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Climate and Conflict in Africa

Summary and Keywords

Climate change was conceived as a “risk multiplier” that could exacerbate security risks and conflicts in fragile regions and hotspots where poverty, violence, injustice, and social insecurity are prevalent. The linkages have been most extensively studied for the African continent, which is affected by both climate change and violent conflict. Together with other drivers, climate change can undermine human security and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in Africa through different pathways. These include variability in temperature and precipitation; weather extremes and natural disasters, such as floods and droughts; resource problems through water scarcity, land degradation, and food insecurity; forced migration and farmer–herder conflict; and infrastructure for transport, water, and energy supply. Through these channels, climate change may contribute to humanitarian crises and conflict, subject to local conditions for the different regions of Africa. While a number of statistical studies find no significant link between reduced precipitation and violent conflict in Africa, several studies do detect such a link, mostly in interaction with other issues. The effects of climate change on resource conflicts are often indirect, complex, and linked to political, economic, and social conflict factors, including social inequalities, low economic development, and ineffective institutions.

Regions dependent on rainfed agriculture are more sensitive to civil conflict following droughts. Rising food prices can contribute to food insecurity and violence. Water scarcity and competition in river basins are partly associated with low-level conflicts, depending on socioeconomic variables and management practices. Another conflict factor in sub-Saharan Africa are shifting migration routes of herders who need grazing land to avoid livestock losses, while farmers depend on land for growing their harvest. Empirical findings reach no consensus on how climate vulnerability and violence interact with environmental migration, which also could be seen as an adaptation measure strengthening community resilience. Countries with a low human development index (HDI) are particularly vulnerable to the double exposure to natural disasters and armed conflict. Road and water infrastructures influence the social and political consequences of climate stress. The high vulnerabilities and low adaptive capacities of many African countries may increase the probability of violent conflicts related to climate change impacts.

Keywords: conflict, farmers, herders, migration, security, violence, weather extremes

Global Perspectives on the Climate–Conflict Nexus

Progressive climate change has serious and irreversible consequences for people and societies around the world. Lack of access to drinking water and food, degradation of soils, loss of forests and biodiversity, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions such as droughts, storms, and floods can affect the lives of millions of people who in turn can respond in different ways. Reactive patterns aim at averting threats to national and international security that lead to conflicts and instabilities. Cooperative and preventive responses organize institution building and coordinate collaboration to use and share resources in a sustainable and efficient way to minimize conflict.

Since 2007, the security risks and conflict potentials of climate change have been increasingly addressed in research, with mixed results. Climate change was conceived as a “risk multiplier” or “threat multiplier” that exacerbates existing problems, including violence, terrorism, civil war, and forced displacement, particularly in fragile regions where poverty, violence, injustice, and social insecurity are already prevalent (Detges, 2017a; Rüttinger, Smith, Stang, Tänzler, & Vivekananda, 2015; Scheffran, 2015; WBGU, 2008; Werrell & Femia, 2015). Here climate stress could set in motion a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing problems and conflicts, which in fragile regions and hotspots undermine state authority and overstretch problem-solving capabilities, especially with regard to abrupt climate change when tipping points are exceeded (Steffen et al., 2018). In 2007 and 2011, the UN Security Council discussed the security risks of climate change without reaching an agreement on its extent (Brauch & Scheffran, 2012). Other actors also dealt with possible security risks of climate change, stressing the likely consequences for the military and their involvement in humanitarian operations and coastal protection (Department of Defense, 2014). Despite some rhetoric and books on “climate wars” (e.g., Dyer, 2011; Welzer, 2008), there has been no clear empirical evidence to support such drastic outcomes (Theisen, 2017). Measures addressing the security risks of climate change are generally limited to border management, humanitarian aid, and the use of the military in disaster management (Brzoska, 2012).

Possible connections between climate change and conflict include the lack of water and food, extreme weather events, and environmental migration (Scheffran & Battaglini, 2011; WBGU, 2008). Rising food prices or water scarcity exacerbate nutritional problems and can lead to social unrest. Natural disasters may kill people, or displace them into neighboring regions. Spillover effects can drive the spread of conflicts across borders. The impacts of climate change on the availability and distribution of resources are relevant as well. Resource conflicts include the degradation of forests and arable land, the depletion of water resources and fish stocks, or mining and dam projects (Bächler, 1999; Homer-Dixon, 1991, 1994), which are predominantly local or regional and less likely to be international threats. The effects of climate change on resource conflicts are often indirect, complex, and linked to political, economic, and social conflict factors.

To assess the link between climate change and violent conflicts at the global level, the dominant methodological focus has been on quantitative statistical studies for a large number of cases (large-n), some of which go back to as far as the “Little Ice Age” between the 15th and 19th centuries, or even further. While long-term historical research often suggests a coincidence between climate variability and armed conflict, empirical findings are less conclusive for recent periods. Since the end of World War II, the change in global mean temperature has not been clearly correlated with the number of armed conflicts, which has dropped after the end of the Cold War and then rose again since 2008. In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, “collectively the research does not conclude that there is a strong positive relationship between warming and armed conflict” (IPCC, 2014, p. 772). While some studies indicate a significant link between climate change and violent conflicts, others found no significant or ambivalent links (Scheffran, Brzoska, Kominek, Link, & Schilling, 2012a, 2012b). Similarly, a review that was based on 86 peer-reviewed studies (with the largest number of 22 focusing on Africa) and 195 results suggested that climatic variables influence conflict risk in 48%, do not influence conflict risk in 24%, and have mixed results in 28% of the cases (Detges, 2017a). Climatic conditions do not lead to a higher risk of violent conflict per se. They interact with a number of other social and political issues such as rainfed agriculture, excluded ethnic minorities, group grievances, high social inequalities, weak democracies, and poorly developed infrastructure and public services. All such factors apply to large parts of Africa. Yet the controversy between those who claim “strong causal evidence” for linkages between climate change and social instability (Hsiang, Burke, & Miguel, 2013) and those who question it (Buhaug et al., 2014) has not been resolved. No scientific consensus has emerged to date, which demonstrates the difficulties of adequately capturing the complex linkages between climate change, vulnerability, and violent conflict.

Although sweeping generalizations are not justified, the absence of clear evidence for a link between climate stress and political instability does not mean there is none (Detges, 2017a). Future research needs to focus on where and when climate–conflict risks exist and how this relationship is mediated by contextual factors (Bernauer, Böhmelt, & Koubi, 2012; Buhaug, 2015; Ide, Link, Scheffran, & Schilling, 2016; Plante, Allen, & Anderson, 2017; Theisen, Gleditsch, & Buhaug, 2013). This includes vulnerability, population growth, livelihood insecurity, resource demand and distribution, preexisting tensions, and the lack of political legitimacy, democracy, and institutions. Climate-related violence is more likely to occur in places, in which “institutions are less effective, people are excluded from power, and essential services are difficult to obtain” (Detges, 2017a, p. I). Adequate resolution of the limitations of quantitative analyses will not only depend on better data and more sophisticated statistical models. Systematic cross-evaluation with qualitative data gathered from local field studies and knowledge from practitioners (Detges, 2017a), theoretical approaches to explore the pathways and conditions connecting climate and conflict (Scheffran, Link, & Schilling, 2012), and critical perspectives on the depoliticization of nature–society relations are needed (de Châtel, 2014; Hartmann, 2014; Peluso & Watts, 2001; Rothe, 2015; Selby, Dahi, Fröhlich, & Hulme, 2017).

It is difficult to determine how many conflicts have a relevant environmental or climate component, partly because there are various measures for climate and conflict. While civil conflicts between organized rebel groups and armed forces of a state are the most frequently analyzed type of violence, communal conflicts are more likely to be affected by climate change. In 2017, 385 conflicts were observed worldwide, of which more than half (222) were fought violently, 20 were full-scale wars, and 16 were limited wars (HIIK, 2018). A total of 132 conflicts occurred on the African continent. Other databases (UCDP/PRIO, ACLED, and SCAD)1 include the location of violent conflicts based on georeferenced data (Figure 1) (Raleigh, Linke, Hegre, & Karlsen, 2010; Salehyan et al., 2012; Themnér, 2011).

