posted on Wed 25 May 2016 6:13 PM
Briefing on the Sahel: Impact of Climate Change and Desertification

Tomorrow (26 May), the Security Council will have a briefing on challenges in the Sahel, focusing on the impact of climate change and desertification to peace and security in this region. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), is expected to brief via teleconference. Other briefers will be Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertifcation (UNCCD); Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED); and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT).

Spain requested the briefing, and with Egypt, which holds this month’s Council presidency, prepared a background note for the meeting. The main purpose of the meeting is to give the Council a better understanding of the factors contributing to conflict in the Sahel region, in particular the role of climate change and desertification. This problem was identified in the Council’s 8 December 2015 presidential statement on the Sahel (S/PRST/2015/24), which reaffirmed its commitment to address the security and political challenges of the region, “which are interrelated with humanitarian and development issues as well as the adverse effects of climate and ecological changes.” The statement underlined the need for holistic strategies to address the threat of terrorist groups in the region. One focus of the meeting will be to consider how the threat of these groups is connected to climate change and desertification, and how combatting this threat should take into account these factors. The background note further highlights that the Sahel is currently experiencing a severe drought, which exacerbates problems of land degradation and desertification, often translating into food insecurity that frequently triggers displacement and increases the risk of conflict.

Chambas is currently in the region visiting the countries of the Group of Five for the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), which make-up the five core countries of the UN Integrated Sahel Strategy (UNISS). One of the objectives of the strategy is to promote climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes focused on building Sahel countries’ long term “resilience”—one of the strategy’s three pillars. During the briefing, Chambas may provide an update on relevant programmes being implemented or developed under the Strategy. As suggested in the background note, members may suggest that the challenges of the impact of climate change on the region be addressed in the independent review of the UNISS expected to be completed later this year.

An issue likely to be discussed is how climate change and desertification are undermining traditional livelihoods and farming in the Sahel. This is one of the underlying reasons for the large numbers of migrants going from West Africa through Libya to Europe, an issue that the Council has paid attention to in the past year. The same disruption to livelihoods and lack of employment opportunities make people vulnerable to recruitment to terrorist groups that can offer an income. CTED’s Laborde is likely to elaborate on this during his briefing. He may also refer to how human trafficking networks of migrants are involved in drug and arms smuggling, activities that terrorist groups are believed to be engaged in and profiting from.

Barbut may further highlight UNCCD’s work identifying the linkages of climate change and desertification to conflict and instability in the Sahel. UNCCD’s 2014 report Desertification: The Invisible Front Line concluded that the undermining of livelihoods by climate change is creating inter-ethnic clashes, and that desertification is increasingly displacing people and forcing them to migrate, or causing them to turn to radicalisation, extremism or resource-driven wars. A series of maps of the Sahel region in the report shows the concentration of past terrorist attacks, food riots and other conflicts in areas vulnerable to desertification. Barbut may highlight trends in changing weather patterns and desertification, which is why West Africa and the Sahel are considered ‘hotspots’ of climate change. As one way to address the problem, she may draw attention to a planned “green wall” project developed by the AU to plant and reforest the southern edge of the Sahara, spanning the Sahelian countries.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT) participated in the Council’s June 2015 Arria-formula meeting on the role of climate change as a threat multiplier. More recently, Ibrahim addressed the General Assembly during the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change on 22 April. In her briefing, she is expected to cover the effects of the shrinking of Lake Chad, which has lost as much as 95% of its surface area since the early 1960s. Members are likely to be particularly interested in her perspective on the impact this has had on livelihoods and tensions between communities, and how these stresses are used by terrorist groups like Boko Haram.

Tomorrow’s session builds on the Council’s past consideration of the threat of climate change to international peace and security Over the last year the Council considered climate change issues during the June 2015 Arria-formula and at a July 2015 open debate on the security challenges facing Small Island Developing States (S/PV.7499). There was also an Arria-formula session, organised by Senegal on 22 April on the interlinkages between water, peace and security,which had a climate change dimension.