Climate Change and Security in Africa

By Alec Crawford, Oli Brown on April 6, 2009

As science has revealed that the rate and intensity of climate change is increasing at unprecedented levels, we have begun to realize that it holds potentially serious implications for international security. Analysts argue that climate change—by redrawing the maps of water availability, food security, disease prevalence and coastal boundaries—could potentially increase forced migration, raise tensions and trigger new conflicts.

The imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage the impacts of climate change present, in the starkest manner possible, our global interdependence. Africa, though the continent the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, is almost universally seen as the continent most at risk of climate-induced conflict—a function of the continent's reliance on climate-dependent sectors (such as rain-fed agriculture) and its history of resource, ethnic and political conflict. At the turn of the 21st century more people were being killed in wars in this region than in the rest of the world combined.

However, recent years have seen a steady progress in the improvement of Africa's economic prospects, in the reduction of levels of conflict and in the quality of governance and the number and nature of democracies. The African Union and its constituent regional economic communities, through its security architecture, have developed into key players in the reduction of conflict in Africa. Nevertheless, with its tremendous natural resources and remarkable social and ecological diversity, the continent reflects a close dependency of people on natural resources. It is this dependency and its fragile governance capacities that may present Africa with potentially severe problems in adapting to the future effects of climate change.

In this report, prepared for the Nordic-African Foreign Ministers Forum in Copenhagen in March 2009, IISD examines some of the threats that climate change could pose to security for the continent. These include:

  • Increased water scarcity
  • Decreased food security
  • Large-scale climate-induced migration
  • The impact of climate change on poverty and state fragility
  • Non-linear climate change

The paper also identifies a set of strategies for peace and development in a changing climate:

  • Improve projections and predictions
  • Minimize dangerous climate change
  • Adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • Integrate climate change into all relevant levels of governance

Report details

IISD, 2009