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Climate Change, Development and Security in the Central Sahel

This report sheds light on the possible effects of climate change on development and security in the Central Sahel, namely in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Executive Summary

This report sheds light on the possible effects of climate change on development and security in the Central Sahel, namely in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It examines the interactions between climatic stresses, food security, and conflict risk, by highlighting the region’s key socio-economic and political conditions, and how these could shape future vulnerability to the effects of global warming. It further discusses existing measures and policies and how these could be improved to increase the region’s resilience to climate- related challenges. Climate variability is a key issue in the Central Sahel, owing to a heavy reliance on rainfed agriculture, pastoralism and other climate- sensitive livelihoods. Yet, its effects need to be understood in a wider social and political context.

The European Union (EU) and its member states are heavily invested in the region through their foreign, security, and development policies. In order to be successful, and to contribute to transnational cooperation with African partners in a meaningful way, they need to consider the challenges and opportunities related to climate change and politically- and context-sensitive climate change adaptation, which are discussed in this report.

This report uses a mixed methods approach, combining qualitative literature review, quantitative data analysis, future climate impact projections, semi-structured interviews, a survey with more than 200 regional experts, as well as a participatory scenario planning exercise. It provides a multifaceted overview of climate-related challenges and vulnerabilities in the region, combined with the perspectives of local experts and stakeholders. These would help overcome preconceived ideas, while also considering alternative political pathways in the wake of climate change.

Main Findings

  • Climate change is and will be an important factor for the future of the Central Sahel. Both its current and future impacts, however, are intrinsically linked to social and political factors that must be emphasised when addressing climate- related challenges in the region.

  • Climate change will likely have significant impacts on the region, including more rainfall variability, more extreme events like droughts and floods, and higher temperatures over time that will rise faster than the global average. Some parts of the Central Sahel will experience more rainfall, while other parts will receive less.

  • These effects of climate change can potentially trigger cascading risks for local livelihoods (especially agriculture and pastoralism), food security, communal and state-citizen relations, and could lead to more displacement. In other words, climate change could aggravate the region’s existing challenges.

  • Extreme weather events could disrupt agricultural and pastoral production, and harm vulnerable rural communities, particularly women and marginalised groups who generally have greater difficulties to cope. Food insecurity could increase as a result.

  • Mobility is an important economic diversification and coping strategy in the region. Adverse climatic change and its impacts on local communities could lead to further displacement, rural-urban migration, and even intensify regional migration and displacement across borders. Yet, even in the wake of climate change, migration to other African countries will likely by far exceed migration to Europe. Moreover, some populations will remain trapped due to a lack of means to relocate.

  • Climate change could also affect inter-communal tensions through its effects on rainfall and transhumance patterns. Conflicts could escalate, if systems of resource and conflict management fail. Deep-seated grievances and the historical marginalisation of pastoralist communities are underpinning this risk.

  • Our research suggests that climate change is not a prominent direct cause of the proliferation of armed groups in the Central Sahel. Other factors like foreign military interventions, religious claims, and the marginalisation of pastoralist communities are deemed more important by local experts. However, climate-induced economic losses and food insecurity, communal tensions, as well as public discontent with poor conflict prevention mechanisms could all indirectly benefit armed groups by facilitating recruitment and opening avenues for exploiting grievances and winning over marginalised communities.

  • The likelihood and severity of climate impacts on livelihoods, food security, mobility and conflicts in the Central Sahel will largely depend on the future evolution of the region’s socio-economic and political conditions, which shape its vulnerability and resilience to adverse climatic change. Agricultural productivity, infrastructure, trade, social safety nets, effective and inclusive institutions, and systems of resource and conflict management are critical factors to consider in this regard, as are economic opportunities and social relations more broadly. All of them are affected by the policies and geostrategic interests of the EU and other global players.

  • The evolution of these factors is uncertain, but scenarios co-developed with local experts can help project them into the future and prepare for the possible challenges and opportunities they will create. For the purpose of this report, we identify three distinct and plausible scenarios, each characterised by different levels of resilience and vulnerability to the effects of climate change on livelihoods, food security, mobility, and conflict risk: One assuming the success of conventional approaches to development and security in the region; another one describing stagnant development, insecurity, and increased vulnerability to the effects of climate change; and a third scenario describing an alternative development path focusing more strongly on social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

  • National policies are increasingly taking into account risks linked to climate change. However, actions to promote resilience and adaptation are constrained by the limited resources available, the fragmentation among disparate initiatives, and a lack of clarity on the leadership for climate action. Regional cooperation, supported by a number of well-established regional organisations, including ECOWAS, is a crucial factor in how well Sahelian countries can respond to the impacts of climate change.

  • Migration containment policies appear as disruptive measures that compound climate-related challenges for the region’s vulnerable communities: by trapping people in exposed areas, increasing pressures on services, reinforcing national identity and exclusionary discourses, hindering livelihoods – such as transhumance – and, in the end, aggravating tensions and conflicts. Therefore, for the sake of more coherent European security and development policies, the migration brake must be eased.

  • Peacebuilding and security strategies in the region have been marred by an overly securitised approach, with often overlapping and incoherent initiatives focused on stabilisation rather than human security, development and resilience. This is coupled with growing signs of fatigue and weariness on the part of European and Sahelian societies vis-a-vis foreing military interventions. In fact, a large number of surveyed local experts call for reduced EU military involvement in order to increase climate resilience in the Central Sahel.

In The Press

El País [Spanish]

El Sahel: más allá de los conflictos climáticos

Es imprescindible que los líderes africanos y mundiales no usen el cambio climático y la meteorología para eximir sus responsabilidades y asuman que el hambre y los conflictos son esencialmente políticos.

Read the full article here.