Lake Chad Bassin crisis january 2017 Photo: Espen Røst / Bistandsaktuelt – newspaper on aid and development
This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
It is encouraging to see that the United Nations Security Council is beginning to acknowledge the transboundary dimensions of fragility and conflict, as demonstrated by its newly launched Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region. The report, which was presented in the Security Council on 13 September 2017, emphasizes the need for regional responses and the enhanced cooperation of different UN and humanitarian agencies as important steps to addressing the unfolding humanitarian crisis. However, while regional responses to address the regional security challenge are desirable, the report would have been stronger if it had highlighted the underlying environmental contributions of the region’s fragility.
Multiple stressors converge in the Lake Chad region, which lies at the southern end of the Sahara desert. In the region around the lake–which borders Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria–unemployment, poverty and conflict interact with environmental change and degradation. The mismanagement of water resources, for instance, in the form of increased water withdrawal for irrigation from the lake’s tributaries, as well as prolonged severe droughts, have contributed to a 90 per cent shrinking of Lake Chad in the past 40 years. In addition, the ongoing insurgency by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria further exaggerates the reduction of livelihood security for communities in the region. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the conflict with Boko Haram has caused over 10 000 deaths between 2009 and 2016. The military interventions of the Multinational Joint Task Force and armed forces of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria achieved a sizeable reduction in Boko Haram’s activities. Nonetheless, according to the newly published report: ‘From April to June 2017, 246 attacks were recorded, resulting in the deaths of 225 civilians.’
The ongoing insurgency and the continued shrinking of Lake Chad, which is the main source of livelihood for millions of inhabitants, are causing a massive humanitarian crisis, intensifying the fragile security situation and increasing cross-border displacement of populations. The Report of the Secretary-General points out: ‘Some 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region currently need humanitarian assistance, including 8.5 million in Nigeria.’ According to the report, 7.2 million people currently suffer severe food insecurity, of which 4.7 million are located in the north-eastern part of Nigeria.
The food and water insecurities caused by environmental change and mismanagement have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. Although there is a lack of consistent monitoring around Lake Chad, the available data clearly indicates that the region has experienced significant environmental changes. For every year since 2000, the annual temperature anomaly, based on the 1961 to 1990 average temperature, was continuously above 1°C. Research agrees that environmental degradation—and especially the predicted impacts of climate change—will further exacerbate these pressures on the states and societies around Lake Chad. During the 2017 Stockholm Forum, experts from the region outlined the complex dependencies of local livelihoods on natural resources, in particular the Lake Chad ecosystem, and how important ecological factors are to understanding and addressing the regions vulnerability and fragility. As Sweden’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, pointed out during the Security Council debate on 13 September: ‘The effects of climate change and its links to the stability and security are evident. We cannot hide from this reality if we want to truly address the challenges in the region. The lack of follow-up in this area in the Secretary-General’s report once again underlines the need for improved risk assessments and risk management strategies by the UN, as clearly highlighted by the Security Council in Resolution 2349 (2017): ‘The Council must remain alert to the threats to stability as a result of the adverse effects of climate change.’
By acknowledging the adverse effect of climate change in the Lake Chad Basin region, the UN report should have emphasized the inevitable pathways for addressing the current crisis. Managing natural resources sustainably is one of the key factors to achieving regional stabilization, reducing people’s vulnerability, increasing resilience and thereby thwarting the fertile grounds for insurgent group recruitment. This is only possible when the UN Security Council and other peacebuilding agencies begin to integrate the linkages of environmental, social, and political issues in their peacebuilding efforts in the Lake Chad Basin.
About Resolution 2349:
At the end of March 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously issued Resolution 2349against terrorism and human rights violations in the Lake Chad Basin. It recognized the role of climate change in exacerbating human insecurity—particularly around food insecurity and livelihood vulnerabilities—which are linked to the Basin’s complex conflicts: ‘the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of the Region’. The resolution was initiated by the Security Council member states’ travel to the Lake Chad region earlier in 2017. The resolution tasked the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to provide an assessment of the situation. A direct mention of climate and environmental change is absent in the newly published report.
Florian Krampe, PhD, is a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in the Climate Change and Risk Project. He specializes in peace and conflict research, international relations, and political ecology. Follow him on Twitter @FlorianKrampe.
