Research Reports

ACCORD reports, supplementing our established range of publications, and addressing specific themes. They form part of ACCORD's knowledge production work to inform peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. They aim to provide succinct, rigorous and accessible research to stimulate informed and relevant debate to promote dialogue as a way to peacefully resolve conflict.

Climate Change and Conflict

Lessons for Conflict Resolution from the Southern Sahel of Sudan

Using a human security perspective, this report identifies and analyses local and international non-governmental organisation (NGO) interventions in cases of conflicts related to the environment and environmental change in the southern Sahel of Sudan. The research was driven by the premise that valuable lessons for addressing conflicts related to the impacts of climate change may be identified from environmental interventions.

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The report focuses on the southern Sahel that stretches across Africa and across Sudan; in particular, the state of Southern Kordofan and its neighbours. It is argued that this study area is relevant to identify how measures to address environment-related conflicts can be applied in other areas where climate change impacts – drought, desertification, water scarcity, and competition over grazing and pasture – can contribute to conflict. The research largely focused on conflicts between and within pastoralist, agro-pastoralist and farmer communities in the context of these same challenges – making the argument and then building on the premise that the study area is relevant from which to draw lessons for climate adaption. The study provides practical lessons and academic insights on resolving environment-related conflicts in Sudan and conflict-sensitive climate change adaptation for policy makers, practitioners and academics.

The report argues that in light of their wide applicability, human security approaches may be appropriate for the study of environment-related conflict, and to develop interventions for conflict-sensitive climate change adaptation. Previous framings of the human security approach were problematic and have not been truly workable in a research and policy environment. The report finds that if the concept can be sufficiently narrowed, without losing its focus on broader forms of security and the focus on the 'freedom from fear and want'2, it may be applicable to and workable for Africa, and to address conflicts related to the environment. Hence, the conceptual basis of this report has been guided by a 'deprivation-vulnerability' framework to human security, which considers environmental threats, deprivations, exclusions and vulnerability in its analyses. For the purpose of this study, environmental threats refer to the impacts of climatic and environmental change – such as water scarcity, droughts, desertification, and competition over land for grazing and farming. Deprivations and exclusions refer to development indicators – specifically poverty, social exclusion, marginalisation and a lack of livelihood alternatives. Vulnerability here is defined as a person's or group's "exposure, sensitivity and resilience" (Busumtwi-Sam, 2008:16) to a threat, in the context of deprivations and exclusions.

A number of general findings emerge from this report. First, the report reveals that a lack of legitimate and functioning conflict resolution tools and mechanisms contribute to human insecurity, by affecting the ability of communities to deal with their own vulnerabilities and the threat of environmental stressors and conflict. The study finds that most NGO interventions which address environment-related conflicts assist communities by strengthening conflict resolution capacity and by creating opportunities for conflict resolution and reconciliation. This is achieved by providing opportunities for interactive conflict resolution and by enhancing and promoting traditional forms of conflict resolution, such as the Sudanese form of customary mediation, judiyya. Second, the report argues that environmental and climate threats – such as water scarcity, drought and a lack of land for farming and grazing – contribute to human insecurity and conflicts, especially in a context where people and communities already suffer deprivations and exclusions, and are highly dependent on the environment for a living. The study highlights the potential for resolving environmental and climate conflicts by addressing these kinds of environmental threats. Some NGOs manage human insecurity by addressing or removing the environmental threats in question, often drawing on environmental management approaches or technology – such as through the provision of alternative water sources, hardier crop varieties, better environmental management or the creation of new livestock migration routes. Third, the report argues that where communities suffer from deprivations and exclusions – such as poverty, a lack of livelihood alternatives and other structural factors – they are less able to withstand environmental threats, leading to human insecurity and conflicts. The study found that NGOs which address environment-related conflicts include context-specific 'developmental' project elements in their intervention design. From a human security perspective, these elements address deprivations and exclusions, or underlying structural factors that contribute to human insecurity and conflict. The study shows that helping people to create livelihood alternatives or to build more resilient livelihoods that can withstand environmental threats – in particular in communities where people are highly dependent on the environment – is of critical importance. Women and youth, as generally excluded groups, are considered or targeted by most NGOs, which ensures that they form part of project committees that conduct conflict analyses and develop, implement and manage interventions.