ECC Platform Library


Introduction: Sub-Sahara Africa

24 June, 2015

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources.

Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize. This is hugely problematic in terms of human security, as it will jeopardize health, livelihoods and development. Moreover, a decrease in ‘interaction capacity’ is also likely to decrease the ability of states and other social organizations, such as clans, ethnic and criminal networks to exercise large-scale violence.

In the future, climate change may serve as an additional driver of conflict, leading to the degradation of freshwater resources, declining food production and an increase in extreme weather events, resulting in environmentally induced migration. More effective governance responses, including stepped-up regional cooperation, could serve to mitigate the negative impacts currently experienced.

Yet, the problem of understanding climate change or global warming is one of the major problems confronting the African people, governments and the African Union (AU). Moreover, since climate change leads to acute conflicts, it becomes imperative to gain a proper understanding of this phenomenon in Africa.

Regional hotspots:

There is a wide range of regional examples that illustrate how unequal access to essential resources, distributional conflicts and insufficient management hamper development and increase the potential for conflict . They include:

  • Somalia and its conflicts over access to and control over resources,
  • the Niger Delta and Sudan and their respective disputes over crude oil,
  • the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of violent struggles over minerals and forests,
  • the Nile Basin and the state of transboundary water cooperation, and
  • the Sahel zone, where water and food scarcities are increasing and leading to more migration.

Agriculture, which provides a livelihood for about three-quarters of Africa’s population, is mainly rain-fed. Severe and prolonged droughts, flooding and loss of arable land due to desertification and soil erosion are reducing agricultural yields and causing crop failure and loss of livestock, thereby endangering rural and pastoralist populations. The Horn of Africa’s pastoralist areas (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and the Ugandan border) have been severely impacted by recurrent droughts.

Climate change risks:

  • In 2008, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned that the progress in human development achieved over the last decade may be slowed down or even reversed by climate change, as new threats emerge to water and food security, agricultural production and access, and nutrition and public health.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that northern and southern Africa will become much hotter and drier, while eastern and central Africa will experience increased rainfall.
  • The region’s vulnerability to climate change is partly driven by geography, i.e. its high exposure and sensitivity to the changing climate, but exacerbated by its low adaptive capacity.
  • Climate change has a direct impact on food production and income generation. On average, approximately 60% of employment in Africa is provided by the extremely vulnerable agricultural sector.
  • Environmental migration can be observed during drought seasons. It increases the pressure on areas that are already densely populated and thus the competition for natural resources, leading to e.g. conflicting land-use claims. Traditional pastoral communities find themselves travelling farther and increasingly leading their animals into farmlands in search of pasture.
  • The productivity and sustainability of Africa's environment is heavily dependent on how climate change is managed. The range of livelihoods, and consequently the opportunities for human development and alleviation of extreme poverty and hunger, are characterized by a total dependence on natural resource systems. According to the UN report on development in Africa, the region is failing to keep pace with the rest of the world in terms of development. Africa also has the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty, currently numbering 330 million in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty not only makes people vulnerable but also limits their choices. In addition, natural disasters such as floods can overwhelm a poor household, destroying its ability to cope. If crops fail, subsistence farmers have few or no alternative means to provide food for their family. Over 70% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa survives by subsistence agriculture and their livelihoods depend on natural resources.

Socio-economic and socio-political challenges:

As one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the projected impacts of climate change, Africa faces many challenges at this critical juncture. Traditionally, national development plans, poverty reduction strategy papers and sectoral strategies in climate sensitive sectors have paid little, if any, attention to climate variability, and even less to climate change. Africa’s ability to turn a threat into an opportunity hinges on actions taken today.

Low institutional capacities and the consequent mismanagement of natural resources in many African states exemplify the so-called resource curse theory. Corruption and insufficient capacities as well as bad economic policies have impeded resource-rich countries from reaping the benefits from their natural wealth, often leaving them heavily indebted instead.

Regional institutions:

There are various regional institutions that deal with environmental issues, such as the Africa Group on Climate Change, the Africa, Climate Change and Security Dialogue Process (ACCES), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Africa-Europe Energy Partnership (AEEP). South Africa has entered into cooperation with other emerging economies. The continent further hosts the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) is one of the promising avenues towards strengthening regional cooperation on environmental and climate issues, for example ithrough the structures of the African Union or of the Regional Economic Committees, such as the Southern African Development Community.

In the Nile basin, ten riparian states compete for the river’s water, both for their livelihoods and as a source of energy for industry, and all are severely affected by droughts and floods. The Nile Basin Initiative is one effort to reconcile conflicting interests between upstream and downstream countries. Transboundary water cooperation, though oftentimes ineffective, is urgently needed – not only in the Nile basin, but also in the Great Lakes region, the Chad Lake Basin and the Zambezi Basin (UNEP).

In addition, the African Union Commission (AUC) in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), is supporting a major new initiative, The 'Global Climate Observing System (GCOS)-Africa Climate for Development’, launched in 2007. The programme, part of the GCOS, is designed to integrate climate information and services into development activities in support of Africa's progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. A major objective is to mainstream climate information in national development programmes, focusing initially on the most climate-sensitive sectors.

The AUC, through convening preparatory and consultative meetings, mobilizes all African negotiators on climate change with the aim of implementing a common negotiating position on key climate change issues. The Commission also embarked on developing a comprehensive climate strategy for Africa. However, there is more to be done and the AUC needs to act aggressively in terms of creating a specialized unit on climate change and desertification control. This unit will strengthen the capacity of the Commission to be more informed on climate change trends and to adequately plan and be better prepared to support Member States in undertaking mitigation and adaptation measures on the continent. It will also enhance partners' coordination and the implementation of climate change activities on the continent in accordance with national, regional and international obligations.



Batz, F.-J. 2007: Donor activity in transboundary water cooperation in Africa. Eschborn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ).

Collier, P. 2010: The Political Economy of Natural Resources. Social Research, Vol. 77: No. 4.

German Advisory Body on Global Change (WGBU) 2008: Climate Change as a Security Risk. Earthscan Publication Ltd. USA.

Parry et al 2007: Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. UK, USA: IPCC.

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Conflict (Accord) 2011: Environment, Climate Change and Conflict. Conflict Trends, Issue 2.

UNEP. Adapting to Climate Change in the Nile Basin.

Werz, M & Conley, L. 2012: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict. Center for American Progress, Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

Sub-Saharan Africa


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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