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African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC): Open session on the link between climate change and conflicts in Africa

On the 21 May 2018, the AUPSC held an open session on the link between climate change and conflicts in Africa. During the session, brief presentations by the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture (IDEA), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) addressed the causes of climate change, its connection to conflict and the security implications.


31 May 2018

During his presentation, the PhD programme coordinator and lecturer at IPSS, Mr. Yonas Tariku highlighted research from the Brookings Institution indicating that in a sample of 30 African countries, two-thirds are warming faster than the rest of the world. The impact of climate change in Africa affects the economic, social and political conditions of its states due to the continents high dependence on natural resources and agriculture for economic growth and citizen employment. The exposure to climate-related risks like drought, water shortages, scarcity of resources, and food security have consequences on national and continental human security.


Experts agree that despite there being no evidence of climate change having a direct causal effect on violent conflicts, it is rapidly becoming one of the primary determinants of violent conflicts in Africa. Contrarily, conflict societies do not have the structures and institutions that facilitate climate change prevention mechanisms, putting these societies at risk to the threats of climate change and violent conflicts.


Multiple factors contribute to the climate change-conflict nexus in Africa. Climate-related risks affect the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralist communities detrimentally since they are highly dependent on the agro-ecosystem. This forces the intrusion into each other’s territories which resorts in strained relationships that lead to violent confrontations. Increased migration and changing mobility patterns among pastoralists is an associating factor of climate-induced conflicts between migrants and sedentary populations due to resource scarcity in areas leading to migration into favourable areas that encroach on inhabitants’ lands. A prime example of this is the Darfur Crisis. The exploitation of local grievances by societal elites arises during climate change induced crisis situations pitting fragile societies against each other for political gain.


“Climate Change is a global threat to security.”

– Salvator Matata, COMESA Liaison officer to the AU.


Discussants—comprised of PSC member state and RECs representatives, AU partners and academia—at the open session spoke to how the AU can effectively mitigate the risks of the climate change on the continent. They also reflected on what role AU member states, RECS, partners, and institutions can take in order to contribute to improving the security implications. Recommendations included;

  • the coordination of cooperation between stakeholders at the national and regional level to develop coping mechanisms and enhance resilience;
  • the development of institutional frameworks on a national and continental level aimed at proactively responding to the security repercussions of climate change-related conflicts;
  • the strengthening of early warning mechanisms to prevent conflicts.


In conclusion, due to climate change and conflicts, Pan-Africans have had disruptions in their livelihoods, exposure to disease, physical harm and casualty. While nationally these climates induced conflicts lead to strains on the state’s infrastructure, regional stability has also been affected by the influx of refugees to neighbouring countries. It is evident that climate change-related conflicts have implications on human security; therefore, the development of institutional frameworks are necessary to mitigate the implications on Africa’s security landscape.