Regional case studies can help to understand the complex interactions in specific conflicts, which often follow patterns and stages of escalation to violence that cannot be explained by a single factor such as climate change. Instead, they involve multiple drivers and actions by several parties. In certain “hotspots,” various conflict factors come together in particular situations (Scheffran & Battaglini, 2011). For instance, in Latin and Central America, conflicts over land and biodiversity are dominant; in South Asia, storms and floods are associated with food security and migration. In the following, key linkages between climate, conflict, and security are discussed for Africa, the continent that is most studied and that dominates this debate, raising questions whether a focus on the most conflict-sensitive regions of Africa influences the results, corresponding to a “streetlight effect” (Adams, Ide, Barnett, & Detges, 2018; Hendrix, 2017). Given the strong sensitivity of Africa to both conflict and climate change, it is essential to understand the specific conditions for climate-related conflict in African countries.

Climate Change Vulnerability, Human Security, and Violent Conflict in Africa

Africa’s Vulnerability to Climate Change

The climate–security linkages have been extensively studied for Africa, a continent that is affected considerably by both climate change and violent conflict. Due to its low energy consumption and economic development, Africa has contributed very little to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (about one tenth per capita compared to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries) but it is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and its security risks and conflict potentials (Cabot, 2017). Vulnerability has been defined by the IPCC as the “predisposition to be adversely affected” (IPCC, 2013, p. 32) by climate change and can be broken down into three factors: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (Adger, 2006; IPCC, 2007).

Exposure to climate change is affected by the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as well as the variability and long-term changes of climate (e.g., temperature and precipitation, cloud and wind patterns). These act as stressors on natural systems and human societies, with direct or indirect impacts on natural resources and related infrastructures (e.g., soil and water, ecosystems, agriculture and land use, forests and biodiversity, energy and economic systems and networks) that are important for human livelihood, well-being, and survival in Africa (IPCC, 2014). African environments display large variability and complexity (Fairhead & Leach, 1996). Exposure to a changing climate is high in most parts of Africa due to a combination of climatic and geophysical conditions. Surface temperatures have increased up to 2°C since the 1970s (IPCC, 2007, p. 10) and are projected to reach 3°C or more by the end of the 21st century, together with more irregular precipitation (IPCC, 2013). Exposure to climate-related changes in Africa aggravates land degradation, reduces water availability and food production, and increases the frequency and/or intensity of drought conditions, heatwaves, floods, and other natural disasters (Busby, Smith, & Krishnan, 2014; Busby, Smith, White, & Strange, 2012; Cabot, 2017).

In general terms, sensitivity is “the degree to which a system is modified or affected by perturbations” (Adger, 2006, p. 270). Africa is sensitive to a number of risks related to climate change, including reduced freshwater availability, increased food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and extension of drought-affected areas. Possible consequences are adverse effects on infrastructure, income, health, and migration (IPCC, 2014). Among the key factors that affect sensitivity are the dependence on rainfed agriculture, land degradation, rapid population growth, poverty, hunger, and health problems.

Adaptive capacity denotes the ability to respond to climate stress to diminish vulnerability. Some responses to existential threats may include extraordinary measures, including illegal and violent acts. Other measures may cause new problems, for example, through forced migration and maladaptation, or the side effects of mitigation and climate geoengineering (Tänzler, Maas, & Carius, 2010). Responses can help to adapt and minimize the risks, and encourage cooperation to improve chances for survival, for example, through risk reduction, strengthening resilience, and improving sustainability (Feil, Klein, & Westerkamp, 2009). Human development and institutional processes are instrumental to minimize potential conflicts and strengthen conflict-sensitive adaptation.

To identify the places that are most vulnerable to climate security concerns in Africa, the Climate Change and African Political Stability Project (CCAPS) applied a composite climate–security–vulnerability model based on several categories of indicators and related sub-indicators (expanding the climate vulnerability concept mentioned). These include physical exposure, population density, household and community resilience, governance, and political violence (see Figure 2 and Busby et al., 2014).

Climate and Conflict in AfricaClick to view larger

Figure 1. Locations of Armed Conflict in Africa Based on Current Data from UCDP/PRIO (Themnér, 2011), ACLED (Raleigh et al., 2010), and SCAD (Salehyan et al., 2012) Databases.

Source: Author’s representation of data.

Climate and Conflict in AfricaClick to view larger

Figure 2. Map of Composite Climate Vulnerability in Africa, Combining Indicators of Physical Exposure, Population Density, Household and Community Resilience, Governance, and Political Violence.

Source: Busby et al. (2014, fig. 6, p. 61), reprinted with permission.

Factors of Security Risks and Conflict Potentials in Africa

Together with other drivers of violent conflict, climate change can undermine human security and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in Africa through different linkages and pathways. These include variability in temperature and precipitation; weather extremes and natural disasters, such as floods and droughts; resource problems through water scarcity, land degradation, and food insecurity; forced migration and farmer–herder conflict; and infrastructure for transport, water, and energy supply. Through these multiple channels, climate change may contribute to vulnerabilities and humanitarian crises and act as a multiplier of security risk, increasing the conflict potential in Africa.

Variability and Change in Temperature and Precipitation

Climate models predict rising temperatures and increasing precipitation variability for Africa. Expected consequences are regions with a reduced availability of water and food, more heat and water stress, impacts on health and agriculture, and stimulation of grievances and violence. Burke, Miguel, Shanker, Dykema, and Lobell (2009) claim a strong association of conflict with temperature and precipitation for sub-Saharan Africa but the robustness of results has been controversial (Buhaug, 2010; Hsiang & Meng, 2014; O’Loughlin, Linke, & Witmer, 2014). A number of large-n studies finds a link between precipitation reduction and violent conflict in Africa, mostly together with issues such as dependence on rainfed agriculture, social inequalities, low economic development, and ineffective institutions (e.g., Ember, Abate Adem, Skoggard, & Jones, 2012; Fjelde & von Uexkull, 2012; Hendrix & Salehyan, 2012; Linke, O’Loughlin, McCabe, Tir, & Witmer, 2015; Raleigh & Kniveton, 2012; von Uexkull, Croicu, Fjelde, & Buhaug, 2016). Other assessments (including those outside of Africa) support an influence of temperature on interpersonal violence but do not provide sufficient empirical evidence to draw clear conclusions regarding large-scale violence (e.g., Gizelis & Wooden, 2010; O’Loughlin et al., 2012). In some cases livestock raiding is more likely in rainy seasons (Theisen, 2012), people “reconcile their differences and cooperate” in dry seasons (Adano, Dietz, Witsenburg, & Zaal, 2012, p. 77), or agricultural losses from low rainfall do not necessarily lead to social protest and rebellion (Buhaug, Benjaminsen, Sjaastad, & Theisen, 2015).

Weather Extremes and Natural Disasters

Extreme weather patterns include heavy rainfall with floods, storms, and landslides, or longer periods with very little rainfall (droughts), each having specific social consequences in Africa, such as food and water insecurity, economic and political instability, violence, and conflict. According to some studies, climate-induced natural disasters can destabilize societies with weak economies, mixed political regimes, and pre-existing conflicts (Ide et al., 2016), and contribute to conflicts arising from competition for scarce resources, unequal distribution of aid, changing power relationships, and opportunities for warlords (Bhavnani, 2006, p. 38; Brzoska, 2018; Nel & Righarts, 2008). Regions and groups in sub-Saharan Africa dependent on rainfed agriculture are more likely to experience civil conflict following droughts (Salehyan & Hendrix, 2014; von Uexkull, 2014; von Uexkull et al., 2016). Other studies find no increased likelihood of civil armed conflict and argue that in crises cooperation prevails over conflict (Slettebak, 2012). Climate-related natural disasters are generally associated with lower economic growth, which does not necessarily lead to a higher risk of armed conflict (Bergholt & Lujala, 2012; Koubi, Bernauer, Kalbhenn, & Spilker, 2012). Ethnic division of societies, economic marginalization, and political exclusion of ethnic minorities also influence the likelihood of conflict in response to climatological hazards (e.g., Eriksen & Lind, 2009; Schleussner, Donges, Donner, & Schellnhuber, 2016; von Uexkull et al., 2016). Lack of democratic institutions or conflict mitigation tend to support political violence following drought and other climatic stress in sub-Saharan Africa (Couttenier & Soubeyran, 2014). Findings suggest that climatic shocks serve as risk multipliers in the fragile political situations of Africa, in combination with other social and political factors (Detges, 2017a). Future studies with data on low-level violence should consider both conflict and cooperation after weather-related extreme events and the role of effective and inclusive institutions (Ghimire & Ferreira, 2016; Rüttinger et al., 2015).

