Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw, ECDPM Great Insights magazine, Autumn 2019 (Volume 8, Issue 4).
Climate change is increasingly acknowledged as a global security issue, and the UN Security Council’s mandate over it is growing. Yet, Africa still lacks equal standing with other regions and the permanent members of the Security Council. Without permanent representation of Africa on the Security Council, the continent is rendered a subject, not an agent, of global climate governance.
The link between security and climate now seems obvious to many. But the framing of climate change as not only an environmental and development issue but also a matter of security, is a recent and contested development.
In 2007, when the UN Security Council organised its first high-level debate on climate change and security, the G-77 group – the largest association of developing nations – argued that climate change was beyond the Security Council’s remit. It should, they said, be dealt with in other bodies of the UN. China, Russia and South Africa similarly questioned the compatibility of the issue with the Security Council’s mandate. The small island developing states of the Pacific, themselves G-77 members, requested a UN General Assembly debate on the security implications of climate change in June 2009. Later that year, the UN Secretary General released its report which named climate change a “threat multiplier” that can aggravate existing institutional, socio-economic and political drivers of conflict.
The framing of climate change as a threat to global peace and security brought international attention to the issue. But it also raised the danger that regions such as Africa, which are expected to be particularly affected by the impacts of climate change, would be seen as a security threat – as “disasters waiting to happen” – and militarised in a pre-emptive bid to contain the situation (see Hartmann 2014). For example, a single narrative emerged of the Sahel as a region where climate-induced fragility will displace many, force many more into migration, and push others into violent extremism. This has led to a securitisation and ‘othering’ of Africans and people from the region. They are seen as a security threat rather than as victims-survivors needing protection.
This perception is evident in the European narrative around managing migration from Africa. This narrative has contributed to the region’s militarisation, as more foreign and regional actors deploy forces to “contain” migration, illicit trade and armed groups, without necessarily addressing the structural issues at the heart of the continent’s fragilities (Davitti and Ursu 2018).
Recognition of climate change as a global security issue that requires a global response could help Africa galvanise the support it needs to respond to climate change. However, to do so without further securitisation of people and regions in fragile contexts is a difficult balancing act. Africa is unfavourably positioned in the broader climate change negotiations, which remain marred by asymmetries.
Africa’s carbon footprint is marginal compared to other regions, yet the continent is the most exposed to the effects of climate change. While the goal to cut down carbon emissions and switch to green industries is laudable, in the short term, trade offs between industrialisation and environmental sustainability seem inevitable (Bogott and Van Wyk, 2016). To minimise the impacts of these trade offs on developing countries, the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) has emphasised the need for adequate technological and financial support for climate adaptation and not just mitigation. However, two thirds of climate finance in 2017 went to mitigation, according to the OECD (2018).
Africa’s unfavourable position in the broader climate change negotiations could spill over into climate security governance. To prevent this from happening, the growing recognition of the climate-security nexus as a global issue, and the UN Security Council’s mandate over it, need to be matched with equitable and permanent representation on the Security Council of the most vulnerable regions, particularly Africa and the small and developing island states of the Pacific.
The African Union is in the process of appointing a special envoy for climate change and security who will work with the existing Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change. However, this is not an end in itself. To secure equitable representation of the continent’s interests in global climate security governance, three further changes are key.
First, awareness of the climate-security nexus needs to be reflected in global legal and policy frameworks. In academic and policy circles, the link between climate change and security is clear, as is the link between climate change and forced displacement. Yet, climate-induced displacement and migration are not yet recognised in international legal frameworks governing migration (see WH 2018). For instance, people fleeing extreme climate events and crossing borders are not recognised as refugees and hence ineligible for asylum, unlike people fleeing war or individual persecution.
As the region most affected by the effects of climate change, the African continent should mobilise its collective voice to weigh in on the policy and legal discourse around the climate-security nexus. Reaching consensus among the continent’s 55 countries, with their varying levels of exposure and vulnerabilities, will be difficult, but it is a necessary step to secure the most basic of the continent’s interests. Appointment of an African Union special envoy on climate change and security will be a positive step towards driving the climate security agenda, both at home within the African Union and abroad in multilateral platforms.
Second, coherent mechanisms are needed to track, monitor and account for climate finance. In the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, developed countries promised to channel US $100 billion per year to developing countries by 2020. However, types and sources of climate finance are broad, and monitoring these flows remains an elusive and complex task (see Tirpak, Brown and Ballesteros 2014). Robust monitoring facilities and tools are needed to ensure that developing countries are indeed benefitting.
For Africa, monitoring accountability and transparency around climate finance is essential both to ascertain whether sufficient funds are being allocated to climate adaptation, and to ensure that climate finance is not conflated with development assistance (see World Bank, 2010). To these ends, the continent needs to amplify its voice within existing funding mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environmental Facility, while also partnering with the African private sector and global civil society to call for clearer definitions, governance and monitoring of climate finance.
Third, and this is the elephant in the room, if climate security is deemed a global security concern and within the remit of the UN Security Council, equitable and permanent representation of Africa on the Security Council is imperative. The absence of permanent representation of Africa on the UN Security Council, while unfortunate in itself, presents a particular disadvantage to the continent regarding climate change. Africa will bear the brunt of climate change, which it had a marginal role in inducing. Yet, it remains without veto power in the UN Security Council. Ironically, many of those with much larger carbon footprints occupy permanent seats. As the concept of climate change as an issue of global security develops, and the mandate of the UN Security Council over it grows, Africa’s inability to stand on equal footing with other regions and the permanent members of the UN Security Council renders it a subject, but not an agent, of global climate governance.
Without permanent representation on the UN Security Council, with the full rights the position entails, the asymmetry in global climate change cannot be reversed. Neither can it be ensured that global climate security policies respond to Africa’s needs, without militarising the continent and securitising its people.
We are already in 2019. As the President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio said in his address to the UN General Assembly last month, “This long-standing injustice … ought to be addressed.”
Bogott, N. and Van Wyk, L. A. 2016. Zooming in on Africa in the international climate negotiations. In: Luther, S. (ed). Klimawandel Politische Implikationen und soziale Verwerfungen. AMEZ 16. Munich: Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung.
Davitti, D. and Ursu, A. E. 2018. Why securitising the Sahel will not stop migration. FMU Policy Brief 02/2018. Nottingham: University of Nottingham.
Hartmann, B. 2014. Converging on disaster: Climate security and the Malthusian anticipatory regime for Africa. Geopolitics, 19(4): 757-783.
OECD. 2018. Climate finance from developed to developing countries: 2013-17 public flows. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Tirpak, D., Brown, L. H. and Ballesteros, A. 2014. Monitoring climate finance in developing countries: Challenges and next steps. Working Paper. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
WH. 2018. Why climate migrants do not have refugee status. The Economist Explains. 6 March.
World Bank. 2010. Monitoring climate finance and ODA. Issues Brief 1. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Photo: UN Security Council
About the author
Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw is a Policy Officer in the Security and Resilience Programme at ECDPM. She works on regional and multinational approaches to peacebuilding in Africa in general and the Horn of Africa in particular. Her areas of interest and professional background includes fragility and resilience, the nexus between humanitarian action and peacebuilding, violence-induced displacement/migration, peacebuilding through multilateral institutions, and the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.