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UN Environment and European Union call for stronger action against climate-change-related security threat

Sudan’s western Darfur region is home to nearly 10 million people and occupies a land mass which is about ten times the size of Belgium. For decades soils, forests, and water resources in this largely arid and conflict-affected region have been depleted at alarming rates.

Erratic rainfall patterns have led to dwindling water supplies. As agricultural yields have declined, farmers are obliged to cultivate larger plots. This has encroached on the land available for herders.

One result has been to intensify disputes between farmers and herder communities. Sometimes this has led to conflict.

Both directly and indirectly this has produced a situation where 2.7 million people are displaced. More than 1.6 million of these live in camps and settlements.

“Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change,” said then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2007. The impact of climate change is not unique to Darfur. But, those parts of Africa straddling the equator – and especially the Sahel – represent ground zero for the impact of climate change on security. This translates to threats to food, water and livelihoods.

The UN Secretary-General’s report in 2009 highlighted the impact of climate change on security. And since its publication, there has been growing consensus that this phenomenon will put additional stress on world’s economic, social, and political systems.

In March 2017, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2349 which “recognizes the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes … on the stability of the [Chad Basin] region, including through water scarcity, drought, desertification, land degradation and food insecurity, and emphasizes the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies by governments and the UN relating to these factors”.

The Security Council has also recognized in Resolution 2408 of March 2018, the correlation between climate change and national or regional security in Somalia. A New Climate for Peace , a report commissioned by the G7 members in 2015, noted that “Climate change is a global threat to security in the 21st century. We must act quickly to limit the future risks to the planet we share and to the peace we seek.”

“Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress, or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, the risks to the stability of states and societies will increase,” said the report.

There is also a growing appreciation that climate change could hamper national security operations.

In May 2018, an Australian Senate inquiry stated that “Climate change is a current and existential national security risk to Australia, one that could inflame regional conflicts over food, water, land and even imperil life on Earth”.

To mitigate and manage the potential threats of climate change, A New Climate for Peace, identified and recommended the integration of climate change adaptation, development and humanitarian aid, as well as peace building and conflict prevention programmes in national policies.

It recommended improvement of early warning systems and risk assessment as well as the integration of planning and provision of financial support to countries facing climate change risks.

Partly in response to this situation, today, the EU’s High Representative / Vice-President Federica Mogherini convened a high-level event. Its title is: “Climate, Peace, and Security: The Time for Action”.

The event brought together leaders and technical experts to assess new and ongoing climate change threats, and evaluate options to provide action to mitigate threats to human security from floods, droughts, heatwaves, storms and sea level rise.

“Climate change action is more urgent than ever before. Around the world people are already living at the sharp end, experiencing increased competition over scarce resources and accelerated degradation of the environment around them, and in some cases are being displaced as a result. Climate change is a major threat multiplier. UN Environment looks forward to working with the EU at the global, regional, national and community levels,” said Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment ahead of the Brussels event.

In 2013, UN Environment, jointly with the European Union and the Government of Sudan, launched a €6.45m catchment management project in the Wadi El Ku, one of the largest seasonal water courses in North Darfur.

UN Environment has implemented several projects in Sudan with the aim of mitigating the negative impact of climate change, addressing resource scarcity in the conflict-affected country. It is also looking to implement the lessons learnt in other parts of the world to reduce climate change-related security risks.

The Wadi El Ku project promoted sustainable soil, water and forest and water management. It demonstrated how inclusive natural resource management can improve livelihoods.

“People’s direct participation in natural resource management has increased the level of trust and has contributed to the transparency in how natural resources are used within the community,” said Abdelhamid Adam Mahmud, head of North Darfur’s Mogran Development Association. “If everyone is satisfied with their share, then they will manage their resources better.”