Resource Scarcity

Resource scarcity could result from temporary factors such as climate variations, short dry spells, and farming practices, which are characteristic of the Sahel and other parts of Africa. Major concerns are resource conflicts over water, land, and food, which are sensitive to climate-induced precipitation changes that affect water availability, soil quality, and drought frequency. When climate change contributes to water scarcity, there is limited evidence and no scientific consensus whether this leads to water conflict (Ide et al., 2016), which depends on socioeconomic variables such as level of development, resource management practices, or population size factors (Link, Scheffran, & Ide, 2016). Most of these data are only available at the national level rather than for smaller grid cells, which would be necessary for regional and local assessments (Meierding, 2013). Transboundary rivers in Africa are more associated with low-level conflicts and diplomatic tensions than with full-scale wars (Link et al., 2016). The evidence for “water wars” between countries is low while international water agreements have been reached for practically all multinational river basins and cooperation has been more frequent (Wolf, 1998; Wolf, Yoffe, & Giordano, 2003). Several quantitative and qualitative studies emphasize a link between land and soil degradation, land scarcity, political grievances, and violent conflict (e.g., Kahl, 2006). Rather than relying on the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (GLASOD) dataset (Benjaminsen, 2008), studies using other indicators of land degradation are unable to confirm such a link (e.g., Fearon, 2011; Rowhani, Degomme, Guha-Sapir, & Lambin, 2011; Urdal, 2005). That climate change can contribute to food insecurity and violence in Africa (Messer, 2009) has been highlighted by the “food riots” that occurred in several countries between 2007 and 2011, which were related to rising food prices (Bush, 2010; Johnstone & Mazo, 2011; Sternberg, 2012) without explicit evidence on the contribution of climate change. Land acquisitions by foreign investors and declining rural incomes affect poverty and vulnerability and connect climatic shocks and conflict risks in regions most dependent on agriculture, while efforts to help rural communities to adapt can reduce conflict likelihood (Detges, 2017a). Violence related to climatic extremes is more likely when institutions are less effective, people are excluded from power, and essential services are missing (Böhmelt et al., 2014). Political ecologists have therefore argued that resource scarcity, distribution, and access are the result of political power structures (Benjaminsen, Alinon, Buhaug, & Buseth, 2012; Peluso & Watts, 2001; Seter, Theisen, & Schilling, 2018). It is hence important to focus on formal and informal institutions of resource governance to understand any potential links between climate change and conflict.

Environmental Migration and Mobility

People who are negatively affected by climatic stress are expected to migrate to other areas and to compete for resources there (Ide et al., 2016; Klepp, 2017; Koubi, Böhmelt, Spilker, & Schaffer, 2018). There is a wide range of estimates on the number of future displaced people in Africa who are driven by environmental and climatic changes. Empirical findings on the climate–migration–conflict nexus have not reached a consensus whether environmental migration can act as a precursor, transmission mechanism, or intermediary variable between climate vulnerability and violence (Barnett & Adger, 2007; Burrows & Kinney, 2016; Abel, Brottrager, Crespo Cuaresma, & Muttarak, 2019; Reuveny, 2007). Some studies suggest migration as an important adaptation measure to climate change (Black et al., 2011), which could strengthen the resilience of affected communities in parts of Africa, for example, through remittances (Scheffran, Marmer, & Sow, 2012) and a proactive management of migration from climate vulnerable regions (Buhaug & Rudolfsen, 2015). A major challenge in sub-Saharan Africa are conflicts related to shifting migratory routes of herders who need grazing land to avoid livestock losses, while farmers depend on land for growing their harvest, either of which serves as a main source of income, subsistence, and livelihood (Cabot, 2017). As their relationship is already burdened by mechanized agriculture, resource exploitation, land investments, and government policies, farmers and herders rely on, share, and struggle over natural resources such as land and waterholes (Raleigh, 2010). Although climate change adds to the expropriation of small farmers and deprivation of pastoralists, its role in conflicts between both communities in sub-Saharan Africa is ambivalent (Figure 3) (Adano et al., 2012; Benjaminsen et al., 2012; Moritz, 2006; van Baalen & Mobjörk, 2018).

Climate and Conflict in AfricaClick to view larger

Figure 3. Farmer–Herder Conflicts.

Adapted from Scheffran, Link et al. (2012).

The Role of Infrastructure

Road and water infrastructure influence the social and political consequences of climate stress and affect people’s motivation and opportunity to cope with extreme climatic events such as droughts. Infrastructure can alter the risk of political instability in sub-Saharan Africa, either inhibiting or increasing conflict (e.g., de Châtel, 2014; Raleigh, 2010). Regions with poorly developed infrastructure are more vulnerable to drought-induced conflict escalation (Detges, 2016). Major roads play a strategic role, influence the location of armed conflicts over climate-sensitive natural resources, and constrain livestock raiding and communal clashes over grazing land by allowing police and security forces to intervene more readily in local disputes (Detges, 2017b). Deep wells and water infrastructure are local hotspots in livestock raiding between pastoralists. They are also key assets in territorial clashes, in which conflict risk increases in neglected administrative regions with poor access to improved water and road infrastructure (Detges, 2014, 2016).

Vulnerability to Climate and Conflict

A geographic differentiation of the number of deaths from natural disasters and armed conflicts across Africa shows that countries with a low human development index (HDI) are particularly vulnerable to double exposure to natural disasters and armed conflicts (Figure 4) (Scheffran et al., 2012b). It is difficult to separate vulnerability to both climate change and conflict, which can be mutually reinforcing: violent conflict can make societies more vulnerable to climate change while climate change can increase vulnerability to violent conflict (Scheffran, Ide, & Schilling, 2014). This double exposure may undermine human security and trigger an escalating spiral (vicious cycle) of interrelated processes that threaten the ability to find a solution to either problem. Sensitivity of livelihoods to climate stress and coping capacities of people, institutions, and infrastructure affect the probability of violent conflicts (Detges, 2017b; von Uexkull et al., 2016). Whether vulnerability to climate change fuels violence and conflicts is subject to local conditions, which in the remainder of this article are specified for the different regions of Africa.

Climate and Conflict in AfricaClick to view larger

Figure 4. Battle Deaths vs. Disaster Deaths in Countries that Have Experienced Casualties in both Categories since 1978. Data from UCDP/PRIO database (Themnér, 2011) and Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) (Guha-Sapir et al., 2018).

Note: The disasters considered are drought, epidemic, extreme temperature, flood, insect infestation, wet mass movement, storm, and wildfire. The categorization of development is based on the 2017 HDI (adapted from Scheffran et al., 2012b). Country codes: AGO Angola, BDI Burundi, BWA Botswana, CAF Central African Republic, CIV Cote d’Ivoire, CMR Cameroon, COD Congo Democratic Republic, COG Congo, COM Comoros, DJI Djibouti, DZA Algeria, EGY Egypt, ETH Ethiopia, GIN Guinea, GMB Gambia, GNB Guinea-Bissau, KEN Kenya, LBR Liberia, LBZ Libya, LSO Lesotho, MAR Mauritius, MDG Madagascar, MLI Mali, MOZ Mozambique, MRT Mauritania, NAM Namibia, NER Niger, NGA Nigeria, RWA Rwanda, SDN Sudan, SEN Senegal, SLE Sierra Leone, SOM Somalia, SSD South Sudan, SWZ Swaziland, TCD Chad, TGO Togo, TUN Tunisia, TZA Tanzania, UGA Uganda, ZAF South Africa, ZMB Zambia, ZWE Zimbabwe.

North Africa

Climate Change Vulnerability and Human Security

North Africa is connected to and separated from sub-Saharan Africa through the Sahel zone, which spans from West to East Africa and is dominated by the monsoonal system that brings rainfall to the region during one season (IPCC, 2013). Climatic conditions in northern Africa are characterized by dry summers and wet winters with considerable variability. Parts of Morocco and Algeria have been drier than average since the mid-1970s (Fink et al., 2010). Model simulations for the middle of the 21st century point to an average temperature rise of 2 to 3°C, most pronounced in the mountainous regions of the Atlas and more moderate in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean where the marine influence is higher (Hertig & Jacobeit, 2008). Annual precipitation is likely to decrease in North Africa, together with shifts in cyclone tracks, leading to generally drier conditions (Knippertz, Fink, Reiner, & Speth, 2003) and reduced groundwater replenishment. However, there may be more intense precipitation in mid-winter, when extreme events are likely to become more frequent. Long dry spells tend to last longer and have shorter return times (Born, Fink, & Paeth, 2008; Tebaldi, Hayhoe, Arblaster, & Meehl, 2006; Voss, May, & Roeckner, 2002), which reduces water availability and promotes land degradation (Thiombiano & Tourino-Soto, 2007), exacerbated by concurrent increases in demand (Terink, Immerzeel, & Droogers, 2013).

