Climate change can heat up conflicts, says UN
Research in Somalia shows how droughts have magnified hostilities between warring groups
Stockholm — Climate change poses serious challenges to current and future peacebuilding efforts and could amplify conflicts, according to a report on years of devastating violence and drought in Somalia.
Researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) looked at how conflicts and the peacebuilding efforts of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (Unsom) have been affected by climate change, and found that it “amplifies existing challenges and strengthens radical groups”.
“What it shows is that the security landscape is changing with climate change,” Florian Krampe, senior researcher at Sipri’s climate change programme, said, adding that many of the findings are applicable to other conflicts.
According to the report, released on Wednesday, decades of conflict in Somalia — described as “among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world” — have been magnified by a series of droughts, adding pressure to the state-building process and making Unsom’s work more challenging.
For instance, the frequency and severity of conflicts between herders and farmers in rural regions have increased as changing seasons and weather means herding nomads have to adjust their routes.
Droughts and floods also displace more people, who seek shelter in camps which then serve as recruitment grounds for radical groups such as Al-Shabaab.
The displacement of large groups into new areas can also undermine the governance of those areas, as existing power-sharing agreements no longer represent the “demographic composition” on the ground.
While Krampe was hesitant to say that climate change by itself could cause conflict, he thought the evidence was clear that “climate change increases the probability of conflict and of violence”.
Karolina Eklow, co-author of the report, noted that unlike many other reports on climate change, they were not looking at forecasts about how climate effects may shape the future but what could already be observed.
“This is not a future issue any more,” Eklow said, adding that this had already become evident to the people working for Unsom. “They fully understood the vastness of climate change and how it is altering any patterns that would usually happen.”
On a positive note, the growing effect of climate change has meant that Unsom has had to adapt its peacebuilding efforts by thinking outside the box and adopting new approaches, which may prove useful in future peacebuilding operations.
These include the establishment of co-ordination centres for drought operations and the appointment of an environmental security adviser.
The report however stressed that some of these novel approaches are difficult to implement under the current funding structure, since much of the money is in silos and earmarked for specific and isolated approaches, “thereby inhibiting integrated responses”.
Krampe said that since climate change can alter the context of a conflict, efforts to solve or prevent violence need to look beyond military means. “We need to put much more emphasis on pre-emptive or preventive work to build up the resilience of countries.”
Somalia has been in a state of protracted conflict since the outbreak of a civil war in 1991, and since 2007 has been facing an Islamist insurgency by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab.
Chased out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011, Al-Shabaab has lost most of its strongholds, but still controls large rural areas from where its conducts guerrilla operations and suicide attacks against civilian and military targets.
The US has been supporting the fight against Al-Shabaab, led by the Somali federal government and the AU Mission in Somalia, which has been present in the country since 2007.
US strikes in Somalia surged in April 2017, after President Donald Trump declared the south of the country an “area of active hostilities”.
According to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, 2.6-million people are internally displaced in Somalia and more than 800,000 remain displaced in neighbouring countries as a result of armed conflicts and recurring droughts.