In 2008, as the UN system undertook to better understand the potential threat of climate change for international stability, the Secretary-General deployed his then Special Advisor on Conflict Prevention and Resolution, Jan Egeland, to the Sahel, a region dubbed “ground zero” for climate change due to its extreme climatic conditions and highly vulnerable population. Stretching 3,860 km across the African continent, the Sahel faces numerous wars and civil conflicts, increasing population pressures, and pervasive poverty and aid dependency.
The mission highlighted three key areas:
(i) the risks posed by the potential impacts of climate change for livelihoods in the Sahel, in particular for livelihoods that are dependent on natural resources, such as farming, fishing and herding;
(ii) increasing migration pressures due to disasters, conflicts, and the associated loss of livelihoods; and
(iii) escalating tension and potential conflicts over increasingly scarce natural resources, coupled with the availability of small arms and light weapons.
These findings called for further research and analysis on historical climate trends in the region, in order to understand how livelihoods have been affected, what coping mechanisms have emerged and the potential impacts for conflict and migration.
In order to answer this call, in 2011 UNEP published the report, “Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel.” This study had two objectives: to analyze the historical climate trends in the region, identify hotspots and determine the potential implications for livelihoods which depend on natural resources; and to provide recommendations for improving conflict and migration sensitivity in adaptation planning, investments and policies across the region. The study covers 17 countries in the Sahel and West Africa. Using an innovative mapping process to analyze trends in temperature, rainfall, drought and flooding over the past 40 years, this report provides an important contribution to policy-makers and practitioners seeking to ground adaptation policies and investments in a sound understanding of the nature and scale of historical climate trends in the Sahel, and their impacts on livelihoods. The project was conducted by UNEP in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations University (UNU) and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), with technical input from the University of Salzburg’s Centre for Geoinformatics (Z_GIS). It was funded by the Government of Finland.
As a follow-up to the report, UNEP has contributed to the development of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, by providing technical inputs to the UN Department for Political Affairs. UNEP has also been presenting on the topics touched upon in the report at various international conferences and is working on providing support to other UN and EU efforts in the Sahel where natural resource risks and opportunities are of relevance. In October 2012 it held an event entitled “Crisis Prevention and Response in the Sahel: Integrating natural resources and climate risks into EU and UN programmes and policies” at the European External Action Service (EEAS) in Brussels. The meeting concluded that natural resources are a structural component of the ongoing crisis in the Sahel, that climate change is compounding existing vulnerabilities, that there is a need to address the underlying root causes of vulnerability and fragility in the region in parallel with any potential military interventions or disaster relief, and that there is a need to streamline the UN and EU strategies on the Sahel.