Dr Amiera Sawas and Dr Florian Krampe
Over 600,000 people have been displaced in recent floods in Sri Lanka. Drought is bringing starvation and famine to 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. These are just a few pieces of the mounting evidence that climate change causes insecurity and exacerbates the suffering primarily in already conflict-affected and fragile states. That implies it is part of the story of recruitment of young people by insurgent groups and part of the background to migration. ‘Today, in short, the world faces increasingly complex security challenges, but lacks the institutions needed to deal with them,’ says Dan Smith, Director of SIPRI in a newly released film on the issue.
The Paris Agreement, Agenda 2030, as well as the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States provide substantial policy options to address climate-related security risks. However, at this critical juncture, it is time for the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) role as a high-profile global actor on peace and security to show clear leadership and to give climate security an institutional home in the UNSC.
The world has been hesitant to recognize the security risks posed by climate change because they are so complex, explains Dr Malin Mobjörk, Senior Researcher at SIPRI. Building on extensive research, Mobjörk outlines three forms of security risks related to climate change in the film: negative effects on livelihood conditions; damage to critical infrastructure; and an increase in migration flows. Understanding these security risks requires inter-disciplinary knowledge.
Putting climate change on the UNSC agenda
Climate change is fundamentally changing the way people live. It is therewith changing the way communities relate to each other. It changes the terms of the security assessment in many countries. And the implications of these changes have in part already been reaching the UNSC.
Firstly, at the end of March 2017, the UNSC issued a unanimous resolution (2349) against terrorism and human rights violations in the Lake Chad Basin. It recognised the role of climate change in exacerbating human insecurity – particularly around food insecurity and livelihood vulnerabilities – which are linked to the Basin’s complex conflicts. It was clear during the discussions with key stakeholders at the 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, that increasing threats to livelihoods through weak governance, marginalization and increasingly volatile weather patterns and water resources, provide both an increased suffering for the Lake Chad basin’s population, and a fertile ground for terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, to recruit people for their cause.
Secondly, the examples of Lake Chad, an unprecedented famine in the Horn of Africa and the complexity of the Syrian conflict, illustrate the scale of the security challenges related to climate change. These consequences are first and foremost noticeable in fragile contexts. However, the security risks posed by climate change are unique in that there are also clear preventative pathways for adaptation through development. With that said, the Mandate of the UNSC goes beyond resolving conflict, it also involves ‘maintaining peace and security’ with a broader notion of security. There are several examples of human security-focussed UNSC resolutions, including: 1325 which focuses on women’s vulnerabilities and needs in conflict and post-conflict spaces; 2331 on human trafficking; and, 1308 /1983 on the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Thirdly, given the serious interactions of climate change with underdevelopment, fragility and security, it is no surprise that increasingly the voices calling for climate change to be placed on the UNSC’s agenda are those countries most affected by climate change impacts. The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have long advocated a stronger role of the UNSC in highlighting climate concerns. Today, especially with UNSC Resolution 2349, more recognition of climate security concerns are heard. For instance, the Ethiopian Representative Tekeda Elemu, emphasised the insufficient international recognition of the intersecting roles of ‘climate change-induced challenges, as well as falling commodity prices’ in conflict.
As argued above, the security implications of climate change demand clear global leadership and explicit institutional change. In a recent speech at New York University, the UN Secretary General (UNSG), António Guterres, emphasised, ‘there is a compelling security case for climate action’ and that he would rally the United Nations system behind it.
An opportunity for Sweden
Sweden has a golden opportunity to support this effort of the UNSG as a member of the UNSC during 2017 and 2018. In fact, Sweden has shown real leadership around reducing the security risks posed by climate change through its efforts around the Lake Chad resolution. Even though this is questioned by some, there are nonetheless very good reasons why Sweden should engage.
Opportunities for Sweden to engage:
Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, has made clear that Sweden will focus on conflict prevention at the UNSC. This is consistent with Articles 24 and 39 of the aforementioned UNSC Mandate which clearly states the UNSC should ‘maintain peace and security’ and ‘determine the existence of a threat to the peace.’ One of the conflict prevention efforts Sweden should lead is in promoting an institutional home for climate security in the UNSG’s office, to collect state-of-the-art knowledge on climate-related security risks and inform the UNSC.
Sweden’s role in the UN has always been different, because it has focused on development rather than military security. Sweden has stood with smaller nations that see the UN and its organization as their best protection in the present world. The impacts of climate change threaten especially those smaller and fragile nations – Sweden should again stand firmly at their side.
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