While Africa is one of the lowest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, the climate crisis puts the continent’s very prosperity and security in danger. Climate impacts are threatening human security, limiting water resources, and affecting food production, livelihoods, health, and biodiversity. In response, the African Union (AU) tasked the AU Commission with developing a climate-related security risk continental assessment to inform the development of a Common African Position on the nexus between climate, peace, and security. This first African Climate Security Risk Assessment (ACRA) – conducted by adelphi using the Weathering Risk approach and in close exchange with the African Union Commission for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (AUC-PAPS) –identifies multiple context-specific climate security pathways for each African region as well as continental-wide trends. For the analysis, our team engaged in a continent-wide consultation process with stakeholders such as regional economic communities and mechanisms for conflict prevention, member states, CSOs, and climate, peace and security experts. Here, we want to highlight some key insight and their relevance for Germany’s Africa policy.
Competition over Natural Resources and Fragility
The climate crisis is affecting the availability and access of natural resources such as water, land and forests, which can fuel resource competition and potential conflict. The ACRA report finds many examples of this: access to water, for instance, is particularly critical when its availability and quality changes in historically water-scarce regions such as in Northern Africa. Water access has been weaponized in armed conflicts, such as during the Libyan civil war, where militants blocked water supply pipelines. Similarly, the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe is regarded as a flashpoint for conflict due to perceived marginalisation and climate-related water scarcity. As water sources in many countries are transboundary, either as shared groundwater reserves or as rivers, declining water availability as a result of climate change may exacerbate existing tensions between riparian states, such as the fraught Nile diplomacy between Egypt and Ethiopia. To avoid this, water-sharing agreements need to be updated to take climate impacts into account.
Our report shows that conflicts over natural resources are more likely to turn violent where political and social instability already exists. Factors such as exclusion, marginalisation, and existing social divisions contribute to this problem. For instance, young pastoralists in East Africa, especially those who have experienced high levels of political exclusion and injustice, may see armed groups as a way to escape hardship, often caused by climate induced negative impacts on livelihoods. This is being exploited by non-state armed groups all across Africa. Militias, criminal organisations and terrorists with radical Islamic ideologies are particularly able to recruit where state institutions are weak. Conversely, in the Congo Delta, militarised conservation efforts can exacerbate tensions.
Livelihoods: Impacts of Increased Food Insecurity, Maladaptation and Migration
Africa’s arable land and agricultural yields are declining in size and quality. Since 1961, climate impacts such as droughts and flash floods, have reduced productivity growth of crops by 34%. The African continent, already dependent on food imports, is thus becoming more food insecure and forced to increase its already substantial reliance on the world market even further. If global agricultural production is then hit by climate shocks, the vulnerability of African countries will also increase. We have seen how dependence on food imports and the resulting vulnerability to food price spikes contributed to political unrest during the ‘Arab Spring’ in Northern Africa, and are likely to do so again if such dependencies are not addressed.
Climate change is also having a severe impact on communities that depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, a trend that can be observed across the African continent. For example, small island states in Africa have been hit hard by frequent tropical storms, affecting their fishing and tourism industries. When people lose their livelihoods due to the adverse effects of climate change, they may instead engage in environmentally destructive activities such as poaching, illegal fishing, small-scale mining, cutting down trees for charcoal, or slash-and-burn farming which can lead to conflict. Additionally, activities such as charcoal production in Somalia and small-scale mining in the Congo, Zimbabwe and the Sahel region are often exploited by armed groups to finance their activities.
Trends indicate that many African populations will use migration as a strategy to adapt to climate change and disrupted livelihoods. While most mobility is within countries rather than across borders, the impacts are still significant. By 2050, the number of Africans fleeing adverse climate change impacts within countries could reach up to 113 million people. Unsafe migration and permanent displacement caused by climate-related events or climate-exacerbated conflicts can incite tensions elsewhere. As people move towards cities and neighbouring countries, urban services and infrastructure will be strained by increased population and further climate impacts. This creates tensions between the residents and migrants, who are viewed as competitors for limited resources and job opportunities. Xenophobic human rights violations against migrants have already occurred across Africa.
Responses, Gaps and Opportunities and the German Africa Policy Guidelines
While highlighting that African states are already responding, our report identifies a set of recommendations to address climate security on the continent. Given the tremendous impacts of climate change on Africa, the German government's revision of its Africa Policy Guidelines (APG) should also be informed by climate security considerations.
