being affected by climate change, workshop participants suggested developing a community of practice specifically for sub-Saharan Africa that would collaborate, share resources, and move the discussion forward. This network would also help change the flow of knowledge from just the “Global North” to the “Global South” to South to South too, said Kevin Urama.
Other consensus recommendations included encouraging more case studies, developing an interdisciplinary glossary of terms, better integrating indigenous knowledge, scaling down climate information to be more useful on the community scale, and incorporating climate change adaptation into rural development and gender equity interventions.
Neil Levine, the director of USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, said that community focus was already a part of many of their programs. “Solutions are locally identified and locally owned,” he said. “This is no longer jargon, but now practice.”
Many of the participants will attend a follow-up workshop in East Africa in October 2013 that will correspond with the African Union’s ClimateDev conference – one step closer to building a new community of practice for climate change and peacebuilding experts on the continent.
Sources: Adaptation Partnership.
Photo Credit: Displaced Darfuri farmers during the rainy season, courtesy of Albert Gonzalez Farran/UN Photo. Video: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.