In northern Africa, agriculture is directly affected by changing environmental conditions and is by far the most important consumer of water (more than 80%). Most water for agriculture in Egypt stems from the Nile, while the other countries mostly rely on precipitation. Climate change will likely lead to reductions in agricultural output, which affects the income of the rural populations and the stability of societies (Mougou, Mansour, Iglesias, Chebbi, & Battaglini, 2011). For all countries in northern Africa, except Egypt, it is important to reduce the dependence on rain as the main source of water for agriculture while ensuring that extraction of groundwater does not exceed the replenishing rate (e.g., Johannsen, Hengst, Goll, Höllermann, & Diekkrüger, 2016). All countries in the region experience water stress or water scarcity (Heidecke, 2006; Schilling, Freier, Hertig, & Scheffran, 2012). The coastal zones are also exposed to climate risks, notably to sea level rise. Land losses in low-lying and flat areas such as the Nile River Delta force the local populations to adapt or devise effective mitigation strategies (Abouelfadl & El-Lithy, 2014; Link, Kominek, & Scheffran, 2013) that balance the climate impacts against the cost for coastal protection under financial constraints.

Despite technical advances in resource efficiency, it is challenging to meet the demand of the growing population for food, water, and other resources (Sahnoune, Belhamel, Zelmat, & Kerbachi, 2013), under the combined pressure of climate change and urbanization, which leads to strong resource requirements in populated centers, increasing the reliance on resource imports. There is considerable variability in adaptive capacity to deal with environmental change. While Egypt and Libya traditionally had relatively large income and economic potential, Morocco suffered from income inequalities and development deficits (Schilling et al., 2012). Adaptive capacities, in particular technical and institutional capabilities, have been strongly impaired by the Arab Spring, violent conflict, and the spread of corruption (Werrell & Femia, 2013; Werrell, Femia, & Sternberg, 2015). Undernourishment and lack of drinking water have not been a problem in northern Africa in recent decades. There are still higher levels of knowledge and technology for climate adaptation than in other parts of Africa, particularly in Tunisia, while Morocco’s agriculture is most vulnerable (Yohe et al., 2006).

Linkages Between Climate Change and Conflict

The most intense conflicts in North Africa occurred in Algeria, with nearly 19,000 conflict deaths 1989–2016, followed by Libya with more than 1,500 casualties (UCDP, 2017). Given the high vulnerability and limited adaptive capacities of North African countries, the probability of conflicts may increase if climate change impacts become more pronounced and the demographic pressures on resources continue to increase. The impacts of climate change on the Nile River Basin are frequently discussed. In this context, conflicts about water resources are more likely under continued efforts by upstream countries to emancipate themselves from Egypt’s dominance (Link & Scheffran, 2015; Link, Piontek, Scheffran, & Schilling, 2012; Rahman, 2013; Scheffran, Link, et al., 2012). Schilling et al. (2012) identified Morocco to be particularly vulnerable to climate change but less so to climate and environmental conflicts because the country has not experienced any violent conflicts in recent history. In contrast, Algeria, Egypt, and particularly Libya have an elevated conflict risk because they have experienced violent conflicts, particularly since 2011 (UCDP, 2017). Other factors that affect conflict onset include ethnic diversity and political marginalization, which have been determined for Morocco (Rössler, Kirscht, Rademacher, & Platt, 2010) and for Tunisia (Mougou et al., 2011).

There are only a few studies on individual climate–conflict linkages, often related to the impact of climate variability on agricultural production and the food–water–energy nexus (see Schilling & Krause, 2018, for a recent review of the literature). For instance, simulations suggest declining yields of durum wheat in Algeria (Chourghal, Lhomme, Huard, & Aidaoui, 2016) and adverse impacts on olive oil production, which necessitate changing management schemes and possibly more drought-resistant olive species (Zaied & Zouabi, 2016). Assessments of food-related conflict potentials can be extended to include food prices. Globalization has created close ties among geographically quite distant regions of the world. Droughts in Russia (Egypt’s largest wheat supplier) and China (the world’s largest wheat consumer and producer) may have triggered increases in food prices, financial hardships for citizens, and other cascading effects, significantly destabilizing the region and giving rise to the Arab Spring in 2011 (Femia, Sternberg, & Werrell, 2014; see also Challinor, Adger, & Benton, 2017). Protests started in North Africa (Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya) and then escalated into the Syrian Civil War and the following refugee crisis, in conjunction with an exceptional drought from 2006 to 2010 that further contributed to growing instability in the region (de Châtel, 2014; Kelley, Mohtadi, Cane, Seager, & Kushnir, 2015; Selby et al., 2017). This underscores the complex relationship between the climate system and society through resource availability and human well-being.

East Africa

Climate Change Vulnerability and Human Security

East Africa has experienced an increase by 1 to 1.25°C average surface temperature from 1901 to 2012 (IPCC, 2013, p. 193), which accelerated to between 0.2°C and 0.4°C per decade in the period from 1981 to 2012 (IPCC, 2013, p. 194). Precipitation trends are less reliable because of lacking and inconsistent data (IPCC, 2013, p. 215). Several studies suggest growing rainfall variability (Black, Slingo, & Sperber, 2003; Conway, Hanson, Doherty, & Persechino, 2007; Cook & Vizy, 2013; Schilling, Akuno, Scheffran, & Weinzierl, 2014), together with more frequent heavy rainfall events and droughts (Dutra et al., 2013; Liebmann et al., 2014; Tierney, Ummenhofer, & deMenocal, 2015). Over the Horn of Africa, northern Kenya, and most of the Sudan, rainfall was 30% to 75% below normal between 2008 and 2011 (Nicholson, 2014; Rowell, Booth, Nicholson, & Good, 2015). Future climate projections include more warming, rainfall variability, and heavy precipitation (Cook & Vizy, 2013; McSweeney, New, & Lizcano, 2008), shrinking groundwater resources, and disappearing glaciers and ice cover (Adhikari, Nejadhashemi, & Herman, 2015).

East Africa is characterized by high sensitivity to climate conditions and limited adaptive capacity (Ide et al., 2014). Increased rainfall variability poses a challenge to the most common livelihoods—agriculture and pastoralism (Blackwell, 2011). More frequent droughts have particularly negative effects on food security in Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and parts of Kenya and Uganda (Demeke, Keil, & Zeller, 2011; Haile, 2005; UNOCHA, 2011), notably the 2011/2012 famine in Somalia (Reliefweb, 2012). In Kenya, rain mostly falls March to May (“long rains”) and to a lesser degree October to December (“short rains”), which is essential for the mostly rainfed agriculture, providing one third of gross domestic product (GDP) and almost two thirds of employment (CIA, 2018; McSweeney et al., 2008).

Climate change can negatively affect human health through the spread of mosquitos and malaria (Pascual, Ahumada, Chaves, Rodo, & Bouma, 2006), particularly in high lands. Heavy rainfall events lead to more water bodies that subsequently become breeding grounds for mosquitos. The capacity to avoid and treat malaria and to adapt to drought and other extreme weather conditions is particularly low in Somalia while Kenya has the highest GDP per capita ($3,500) in East Africa (CIA, 2018). More people will be exposed to projected climate change, as the population of East Africa is expected to more than double from around 422 million in 2017 to 886 million in 2050. Ethiopia remains the most populated country (105 million), followed by Tanzania (57 million), which expects the strongest absolute growth (95 million) between 2017 and 2050. Burundi, Malawi, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, Uganda, and South Sudan are projected to double their population by 2050 (PRB, 2017).

Linkages Between Climate Change and Conflict

The level of conflict varies strongly across the region and over time. Since its independence in 2011, more than 4,000 battle-related deaths were recorded for South Sudan (UCDP, 2017). Most scholars attribute the conflicts in South Sudan to oil resources (Pantuliano, 2010; Switzer, 2002; Wenar, 2013). In the same period (2011–2015), 7,857 are estimated to have been killed in violent conflicts in Somalia (UCDP, 2017), which is often portrayed as a “failed state” (Bøås & Jennings, 2007, p. 1474). Maystadt and Ecker (2014) have argued that in Somalia drought intensity and length increases the likelihood of violent conflict. Several neighboring countries, like Kenya, support the Somali government in “the war on terror” (Malito, 2015, p. 1866) against al-Shabaab and other terrorist organizations (Marchal, 2009). Other countries have had conflict-related deaths concentrated around particular events. These were the genocide in Rwanda of 1994, killing about half a million people (Hintjens, 2013; UCDP, 2017), and the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which resulted in more than 17,000 deaths in 1999 in Eritrea and more than 80,000 deaths between 1998 and 2000 in Ethiopia (UCDP, 2017; White, 2005). During the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya, almost 800 people were killed (de Smedt, 2009; UCDP, 2017). In Burundi and Uganda, the most violent period lasted from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s (UCDP, 2017). Tanzania has been by far the most peaceful country in recent decades, followed by Djibouti.