1. Support the integration of climate and conflict early warning systems (EWS)
EWS are critical for addressing climate-related security risks, including violent conflict. While many African actors have developed comprehensive early warning systems, key challenges remain in integrating the climate-conflict nexus. Only about 40 per cent of African countries have functioning EWS due to poor access to reliable data. The institutional separation of climate and conflict EWS leads to horizontal silos, making vertical integration (local-national and regional) difficult. German engagement could promote and support the integration of climate, peace, and security into local institutional and governance frameworks that allow for cross-sectoral cooperation, and emphasise the importance of local knowledge gathered through civil society networks in existing EWS.
2. Continue the support and scaling up of environmental peacebuilding approaches
Different examples of nature-based solutions, integrated natural resource management and environmental peacebuilding have been implemented and have effectively addressed climate-related security risks. They successfully link livelihoods, natural resource management, and peacebuilding. For example, mediation support and conflict sensitivity training have proven to reduce conflicts over natural resources between farmers and pastoralists in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan. The revision of the APG must prioritise such integrated approaches that link climate adaptation, peacebuilding, and livelihoods. Nature-based solutions and restoration activities, such as the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI), can contribute in a conflict-sensitive, bottom-up, and inclusive manner. Intersectionality is crucial to addressing vulnerability. Specifically, the inclusion of marginalised groups, women, and youth in climate security programming can have a stabilising effect across the continent. This means supporting civil society and youth to voice their concerns, and insisting on the protection of environmental defenders and human rights defenders.
3. Address the climate financing gap and promote a just transition
A key requirement for Africa to build up climate resilience is financing. Our climate security risk assessment helps to illustrate the severity of existing and future losses and underlines the importance of providing financial compensation. A Loss and Damage Mechanism to compensate for the disruption caused is urgently needed, and Germany’s leadership at COP28 to contribute to the new fund is a positive sign.
Beyond Loss and Damage compensation, we find there is an urgent need to invest in separate risk prevention to avoid the worst climate impacts on security and to promote resilient economies and societies. Key areas for action include bridging the gap in adaptation and mitigation financing, reaching vulnerable contexts, strengthening African financing facilities, and scaling up the African Peace Fund’s on climate security activities with dedicated funding programmes. It is also crucial to strengthen the capacity to manage these funds, particularly at the country level. Payments from a possible Loss and Damage Mechanism cannot compensate for investments in adaptation and resilience.
Germany’s Africa Policy Guidelines must also prioritize investment in the green transition on the African continent and ensure coherence with the EU’s regional energy security policy. There is currently a fundamental conflict of interest between securing reliable supply chains for the raw critical minerals needed for the energy transition, the current EU legislation promoting the development of regional critical minerals industries, and the interest of the African nations in ensuring equal opportunities for growth by developing local value chains for green technologies.
This requires addressing inconsistencies in current policies. While renewable energy partnerships between EU and AU states, such as cooperation on hydrogen production, can offer lasting benefits, fossil fuel deals do not. Supporting the development of new fossil fuels, as in the German-Senegalese gas export deal, is inconsistent with leading on climate mitigation and cooperating with African partners for a sustainable future. Only by developing real opportunities for green growth with African states can we ensure that African states can adapt to the climate crisis.
We presented the findings of ACRA at COP28 in Dubai. The full report will be published in early 2024. By incorporating our recommendations, the Africa Policy Guidelines can play a transformative role in empowering African nations to navigate the complex intersection of climate, peace, and security for a better tomorrow.
Jakob Gomolka is a Climate Diplomacy Analyst at adelphi, focussed on the Geopolitics of Climate Change.
Tendai E. Kasinganeti is the Climate Security Advisor of the African Union Commission Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department.
Héctor Morales Muñoz is Senior Advisor in Climate Diplomacy and Security at adelphi, focussed on the Climate Action Co-benefits to Building Peace.
Responsibility for the content, opinions expressed and sources used in the articles and interviews lies with the respective authors.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was a watershed moment for Germany. It announced a “Zeitenwende” that promised a new era for defence spending and military deterrence in its foreign policy. Priyal Singh (ISS Africa) explains why African counterparts had a different reaction.
The German government wants to work more closely with African partners. How must it change its policy in order to accomplish this? What does it mean to “rethink” Germany’s Africa policy? In our blog series Joint Futures, we gather ideas from experts and discuss ways forward.