Conflict & Resilience Monitor

African Union shows global leadership on the climate-peace nexus

20 Dec 2021

ACCORD COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor
Photo: ILRI/Samuel Mungai

The AU has shown global leadership on how to integrate the climate-peace nexus. The March 2021 PSC meeting at heads of state level decided to also develop a common African position on the nexus between climate, peace and security.

On 13 December 2021, a resolution on climate security was vetoed in the UN Security Council on the grounds that the Council should not address the security implications of climate change as that would duplicate and interfere with the work of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In comparison, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council communique of its 26 November 2021 meeting on the same topic shows that the AU sees no contradiction in having an integrated position that addresses both wider climate change issues and its effects on peace and security, nor with dealing with the issue both via the AU and UN climate change negotiation processes as well as at the AU’s Peace and Security Council.

The AU has shown global leadership on how to integrate the climate-peace nexus and sees no contradiction in integrating wider climate change issues and its effects on peace and security @CedricdeConing

The AU has shown global leadership on how to integrate the climate-peace nexus. The Peace and Security Council (PSC) has met at least nine times on the topic to date, including three meetings in 2021. The first, in March 2021 was hosted by Kenya at Head of State level. Kenya is also one of the leading voices on this topic in the UN Security Council, and in 2022 Kenya will co-chair, alongside Norway, the informal Independent Expert Group on Climate Security of the UN Security Council. Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Martin Kimani, has stressed that Kenya and the other African countries serving on the UN Security Council as elected members, must promote the common African position, in particular on climate finance and the operationalisation of the global goal on adaptation.

The March 2021 PSC meeting at heads of state level decided to also develop a common African position on the nexus between climate, peace and security. The African Union Commission is in the process of developing a draft for the consideration of the AU Assembly ahead of Egypt hosting the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27).

The second PSC meeting relevant to the topic took place on 29 October 2021 with a focus on disaster management and human security. In this meeting the PSC recognised that climate change, unregulated development and a lack of preparedness are the major drivers of disaster risk in Africa, and it called for the incorporation of disaster risk reduction in all development projects in order to prevent new risks, reduce existing risks and to build resilience.

The communique of the 26 November 2021 AU PSC meeting notes that extreme weather patterns that manifest as floods, droughts, heatwaves, forest fires, storms, cyclones, the rise of sea levels and changing and unpredictable rainfall patterns, have a negative and disproportionate impact on Africa’s ability to achieve its economic and development goals, as set out in Agenda 2063. At the same time, the PSC recognises the risks that climate change pose to human- and state security, hindering the AU’s ability to achieve the 2030 goal of silencing the guns. The communique notes that these risks manifest as food and water insecurity, loss of livelihoods, failures related to the management of natural resources, water resource scarcity, and climate induced displacement. The compounding and cascading effects of these dynamics exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and tensions and can contribute to aggravating existing conflicts or triggering new ones.  

While climate change increasingly undermines human security and influences the dynamics of violent conflict on the continent, the PSC recognises that there are no hard security solutions to climate change. The effects of climate change on societies are influenced by how people respond to climate change. The choices governments, but also communities, make in the wake of climate change can increase or decrease risks to human- and state security. This is why the PSC stressed that the AU and African societies can further improve how they prevent and manage climate-related security risks by investing more in mitigation, adaptation, preparedness, analysis and early warning. 

The transition to a net-zero future is not risk free. How we choose to adapt and mitigate, will determine if the transition increases inequality and exclusion, or if it will contribute to social cohesion, public trust and sustaining peace @CedricdeConing

The PSC also called for further integration and coordination across a wide range of AU departments to ensure a holistic approach to planning, operations, programming and evaluation, as well as close cooperation with, and the participation of, civil society and affected communities. 

Over the course of this year’s three PSC meetings on the topic, the PSC identified six courses of action that the AU should adopt to further improve its work on the interlinkages between climate change, peace and security, namely: 

(1) the establishment of a climate fund to support measures to combat the negative impacts of climate change; 

(2) enhancing the analytical capacity of the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) and the planning capacity of AU peace support operations and post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts in the area of climate security; 

(3) strengthening continental capacities in the areas of humanitarian action and disaster risk reduction, preparedness, resilience and response;

(4) streamlining climate security across the AUC by appointing a special envoy and by enhancing inter-departmental cooperation through the AU climate security cluster; 

(5) improving coordination between and among the AU, regions and member states, and 

(6) ensuring a common African voice at global level by developing a common African position on the nexus between climate, peace and security.

One of the aspects that I think the African common position on the climate, peace and security should address is the need to ensure that the transition to a net-zero future, and in particular the way climate financing will be used to support this transformation, is managed in such a way that it avoids harm and sustains peace. While the COP26 and other commitments fall short of what is needed, one concern from a climate-peace nexus perspective is whether the millions of dollars of climate mitigation and adaptation funding that will be spent over the coming years, will be spent in ways that contribute to peace

The transition to a net-zero future according to the timelines and targets agreed in Paris is critically important, especially for Africa, but that does not mean that we should be blind to the risks associated with such a significant and relatively rapid transformation of our economies, or the effects it will have on our politics, societies and security. How we manage the transition can delay or accelerate Agenda 2063 and the Silencing the Guns initiative. There will be winners and losers and some will push-back and may even resort to violence to hold on to power and privilege. Others may view climate finance as an opportunity to profit from corruption. How we go about reducing emissions and how we choose to adapt and mitigate, will determine whether the transition increases inequality and exclusion, or if we can use it in ways that can contribute to social cohesion, public trust and sustaining peace. 

Dr. Cedric de Coning is a Research Professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and a Senior Advisor for the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD).

Article by:

Cedric de Coning
Cedric de Coning
Senior Advisor and Chief Editor of the COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor

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