Despite numerous studies, there is no scientific evidence that climatic changes had a major effect on large-scale conflicts in East Africa (for an overview see Mobjörk, 2017; van Baalen & Mobjörk, 2018). There have been strong claims on Sudan, and the Darfur province was called a “tragic example of the collapse of a society” (UNEP, 2007) as a result of environmental change. Others warn against the “danger of simplifying Darfur” (Butler, 2007) and criticize that the government of Sudan is using climate change to distract from its own responsibility for events (Verhoeven, 2015). The impacts of environmental influence remain controversial, in addition to the complex conflict constellations in Sudan’s civil war. These include marginalization and exclusion, disintegration and secession, food insecurity and unsustainable land use, population pressure and diseases, political instability and continued violence, power games and global geopolitics (see de Juan, 2015; Maystadt, Calderone, & You, 2015; and for a more nuanced view Scheffran et al., 2014). De Juan (2015) finds a link between environmental change and geographical patterns of violence.

The vast majority of studies on climate–conflict linkages in East Africa have focused on Kenya, particularly on smaller-scale violent conflicts between pastoral groups. Table 1 summarizes the key statements of relevant studies, which mostly found an indirect link. Most listed studies suggest a link between (drought-related) resource scarcity and conflict while others find that a higher level of violence is associated with more rainfall and hence increased resource availability: “Raiders like to attack during wet years because of high grass, strong animals, dense bush to hide in and the availability of surface water, which makes it easier to trek with the animals” (Witsenburg & Adano, 2009, p. 723). Eaton (2008a, 2008b) stresses that during drought pastoralists are too occupied with keeping their own livestock alive and therefore have no capacity for attacks.

Schilling et al. (2012) have tried to reconcile these seemingly opposing explanations with the formulation of the “Resource Abundance and Scarcity Threshold” (RAST) hypothesis: “In regular years with sufficient rain, raiding is mostly conducted before and during the rainy seasons because animals are healthier, they can travel longer distances and raiders find cover for their attacks. But when rains partly or completely fail and a certain threshold of resource scarcity is reached, raids are conducted despite less fortunate raiding conditions” (Schilling et al., 2012, p. 256). The authors distinguish between raids during dry periods to gain or secure control over scarce pasture and water resources and raids during wet periods to acquire livestock. Due to the complex climate–conflict connection, the hypothesis remains vague on the threshold between resource abundance and resource scarcity. Mobjörk (2017) and van Baalen and Mobjörk (2018) provide further insights into mechanisms and links between climate and conflict variables in East Africa. A review of case studies of conflicts among pastoralists and between pastoralists and farmers in East and West Africa finds that droughts contribute to conflict but warns against a “simple stimulus (resource scarcity)–response (violence) relationship,” instead pointing to “control over, use of, and access to resources” as a likely cause of conflict (Seter et al., 2018, p. 169).

Table 1. Main Findings and Statements on the Link between Climatic and Conflict Variables in Kenya since 2007

Main Findings/Statements

Link

County/Scope

Reference

“There is some evidence of a direct, though limited, link between observed drought and violent attitudes.”

Y

Kenya statewide

Linke, Witmer, O’Loughlin, McCabe, and Tir (2018, p. 1545)

“raids by the Turkana are motivated by drought conditions when the survival of the herd depends on temporary access to pastures in dangerous areas.”

Y

Turkana

Adem, Ember, Skoggard, Jones, and Faas (2012, p. 15)

“Climate change is seen as the driving force towards resource competition and consequently resource-based conflict.”

Y

Kajiado, Machakos

Njiru (2012, p. 516)

“Climatic factors do influence the risk of conflict and conflict events. I find quite strong evidence for years following wetter years being less safe than drier years.”

Y

Kenya statewide

Theisen (2012, p. 93)

“We find a definitive relationship between high rainfall patterns and conflict within Kenya.”

Y

Kenya statewide

Raleigh and Kniveton (2010, p. 15)

“Climate change is one of a range of factors causing natural resource scarcity; while natural resource scarcity is one of a range of factors causing conflict.”

Y

Laikipia, Samburu

Campbell, Dalrymple, Rob, and Crawford (2009, p. 6)

“Scarcity, mobility and competition, aggravated by climatic conditions, lead to conflict within and across borders.”

Y

Laikipia, Samburu, Turkana, West Pokot

Mkutu (2008, p. 16)

“The data-driven modelling of behavior has shown that environmental resources can result in disproportionately large variations in the frequency of conflict and cooperation.”

Y

Mandera

Kennedy et al. (2008, p. 7)

“More conflicts and killings take place in wet season times of relative abundance, and less in dry season times of relative scarcity.”

Y

Marsabit

Adano et al. (2012, p. 77)

“There are three times more killings during rainy season than during the dry seasons. This indicates that in northern Kenya raids-related violence is influenced by climatic fluctuations, which also implies that climate change will have an effect on (in)security.”

Y

Marsabit

Witsenburg and Adano (2009, p. 536)

“Deterioration in the climate and environment alone does not lead to conflict, as local populations have learned to adapt to their environments. It is when it is coupled with other social, political, and economic factors that exacerbate scarcity that conflicts become more likely.”

Y

Marsabit

Temesgen (2010, p. 52)

“Climate change will exacerbate the drought situation, leading to competition over scarce resources and conflicts among resource users.”

Y

Marsabit, Isiolo

Doti (2010, p. 200)

“Environmental factors do appear to influence pastoral conflict if only in the influence and constraints they pose to those making the tactical decisions to engage in raids.”

Y

Turkana, West Pokot, Trans-Nzoia

Meier, Bond, and Bond (2007, p. 733)

“On the Turkana side, the reduction in pasture, water, and livestock has made raiding the only survival alternative other than relying on food aid. Consequently, hunger and drought were identified as the main motives for raiding.”

Y

Turkana, West Pokot

Schilling, Opiyo, and Scheffran (2012, p. 13)

“Climate variability and change have led to increased droughts and floods which have resulted in the loss of animal and human lives, displacements and destruction of property, reduced pasture availability and scarcity of water. This has increased poverty and competition over scarce resources—leading to conflicts, particularly livestock raiding.”

Y

Turkana

Omolo (2010, p. 98)

“Vast swathes of Turkana are considered to have a risk of livestock raiding, being most frequent in the dry season when herds are driven to distant borders where grazing and browse is more plentiful.”

Y

Turkana

Eriksen and Lind (2009, p. 827)

“Pastoralist violence is more likely close to permanent water sources and in wetter areas, where animals can be appropriated more easily.”

Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera

Detges (2014, p. 63)

“Although it may seem logical to suggest that scarcity causes violence, in reality local practice ensures that this is rarely the case.” “In the North Rift, raiding tends to fluctuate seasonally, reaching a major peak during the rainy season.”

N/Y

West Pokot

Eaton (2008a, pp. 100–101)

Note: The column “Link” denotes whether the study found a relationship between the variables (Y) or not (N).

West Africa

Climate Change Vulnerability and Human Security

West Africa spans different climate zones, from the southern parts of the subhumid Sudano-Guinean savanna woodland with a tropical climate and dry seasons to the northern region with an arid to semi-arid climate and Sahelian grasslands (UNEP, 2008, p. 8). Average temperature increased by 0.2 to 1°C between 1970 and 2004, while there was also a number of warm spells and drought episodes (IPCC, 2007). Climate projections are increased warming, decreased and irregular rainfall, more frequent natural hazards, and biodiversity losses. Local perceptions suggest that climate change affects reductions in rainfall and scarcity of forage resources and green pasture (Zampaligré, Dossa, & Schlecht, 2014).

West Africa is highly dependent on pastoralism (Basupi, Quinn, & Dougill, 2017), and 50% of the economically active population work in the livestock sector (SWAC/OECD, 2009), which contributes from 5% (in Côte d’Ivoire) to 44% (in Mali) to the agricultural GDP (Cabot, 2017, p. 15). The eco-climatological gradient covers the original habitat of the Fulani (Fulbe) livestock herders who move seasonally between rainy and dry season grazing areas (Niamir-Fuller, 1999), which overlap with the areas on which growing numbers of smallholder farmers cultivate various dryland crops (Brottem, 2016). Environmental changes accelerate southward herd movements during drought and back during rainy season, away from Sahelian dry zones in Mali and northern Burkina Faso, toward Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire (de Bruijn & van Dijk, 2003, pp. 284–285). This aggravates competition with farmers and other herders over land and water sources (Bassett & Turner, 2007, p. 33; Brottem, 2016; Tonah, 2003, p. 92). With rains ending earlier, drying surface ponds along transhumance routes increase pressure on grazing (Brottem, 2016). Some herders partly abandon their mobile lifestyles and develop farming as a side activity (Turner, Ayantunde, Patterson, & Patterson, 2011, p. 184, 187).

