Climate Insecurity and prevention of violent extremism in the Sahel
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WE ARE FACING?
Climate change is no longer viewed just as an environmental issue but is now widely recognised as a major global security threat, with a first report presented in 2009 to the General Assembly by the then Secretary General of the United Nations. More recently, in March 2017, while discussing the activities of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, Security Council Resolution 2349 acknowledged that climate change is one of the factors affecting the stability of the region, "through water scarcity, drought, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity."
Numerous studies have explored the relationship between climate change and violent extremism, and it is widely agreed that the link between the two is not straightforward. Rather, climate insecurity can exacerbate fragile contexts, acting as a 'risk multiplier' in combination with other underlying drivers of violent extremism, such as a lack of state legitimacy, pervasive inequality, and limited public participation. Climate change can also weaken adaptive mechanism, thereby rendering populations more vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by violent extremist groups.
One region that exemplifies these interconnected risks is the Sahel where a combination of factors, including weak state capacity, an escalating violent extremist threat, and a population that is more than 80% dependent on ever-scarcer natural resources for survival, is generating violent tensions and conflicts. This vulnerability is further aggravated by the region's heavy economic reliance on farming and pastoralism, which are highly susceptible to climate change impacts, such as erratic rainfall, extreme weather events, and desertification. Indeed, the Sahel region and Lake Chad Basin are frequently cited as key case studies that illustrate the complex interplay between climate change and violent extremism. In its Regional Strategy report (2018), the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the African Union Commission described how Lake Chad has drastically shrunk due to climate change-induced desertification, resulting "in the loss of traditional livelihoods and a propensity for populations to explore alternative livelihoods, including violent extremism."
In this context of worsening livelihood conditions in climate-exposed regions, violent extremist groups can exploit divisions within a community to gain influence.
"Unfair distribution or unequal access to natural resources" and access to natural resources compromised due to climate change" are two of the main grievances reported to UNICRI by the local communities in the region during the implementation of the initiative Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism in the Regions of Sahel and Maghreb. As indicated in the report on the findings of this initiative, natural resources are declining, with desertification of areas previously used for grazing or farming and the degradation of natural resources, resulting in the impoverishment of certain areas, such as the vast Gourma region in central Mali or the province of Logone Occidental in Chad.
Building upon these findings, in October 2022, UNICRI, in partnership with SWISSAID, published the report "Perceptions of Climate Change and Violent Extremism: Listening to Local Communities in Chad." This report explores the experiences of community members in Chad, investigating their perceptions of the role that climate change and diminishing natural resources have in exacerbating local conflicts and the recruitment narratives of violent extremist groups. Based on primary data collected through more than 100 in-depth interviews across four provinces in Chad: Hadjer-Lamis, Lac, Logone Occidentale and Mandoul, the report specifically analyses the effects of climate change at two interconnected levels: a) the direct consequences as experienced on productive activities such as agriculture, herding, and fishing; and b) the indirect consequences affecting coping mechanisms, social cohesion, and recruitment and propaganda by violent extremist groups. This research also strives to elevate the often-unheard voices of those most vulnerable and directly affected by the dual interacting threats of climate change and violent extremism.
This report was officially launched during an expert discussion on climate-related security challenges and the future of Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) programming in the Sahel. The meeting was organized by UNICRI and hosted by the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN. It was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Chad to the UN, the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN. The discussion aimed to contribute to the ongoing debate on the role that climate change and degradation of natural resources have in exacerbating local conflicts, as well as their linkages with radicalization and recruitment by violent extremist groups in the Sahel. The meeting also aimed to identify guiding principles that should form the basis of future P/CVE interventions in the region.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF UNICRI?
The report "Perceptions of Climate Change and Violent Extremism: Listening to Local Communities in Chad" is a crucial first step in the process of developing initiatives that take climate change into account in the prevention and countering of violent extremism in the Sahel region. Building on this, UNICRI is now taking the next step by developing a training package for regional capacity-building initiatives. The package will focus on strengthening Member States' capacities to develop sustainable strategies and policies for dealing with climate-related security risks, while also incorporating a gender perspective.
UNICRI's extensive experience and well-established network in the region, in alignment with its principles of common action, durable solutions, and continuous learning, make it well-positioned to provide Member States, international, regional and local stakeholders (including civil society organizations) with a wide range of tools tailored to the local contexts and specific needs, and based on the latest research, in-field evidence and data, and specialized technical expertise available. These services include: a) climate and security risk assessments in target countries; b) tailor made capacity building activities for national authorities and civil society organizations, to strengthen their capacities in addressing climate-related security threats and design effective P/CVE strategies; c) action-oriented research, which combines research and practical expertise in a process that better informs policies and technical programmes; d) high-level visibility events – such as international conferences – to disseminate research findings, including good practices and lessons learned, and transfer of experts' knowledge.