The Importance of Addressing Conflict at the Africa Climate Summit

The Importance Of Addressing Conflict At The Africa Climate Summit

The New Humanitarian
Nazanine Moshiri
Crisis Group’s senior analyst for climate, environment, conflict, and Africa
Tuesday September 5, 2023

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‘Conflict is not just a secondary concern; it is an essential element of the problem.’

The situation in South Sudan is just one example of many worldwide where climate change impacts, such as the worst flooding in 60 years, are exacerbating crises.

African leaders are not only seeking assistance in addressing climate change, but they are also providing solutions. However, it is crucial to recognize the role that climate change plays in fueling conflicts and to develop solutions accordingly.

Kenya is preparing to rally support for its green vision at the Africa climate summit, which commences today in Nairobi. The summit will focus on green investments and urging wealthier nations to fulfill their financial commitments. However, discussions on climate change must now consider matters of peace and stability.

During the “New Global Financing Pact” summit in Paris in June, President William Ruto of Kenya proposed the creation of a global green bank funded by global carbon taxes. This multilateral development bank aims to assist developing countries in combating the detrimental effects of climate change while avoiding further debt burdens.

Ruto’s proposal drew inspiration from the Bridgetown Initiative led by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who highlighted the failure of the current international financial system to support developing countries devastated by climate change and offered potential solutions.

Many regions vulnerable to climate change, especially in Africa, also face conflicts. The hosts of the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), scheduled for November 30 to December 12 in the United Arab Emirates, acknowledge the need to integrate peace-related issues into the climate agenda. As a result, they have included a thematic day on Recovery, Relief, and Peace on December 3.

Kenya understands firsthand how climate shocks can escalate tensions and conflicts. In recent years, a severe and prolonged drought in Kenya’s Rift Valley triggered violent clashes between herdsmen and landowners over resources. Since May 2021, over 200 people have died in the region as a result. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Kenya’s temperatures will rise by approximately 1.7°C by the 2050s and could reach around 2.8°C by the end of the century. Rainfall patterns are expected to become highly unpredictable. Addressing the environmental consequences of climate change must go hand in hand with the Kenyan government’s efforts to address resource-based and cattle-related insecurity.

More broadly, strategies that address vulnerabilities, promote inclusivity, and incorporate conflict-sensitive approaches are necessary to tackle the interconnected issues of climate, peace, and security.

Neighboring Somalia has also experienced the detrimental effects of climate stress, which contribute to conflicts. During a severe drought in 2022, al-Shabab militants imposed strict taxes and blockades, targeting food and water supplies. This led to resentment against the group in vulnerable areas. While al-Shabab’s actions during the drought were not the sole cause of the uprising and subsequent offensive against them in central Somalia, they certainly played a role.

In South Sudan, which shares a border with Kenya, four years of flooding have affected two-thirds of the country. This flooding has forced many people, including armed Dinka herders protecting their herds, to migrate to the Equatoria region in the south. This movement has escalated existing conflicts between Dinka migrants and native Equatorians. Managing climate change in Africa is crucial to ensuring security, as climate shocks often amplify conflict drivers.

Furthermore, a comprehensive approach that addresses vulnerabilities, promotes inclusivity, and adapts to climate change with conflict sensitivity is needed to tackle the nexus of climate, peace, and security. The energy transition, a key focus of the summit, is about more than just access to power; it is also about empowering individuals. Currently, nearly half of Africa’s population has limited or no access to electricity. A transition to renewable energy sources would not only combat climate change but also create employment opportunities and bridge the gap between rural and urban communities. The goal is to connect 90 million Africans to electricity each year and transition 130 million people away from using polluting cooking fuels like firewood and charcoal.

Achieving this requires careful planning and the development of local skills. However, not all governments possess the capacity to do so due to internal conflicts or state failures. Africa is home to a significant portion of the world’s mineral reserves, including critical minerals for renewable and low-carbon technologies such as copper, lithium, and nickel. Responsible management of these resources holds economic promise for the continent. African nations may benefit economically through fairer agreements with countries like China or the EU. However, uncontrolled exploitation can lead to environmental destruction, ignite conflicts, or create opportunities for non-state armed actors to manipulate these areas.

Who will finance Africa’s transition to green energy? Climate financing is vital, especially in fragile contexts. However, Africa faces numerous obstacles in accessing climate finance. Firstly, there is insufficient funding available. Wealthier nations were expected to provide $100 billion annually in “climate finance” by 2020, as agreed upon in 2009. While wealthy countries claim they will meet this goal this year, it is a case of too little, too late. In reality, much more funding will be required in the long run – we are talking trillions, not billions of dollars.

Furthermore, there is a grossly unequal distribution of climate finance funds from donors. Crisis Group’s analysis reveals that countries facing both climate change and conflict receive, on average, only a third of the per capita climate financing compared to countries in peace. This disparity arises due to donors’ risk aversion and the challenges of creating viable projects in conflict zones. Closing this gap and ensuring conflict-sensitive support are crucial for achieving peace and stability.

Observers do not anticipate significant financial commitments during this week’s Africa climate summit, taking place from September 4 to 6. Nevertheless, the fact that the summit is happening is a positive step towards COP28 in Dubai. Thanks to Mia Mottley and William Ruto, reforming the international financial system has become a mainstream topic.

It is now essential to expand the focus beyond climate and energy and address the conflict dynamics that intertwine with climate change. Conflict is not just a secondary concern; it is an integral part of the issue. From the energy transition to climate financing, the impact of conflicts must be considered in strategies for success.

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