Due to a combination of high exposure and sensitivity to climate change, strong dependence on agriculture and low adaptive capacity, West Africa is highly vulnerable to climate change (Cabot, 2017). Climate hotspots cover an area from Burkina Faso to northern Ghana, southeastern Mali, and southwestern Niger (Hamro-Drotz, 2014). Three droughts (2004–2005, 2009–2010, 2012) resulted in food crises for over 10 million people (Cabot, 2017; WFP, 2012). Between 2010 and 2011, 22 million people were impacted by climate shocks, mainly droughts (Guha-Sapir, Below, & Hoyois, 2018). Farmers and herders in Sahelian drylands are affected by desertification and soil degradation, contributing to food insecurity and malnutrition (Safriel, 2011, p. 838). Weak adaptive capacity is indicated by a low HDI (e.g., in Côte d’Ivoire (position 168), Burkina Faso (183), and Ghana (135) in 2013), high infant mortality, poverty, internal instability, and weak governance (Busby et al., 2012, pp. 480, 502). The population of West Africa is projected to grow at a rapid pace, from 371 million in mid-2017 to 809 million in 2050 at a fertility rate of 5.3, with the highest fertility rates in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso and the largest absolute growth of 219.7 million in Nigeria (PRB, 2017). The whole region in 2016 had an average gross national income (GNI) of $4,095 per capita (in purchasing power parity): the lowest in Liberia ($700) and Niger ($970) and the highest in Cape Verde ($6,220), Ghana ($4,150), and Nigeria ($5,740). As populations grow, cultivation areas are expanding, leaving less land for cattle grazing (Cabot, 2017).

Linkages Between Climate Change and Conflict

West Africa accounted for 30 conflicts in 2017 (HIIK, 2018) and a total of 46,865 casualties between 1989 and 2016 (UCDP, 2017). The largest number of conflicts occurred in Nigeria, with nearly 20,000 casualties until 2016, followed by Sierra Leone with more than 12,000 casualties. Other countries with multiple conflicts are Mali, Mauretania, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Niger. While many conflicts are predominantly dealing with political issues, resource competition, rural population growth, and livelihood changes play significant roles in conflict across West Africa’s agro-pastoral zone (Cabot, 2017). Farmer–herder competition is aggravated by changing environmental conditions and livelihood strategies. The southward migration of herders and the northward expansion of farmers have increased conflict over agricultural fields, grazing areas, and water points (Bassett & Turner, 2007, p. 34). Blocked resource access and crop damage are perceived as unjust and provocative, particularly when perceived as intentional and not adequately compensated financially (Brottem, 2016). Individual farmer–herder encounters occasionally escalate into violent confrontations over land access, land rights, and social relationships, identity, and citizenship (Bukari, Kesseler, Menter, & Maass, 2017). However, pastoralists have a history of coexistence and cooperation with sedentary farmers over shared resources. Whether conflict or cooperation prevails depends on multiple factors such as political processes, actor constellations, power relations, land politics, external processes and group mobilizations, state failure, and institutional deficits in conflict resolution (Bukari et al., 2017; Bukari, Sow, & Scheffran, 2018).

Climate change potentially affects several variables relevant for conflict but is difficult to attribute in the nexus of multiple factors (Breusers, Nederlof, & van Rheenen, 1998; Shettima & Tar, 2008). Violent conflicts between herders and farmers are often associated with resource scarcity and local environmental change, crop destruction, and cattle rustling and killing, which are sensitive to climate change (Bukari et al., 2017). Droughts have a particularly severe impact on crop damage and livestock mobility. Expansion of intensive agriculture and a shift from perennial to annual grasses modifies land cover and grazing resources (Brottem, 2016). Even if violent conflicts “manifest themselves as competition over natural resources such as conflicts over crop damage, the underlying conflicts may not be primarily about resource scarcity, even when participants publicly express them as resource-related conflicts” (Moritz, 2010, p. 4). Violent conflicts are aggravated by the proliferation of modern arms (Aning & Atta-Asamoah, 2011, p. 354), in addition to simple arms such as machetes, which are frequently used in local violence. In the following, climate–conflict linkages are discussed for several countries in West Africa.

Nigeria

Since 2011, one of the bloodiest conflicts is the war between the Islamist group Boko Haram and the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger (cf. the section “Central Africa”). Side effects were the destruction of the water infrastructure, disrupting access to clean water for 3.6 million people, severe food insecurity for 5 million people in northeast Nigeria, and displacement of 1.8 million people (HIIK, 2018). Other violent conflicts are the civil war over arable land in Nigeria’s Middle Belt between farmers and Fulani nomads. As climate adaptation is difficult to realize in a conflict-prone environment, the effects of climate change contribute to societal destabilization. Northeast Nigeria has experienced drastic reductions in rainfall and increased dryness and heat, making it a fast-growing arid environment. Consequences are a depletion of water, flora and fauna resources, and a chain between resource pressure, population movements, and farmer–herder conflicts (Nyong, Fiki, & McLeman, 2006). Environmental conflicts over grazing land, cattle, water points, and cultivable land are mostly local, sometimes with international repercussions around borders (Obioha, 2008). For instance, violent clashes between Christian Tarok farmers and Muslim Fulani nomads started with cattle theft, resulting in more than two thousand deaths and the flight of 20,000 nomads (Moritz, 2006, p. 3). To contain conflict, outside institutions may be less suitable than traditional institutions legitimized in family, chieftaincy, village councils, and native court systems (Nyong et al., 2006).

Mali

Mali has turned into a violent conflict zone after the Arab Spring when the Tuareg, who had been in Ghaddafi’s forces, returned to Mali after the war in Libya, and the government was unable to control remote locations against jihadist rebel groups of the north (HIIK, 2018). Farmer–herder conflicts are widely spread in Mali, following disastrous droughts in semi-arid West Africa in the 1970s and mid-1980s. Herders in search of pasture and water moved much further south for extended periods (Tonah, 2006), aggravating resource claims and conflicts over crop damage. The impact of climate change on conflict remains disputed (Benjaminsen & Ba, 2009; Benjaminsen et al., 2012) and is related to resource issues such as access of herders to natural water points and property rights to hand-dug wells versus customary rights held by farmers (Brottem, 2016).

Ghana

While farmer–herder conflicts in Ghana are driven by the quest for land, they are intricately linked with crop destruction and cattle rustling, resource competition, access to water points, and contested boundaries as well as unpaid compensation, cash cropping, and mechanized agriculture (Cabot, 2017). Ghana’s resource tenure laws and land access politics (Lentz, 2005) favor crop production and leave Fulani herders landless, with limited access and rights to land. From 2006 to 2016, more than one hundred incidents of violent tensions between farmers and herders were reported. Key conflict actors are cattle owners, chiefs, youth groups, government officials, politicians, and farmer associations, involving political networks and power structures at local and national levels (Bukari et al., 2017). Changing climatic conditions in Ghana are hard to single out as an identifiable conflict factor and combine with resource struggles and diverse social relations.

Burkina Faso

Conflicts between Fulani nomadic herders and Mossi sedentary farmers are a growing concern in Burkina Faso where the number of cattle doubled between 1997 and 2008 (Breusers et al., 1998, p. 357; Moritz, 2006, p. 2). Since a large number of the central-southern herders in Burkina Faso live in Ghana, the search for grazing land for their livestock provokes cross-border conflicts (Cabot, 2017; IRIN, 2010). Food price spikes are an additional conflict factor. Rather than making natural causes such as drought or flooding responsible for poor harvests, protest actors tend to blame the government for high market prices of fundamental goods (Engels, 2015).

