Climate change exacerbates threats to Africa's security – MSC Roundtable on Human Security in Bahir Dar

On April 20, the MSC organized a Human Security Roundtable on the sidelines of the Tana High-Level Forum on African Security. Around 50 high-ranking representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society attended to advance the debate on mitigating effects of climate change and other environmental security hazards. The event was organized in partnership with the Tana Forum and the African Union.

A view of the MSC Roundtable on Human Security in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, on April 20, 2018 (Photo: MSC)

As extreme weather events, such as heat waves and coastal flooding, occur more frequently across Africa, societies throughout the region become more exposed to the consequences of climate change – even more so as local governments lack sufficient capacities and financial resources to mitigate them. Thus, cooperation and coordination of local, regional and international efforts is crucial in order to tackle these challenges. For this purpose, the MSC convened its Human Security Roundtable on the sidelines of the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa. The Munich Security Conference has a unique relationship with the Tana Forum, which the MSC helped to set up seven years ago. Reflecting its commitment to a forward-thinking discourse on security in Africa, the MSC periodically returns to Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, to promote the discussion of global challenges from an African perspective.

"There is not a single African head of state who will not tell you that they feel the boot of climate change on their necks," said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the Munich Security Conference 2018. The MSC Roundtable on Human Security echoed that sentiment with several senior decision-makers from the African continent present – among them MSC Advisory Council Member Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Rwanda, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, as well as former Presidents of South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. The African Union was represented, among others, by Commissioner for Political Affairs Cessouma Samate Minata. In addition, numerous international experts, including Robert Malley, President of the International Crisis Group, and Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General of the International Organization for Migration, joined the discussion.

There was no doubt among the participants that Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, is uniquely threatened by climate change and environmental degradation. Thus, the participants agreed, Africa will need to take full ownership of measures to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. At the same time, some stressed that the outsized impact of climate change on Africa mirrors wider global inequity, and expressed hope that future solutions would also reflect the degree to which actors contribute to or suffer from climate effects. Participants focused on Lake Chad as a prime example of these effects, but also cautioned that "Africa has many Lake Chads," such as the Nile Delta with its population of around 40 million, which would face environmental threats as well.

While climate hazards can spark conflict directly, climate change was discussed chiefly in terms of its impact as a threat multiplier: By exacerbating humanitarian stress, it heightens the likelihood of unrest and conflict. The destruction of livelihoods in the agricultural sector by increasing desertification and floods was named as one such factor. Participants underscored the need for promoting agriculture and food security by fulfilling the Maputo Commitment of directing 10 percent of government expenditure toward agriculture – a target an overwhelming majority of African states are falling short of according to a 2017 ONE report.

Increased migration pressure was recognized as a key consequence of inadequate economic and food security. According to a new World Bank report, the number of climate migrants within Sub-Saharan Africa could exceed 70 million by 2050 if not effectively addressed. Participants highlighted population growth and urbanization as factors that would need to be addressed to mitigate migration pressure and thus the impact of climate change on both cities and rural regions.

Due to the varied socio-economic and political consequences of climate hazards, the need for concerted and comprehensive mitigation and adaption measures, as also formulated by the African Union in its "Agenda 2063", was widely acknowledged at the roundtable. Some participants suggested that African states should pioneer an entirely new path for consumption and economic growth based on sustainability and renewable energy in response to climate change. Other participants, however, warned against seeing climate change only through the lens of long-term strategies. In cases such as Lake Chad, where environmental degradation is already in effect, immediate, tangible relief is necessary to secure livelihoods in the short-term and mitigate migration, food insecurity and resource conflicts.

The potential impact on stability, peace and development across the continent and wide-reaching repercussions for Europe and beyond is enormous. Thus, the MSC will continue to regularly revisit this issue in its future activities, and work to intensify cooperation with African partners. As Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger stated, MSC engagement in Africa is "a strategic priority for the next decade!"

Human Security and the MSC

Over the past decades, security threats have become ever more complex. Accordingly, the traditional discourse about security policy must be broadened to reflect the multitude of threats to human livelihood. The international community is increasingly witnessing the wide range of challenges affecting the lives of billions of people and destabilizing entire regions.

Indeed, some of the past years’ most significant humanitarian crises, caused, for instance, by pandemics, famines, floods and droughts, have further alerted the security community. Human hardship – caused by climate change, environmental degradation, or human rights violations – is oftentimes the root cause of serious, sometimes even armed conflict. As these trends become more pronounced, the security community needs to ready itself for more crises and conflicts.

Effective responses to these challenges must build on a cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach. That is why the Munich Security Conference organizes events and conferences on issues such as health, migration, and the environment and thus promotes discussions and collaboration between the security community and development officials and experts, NGO leaders, international organizations, the research community, and the private sector. Building in particular on the success of its health security series, the MSC is now grouping its activities on these issues in the Human Security Series.

About the Munich Security Conference

The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is the world's leading platform for debates on international security policy. With over 500 official participants and 300 observers assembled at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, the annual flagship conference provides a unique atmosphere for frank, private and mostly off-the-record exchange on present and future security challenges and solutions. In addition, the MSC Foundation hosts a number of smaller, albeit equally high-profile, events around the world. This includes Core Group Meetings, which have a regional focus, as well as thematic activities, such as the Cyber Security Series, the Health Security Series and the European Defence Series, with Summits and Roundtables in different cities around the world.

26 April 2018, by MSC