Central Africa

Climate Change Vulnerability and Human Security

In Central Africa, the climate is tropical and relatively stable. Interseasonal variation is more significant north and south of the equator toward drier climate zones. Temperatures have increased over the past half-century with declining rainfall and number of cold days (IPCC, 2014) despite some recovery before the turn of the millennium. Extreme events are considered to become more frequent, including hot days and droughts. There is no statistical evidence, however, that an increase in the occurrences and severity of floods in the densely populated areas such as Douala city can be attributed to altered rainfall patterns (Yengoh, Fogwe, & Armah, 2017). Changing environmental conditions have contributed to deforestation, for example, about 1% annually between 1970 and 1990 (Dixon, Perry, & Vanderklein, 1996), a trend that is projected to continue. Detrimental consequences are substantial for human sustenance of forest resources, for biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Current water stress is also supposed to rise in response to increasing climate variability and frequency of extreme events such as droughts. However, the water–climate nexus may be dwarfed by anthropogenic effects such as fast population growth and inefficient water management.

Central African societies are already vulnerable to multiple impacts of climate change (IPCC, 2014) together with other factors of vulnerability such as demographic development. Regionally growing populations and planning failures can be associated with higher vulnerabilities to environmental extreme events. Given the continuously high birth rates, the population may more than double by the middle of the 21st century (PRB, 2016), likely adding to the existing vulnerability from intense land use and increasing climate variability.

For instance, in northern Cameroon, the observed reduction of water resources is expected to continue in the near future (Cheo, Voigt, & Mbua, 2013). The agricultural sector is vulnerable to climatic changes, as increasing temperatures may lead to considerable reductions in crop yields (Tingem & Rivington, 2009; Tingem, Rivington, & Bellocchi, 2009) and more than 80% of the population rely on agriculture for their sustenance (Azibo & Kimengsi, 2015). The societal structure also has a profound influence on the adaptive capacity of subsistence farmers (Molua, 2002, 2012). In order to reduce vulnerability and enhance adaptive capacity, specific agro-pastoral adaptation frameworks are proposed that combine local knowledge and perception with practices and information on possible future scenarios. Crop management models can help to offset crop losses and probably lead to higher overall agricultural production. Besides agriculture, the vast forest resources in Central Africa are of economic importance, particularly for the forest communities of Cameroon in the Congo Basin. Adaptation measures are often outdated, inappropriate, or lack reference to climate change (Bele, Somorin, Sonwa, Nkem, & Locatelli, 2011). Successful adaptation requires management to address continued losses of forests and biodiversity, and support human well-being and the specific needs of the local population (Bele, Sonwa, & Tiani, 2013, 2014, 2015).

Linkages Between Climate Change and Conflict

The most intense conflict region in Central Africa is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with 12 ongoing conflicts (HIIK, 2018) and nearly 28,000 conflict deaths between 1989 and 2016, followed by Congo with more than 15,000 casualties (UCDP, 2017). Although climate change is projected to have major environmental and societal implications and despite several long-lasting conflicts, there has been fairly limited systematic research on linkages between climate change and conflict in Central Africa. Long-term intra- and interstate conflicts in the DRC have had considerable adverse environmental impacts, reducing biodiversity and the abundance of numerous natural resources, which has caused substantial economic hardship for large parts of the population and increased vulnerability to environmental change (Milburn, 2014). Nonetheless, even an end to conflict would not automatically imply a fundamental improvement in the well-being of the population as the uncertainties from climate change remain.

A major humanitarian crisis has emerged in the Lake Chad region, connecting a complex set of fragility conditions in Western and Central Africa (Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon), including the lack of basic services like health and education, inequality, political marginalization, and exclusion of communities. Contributing to the crisis is environmental stress from rainfall variability, droughts, and declining water and arable land in a shrinking Lake Chad region (Lemoalle, Bader, Leblanc, & Sedick, 2012; Okonkwo, Demoz, & Onyeukwu, 2013). This adds to the vulnerability of people, aggravating unemployment, poverty, and hunger. Existential livelihood risks and tensions between farmers, pastoralists, and fishers create pathways to insecurity and violent conflict (Okpara, Stringer, Dougill, & Bila, 2015). Livelihood insecurity and high rates of youth unemployment increase the likelihood of young people being recruited by non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram, offering a salary, food, and education (Antwi-Boateng, 2017). Control over territory, people, resources, and harvest feeds armed conflict, which contributes to destabilization and displacement, leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance (UNDP, 2018). Climate change is highlighted as a risk multiplier and crisis catalyzer, further fueling the region’s fragility and undermining solutions (Vivekananda & Born, 2018). A UN report discusses implementation of the Lake Chad Development and Climate Resilience Action Plan and suggests measures to address the root causes of the crisis, water and food supply, humanitarian assistance, prevention of violence, deradicalization, and reintegration of former fighters (UNSC, 2017).

While climate policy in the region has so far mostly addressed mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, increasing attention is now also paid to adaptation measures (Chia, Somorin, Sonwa, Bele, & Tiani 2015). Conservation of the vast resources of the Central African countries can also be a driver of cooperation and an incentive to abstain from conflict. An assessment of the Central African Republic reveals that simply increasing security forces may add to insecurity rather than reducing conflict or violence (Mehler, 2012). Conflict resolution can be possibly promoted by the engagement of multinational enterprises (Kolk & Lenfant, 2013) although their role is not undisputed. Innovative plans for cooperation need to consider conflict history, governance frameworks, and how to embed themselves into local societal structures.

Southern Africa

Climate Change Vulnerability and Human Security

For the period 1901 to 2012, two climate models suggest an increase of 1.25 to 1.6°C for Southern Africa while one model even identifies a temperature range of 1.75 to 2.5°C for the southern tip of South Africa (IPCC, 2013, p. 193). More recently (1981–2012), the warming trend has been 0.2 to 0.3°C per decade (IPCC, 2013, p. 194). As in other parts of Africa, precipitation trends are less clear and reliable (IPCC, 2013, p. 215). A study that finds a decrease in precipitation sees a “limited consensus among the various data sets with regard to rainfall” (Jury, 2013, p. 2). Projections suggest temperatures will increase by 2°C and seasonally even 3.5°C (average mean 2011 to 2060, compared to 1951 to 2000), and precipitation will decrease by 25% for the rainy season (December to February) (Lutz, Volkholz, & Gerstengarbe, 2013). The IPCC (2013) projects an increase of heatwaves, dry spells, and extreme precipitation.

More people will be exposed to climatic changes as the population of Southern Africa is projected to increase from 65 million in 2017 to 88 million in 2050 (PRB, 2017). In terms of GDP per capita, adaptive capacity across Southern Africa varies from $18,100 and $13,400 in Botswana and South Africa to $1,200 in Malawi (CIA, 2018). Employment is more vulnerable to climate change than GDP, as the agricultural sector contributes from less than 10% to more than 25% of GDP and most of employment (up to 80 to 90%) (CIA, 2018). Food security in several countries is vulnerable to climate change. Several studies estimate losses in crop yields for maize by more than 40% between 2000 and 2080 in Mozambique and Zimbabwe (Conway et al., 2015), decreases of maize yields by 20% and sorghum by 16% in Swaziland. In contrast, there may be increases for the high altitude regions of Lesotho (+8% and +51% respectively, between baseline 1961–2000 and future 2046–2065) (Zinyengere, Crespo, Hachigonta, & Tadross, 2014). However, the analysis of rainfall, GDP, and crop production for Southern Africa “shows mostly weak and statistically insignificant correlations” (Conway et al., 2015, p. 843), partly due to data limitations. Furthermore, climate change will have a great effect on water resources (Kusangaya, Warburton, van Garderen, & Jewitt, 2014); Mozambique is particularly vulnerable because of its heavy dependence on hydropower (Yamba et al., 2011).

Linkages Between Climate Change and Conflict

Apart from the civil war in Angola, which lasted from 1975 to 2002, and violent phases in South Africa and Mozambique in the early 1990s, Southern Africa has seen relatively few violent conflicts and related deaths since the mid-1990s (UCDP, 2017). Zimbabwe experienced one spike of 253 deaths during the 2008 presidential elections (see Brayton, 2011; UCDP, 2017). By far the most violent year in Southern Africa was 1993, for which more than 13,300 conflict deaths were recorded in Angola’s civil war (UCDP, 2017). The country is often portrayed as “a classic case of the resource curse” (Hammond, 2011, p. 348), which draws the link between resource wealth, in this case oil, and the likelihood of civil war (Auty, 2004).

There are few studies that explore (potential) linkages between climatic and conflict variables in Southern Africa. A study on the impact of socioeconomic changes on integrated water resource management of the Okavango catchment concludes that “an outbreak of violent conflict between the riparian states is currently unlikely” (Weinzierl & Schilling, 2013, p. 75). Another study finds that within South Africa, “an increase in positive temperature extremes as well as positive and negative excess rainfall at the origin act as a push effect and enhance out-migration” (Mastrorillo et al., 2016, p. 155). The link between climatic variables and migration is particularly strong for black and low-income South Africans. While migration may potentially contribute to conflict in the receiving areas (Reuveny, 2007), it is unclear if this is or will be the case in South Africa. There are studies on existing water conflicts in Southern Africa, which could be affected by climate change. For example, in parts of Zambia conflicts between water users over boreholes tend to start in the dry season (Funder, Mweemba, Nyambe, van Koppen, & Ravnborg, 2010), while in Namibia conflicts are documented between farmers and pastoralists (Verlinden & Kruger, 2007).

Concluding Reflections on the Climate–Conflict Nexus in Africa

No scientific consensus has emerged on whether and how climate change triggers or contributes to violent conflict in Africa. This is because different factors matter in different regions of Africa and the overall link between climate change and violent conflict in Africa is likely to be indirect, complex, and related to multiple political, economic, and social factors. Several studies indicate that climate-induced natural disasters can destabilize societies with weak economies, mixed political regimes, and pre-existing conflicts. Other studies find resource conflicts arising from unequal distribution of aid, changing power relationships, and opportunities for warlords. Droughts tend to affect civil conflict in regions dependent on rainfed agriculture. Qualitative regional case studies and conceptual frameworks can help to capture the complex linkages between climate change, vulnerability, and violent conflict. Conflict escalation cannot be explained by a single factor such as climate change. However, in “hotspots,” multiple drivers, actors, and actions can interact in complex vicious circles that undermine state authority and overstretch problem-solving capabilities.

The interaction between vulnerability to climate change and conflict is subject to regionally specific conditions across Africa. In North Africa, water allocation (particularly in the Nile River Basin), food, land use, and agriculture are most likely related to violent conflicts. Rising food prices may have contributed to cascading events that destabilized the region in the wake of the Arab Spring. In East Africa, environmental change combines with social and political issues, such as marginalization and exclusion, food problems, population pressure, refugee movements, and political instability, likely contributing to conflicts between pastoralists and other groups, which remain controversial with regard to their significance. West Africa experiences vulnerability to climate change and land use together with violent conflict, for example, between farmers and herders. Less systematic research on the linkages between climate change and conflict is available for Central Africa and South Africa, which are both shaped by adverse environmental impacts, migration, and major conflicts related to natural resource exploitation and scarcity.

A political ecology perspective not only challenges simplistic linkages of farmer–herder conflicts with resource scarcity, and environmental and climate change, but also considers political power relations, complex actor networks, and social processes as well as citizenship and land use rights (Bassett, 1998; le Billon, 2001; Turner, 2004). The conflict situation affects the conditions for resource management. New integrative strategies assess how different lifestyles are affected by ecosystem services provided by natural resources to local people. Vulnerabilities and adaptation measures to altered climate conditions are considerably different for farming or pastoralist livelihood strategies (Nkem et al., 2013), encompassing local knowledge and the capacity building of institutions and governance structures that can support rural communities affected by climate change (Brown & Sonwa, 2015). All geographical levels (local, regional, and federal) and all types of society (government, private sector, and civil society) are to be included.

Cooperative solutions for sustainable peace and environmental peace may emerge when communities see environmental change as a common security issue that needs to be jointly addressed by collaboration to use and share resources in a sustainable and efficient way (Ide, 2018; Ide & Scheffran, 2014; Ostrom et al., 2002). In crises, cooperation often prevails over conflict, and the number of international water agreements and cooperation have been increasing (Wolf, 1998). Policies and institutions can reduce conflicts linked to climate change, using a range of policy levers from mitigation and adaptation to development. Measures to reduce agro-pastoral conflicts include the joint management of common pool resources, the protection of resources from degradation against harsh climate conditions, and soil and water conservation techniques, as well as land fertilization by cattle manure. With regard to the societal boundary conditions, the revision of land tenure and pastoral legislation, notably on access to resources, the strengthening of local structures for conflict settlement and prevention with participation of traditional leaders, representatives of the local administration, and civil society organizations, as well as sensitization and information sharing could be useful strategies to reduce conflict risk (Cabot, 2017).

Further Reading

Adams, C., Ide, T., Barnett, J., & Detges, A. (2018). Sampling bias in climate–conflict research. Nature Climate Change, 8, 200–203.Find this resource:

    van Baalen, S., & Mobjörk, M. (2018). Climate change and violent conflict in East Africa: Integrating qualitative and quantitative research to probe the mechanisms. International Studies Review, 20(4), 547–575.Find this resource:

      Benjaminsen, T. A., Alinon, K., Buhaug, H., & Buseth, J. T. (2012). Does climate change drive land-use conflicts in the Sahel? Journal of Peace Research, 49(1), 97–111.Find this resource:

        Bernauer, T., Böhmelt, T., & Koubi, V. (2012). Environmental changes and violent conflict. Environmental Research Letters, 7(1), 8.Find this resource:

          Brzoska, M. (2018). Weather extremes, disasters, and collective violence: Conditions, mechanisms, and disaster-related policies in recent research. Current Climate Change Reports, 4, 320–329.Find this resource:

            Buhaug, H. (2010). Climate not to blame for African civil wars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16477–16482.Find this resource:

              Burke, M. B., Miguel, E., Shanker, S., Dykema, J. A., & Lobell, D. B. (2009). Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(49), 20670–20674.Find this resource:

                Burrows, K., & Kinney, P. L. (2016). Exploring the climate change, migration and conflict nexus. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(4), 443.Find this resource:

                  Busby, J. W., Smith, T. G., & Krishnan, N. (2014). Climate security vulnerability in Africa mapping 3.0. Political Geography, 43, 51–67.Find this resource:

                    Cabot, C. (2017). Climate change, security risks and conflict reduction in Africa. Berlin & Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.Find this resource:

                      Detges, A. (2017). Climate and conflict: Reviewing the statistical evidence: A summary for policymakers. Climate Diplomacy Report, Berlin.Find this resource:

                        Hendrix, C. S. (2017). The streetlight effect in climate change research on Africa. Global Environmental Change, 43, 137–147.Find this resource:

                          Ide, T., Link, P. M., Scheffran, J., & Schilling, J. (2016). The climate–conflict nexus: Pathways, regional links, and case studies. In H. G. Brauch, U. Oswald-Spring, J. Grin, & J. Scheffran (Eds.), Handbook on sustainability transition and sustainable peace (pp. 285–304). Berlin & Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.Find this resource:

                            Ide, T., Schilling, J., Link, J. S. A., Scheffran, J., Ngaruiya, G., & Weinzierl, T. (2014). On exposure, vulnerability and violence: Spatial distribution of risk factors for climate change and violent conflict across Kenya and Uganda. Political Geography, 43, 68–81.Find this resource:

                              Johnstone, S., & Mazo, J. (2011). Global warming and the Arab Spring. Survival, 53(2), 11–17.Find this resource:

                                Koubi, V., Bernauer, T., Kalbhenn, A., & Spilker, G. (2012). Climate variability, economic growth, and civil conflict. Journal of Peace Research, 49(1), 113–127.Find this resource:

                                  Meierding, E. (2013). Climate change and conflict: Avoiding small talk about the weather. International Studies Review, 15(2), 185–203.Find this resource:

                                    Scheffran, J., Brzoska, M., Brauch, H. G., Link, P. M., & Schilling, J. (Eds.). (2012). Climate change, human security and violent conflict. Berlin & Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.Find this resource:

                                      Scheffran, J., Brzoska, M., Kominek, J., Link, P. M., & Schilling, J. (2012). Disentangling the climate–conflict nexus: Empirical and theoretical assessment of vulnerabilities and pathways. Review of European Studies, 4(5), 1–13.Find this resource:

                                        Schleussner, C. F., Donges, J. F., Donner, R. V., & Schellnhuber, H. J. (2016). Armed-conflict risks enhanced by climate-related disasters in ethnically fractionalized countries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(33), 9216–9221.Find this resource:

                                          von Uexkull, N., Croicu, M., Fjelde, H., & Buhaug, H. (2016). Civil conflict sensitivity to growing-season drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(44), 12391–12396.Find this resource:

                                            Werrell, C. E., & Femia, F. (2013). The Arab Spring and climate change. Center for American Progress, Stimson, and Center for Climate and Security, Washington, DC.Find this resource:

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Notes:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (1.) UCDP/PRIO is the Uppsala Conflict Data Program at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University and the Centre for the Study of Civil War at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. ACLED is the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project at the University of Sussex. SCAD is the Social Conflict Analysis Database in the Climate Change and African Political Stability Program of the University of Texas.