How can we respond to climate security crises in Africa? An expert discussion on the Africa Climate Security Observatory

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Photo credit: Staff Sgt Erik Cardenas

Authors Frans Schapendonk, Giulia Caroli, Peter Laderach, Grazia Pacillo

For millions across the globe, climate change has already brought very real security threats, such as food and livelihood insecurity, displacement, and health risks. African countries in particular are disproportionately vulnerable to these risks, as many are both highly exposed to climate extremes and at the same marked by socio-political and institutional fragility, which undermines their capacity to adapt and respond to such shocks. These situations demand integrated, cross-sectoral policy responses. However, a lack of localised, integrated, and policy-relevant evidence remains on the ways climate and conflict are linked. 

The Africa Climate Security Crisis Observatory (ACSCO), a new initiative brought forward by the CGIAR’s Climate Security team, aims to address this evidence-gap. It generates local, almost real-time evidence, which can be used to make more timely and informed policy and green financial decisions.

In our fourth webinar exploring climate security, we examined how data, evidence, and could best inform climate security-sensitive interventions. We welcomed a set of brilliant panellists spanning research, programming, and policy fields. 

  • Arif Husain (Chief Economist, World Food Programme) 
  • Ana Maria Loboguerreo Rodriguez (Head of Global Policy Research, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security) 
  • Hon. Mohammed Guleid (CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council, Kenya) 
  • Hanna Minaye (Focal Person on Climate, Peace and Security and Environmental Sustainability, African Union Commission) 
  • Sophie Desmidt (Policy Officer, Security and Resilience Programme at the European Centre for Development Policy Management) 

In a hurry? Check out our quick two-minute summary video of the webinar discussion here: 


The conversation brought forward four clear priorities. Together, they lay out a framework for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. They have been summarised here.  

For a more in depth analysis, check out our policy brief on the topic here.

1) Generate context-specific evidence so policy and financial resources can be targeted and prioritised

The ACSCO has been designed as a tool to generate evidence and support decision-making. It uses an interdisciplinary and complimentary set of methodologies to produce an integrated and coherent analytical picture of climate security risks. The observatory therefore aims to answer the crucial where, who, and what questions to inform responsive programming and policy: Which areas are particularly vulnerable to overlapping climate and fragility risks? Which communities are most affected, and within these, who is the most vulnerable? And what is the set of integrated solutions that need to be applied simultaneously to reduce the risks associated with climate security risks? By answering these questions, research can identify how variables from different dimensions interact, and design interventions which are targeted at communities most vulnerable to these risks.  

2) Create an integrated knowledge base, bringing together information and communicating it to decisionmakers in accessible ways

Information on climate, food security, and conflict are highly siloed. There is currently no integrated knowledge base that can be used to communicated to those who need it in ways that are useful to them. As noted by Arif Husain during our panel discussion, there’s a disconnect between researchers, practitioners, and politicians. They don’t use a common language and operate on different timescales, making it difficult to translate evidence into practice in timeframes appropriate for responsive and rapid interventions. Real and almost-real time evidence provision will allow more effective interventions to be designed and implemented before violence escalates. This helps programming and policy remain responsive and adaptive to potentially fast-changing contexts on the ground. 

3) Embed evidence generation platforms like the ACSCO into investment, programming, and policy formation

The ACSCO should work to contribute to and align with processes already underway across the continent. This includes efforts within the African Union’s (AU) Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) department to better map the links between climate, insecurity and conflict. It has identified potential routes to support peacebuilding and help prevent conflict by, for example, mediating conflicts over natural resources, taking steps to prevent transhumance-related violence, and seeking to mitigate other forms of conflict that may emerge from climatic pressures. There has also been an increased inter-departmental effort to mainstream the relationship between climate and conflict and work towards more climate security-sensitive approaches. Embedding the ACSCO will help create coherent and responsive policy interventions by shedding light on what works, in what contexts, and how by improving monitoring and evaluation of interventions.  

Furthermore, by delivering better and more timely information and analysis on current and future key climate security hotspots, the ACSCO can play an important role in supporting international bodies to identify and reach countries, regions, and populations most vulnerable to climate and conflict risks. These include the Adaptation Fund, Climate Investment Fund, Global Environmental Facility and Green Climate Fund. The data produced by the ACSCO can help us better understand specific contexts and integrate this knowledge into interventions. In this way it would act as a useful support tool to make sure funds are managed sensitively and negative impacts are minimised.  

4) Prioritise accessibility, participatory approaches, and translate evidence into formats accessible to local policymakers and affected communities

In order for evidence to be both accurate and localised, knowledge generated by the platform should be co-produced and qualitatively validated through participatory processes with local communities. This would help improve the quality and relevance of evidence, but would also create an important opportunity to share with local communities crucial knowledge and data on their biophysical context and how to deal with changes within it. As highlighted for instance by the Hon. Mohammed Guleid during our discussion, local communities in Kenya lack exact knowledge on climate causes and effects, including the ways it can undermine livelihoods and physical security and what steps can be taken to mitigate this. Co-producing and validating evidence locally- as well as translating end products into formats and languages accessible to those primarily affected- should therefore be a key priority of the ACSCO.  

By conducting systemic analysis on the complex links between climate, migration and displacement, and peace and security, we hope to untangle and map out how each is related and linked. Doing so, we believe, is key to generate a localised evidence base and better inform context-appropriate interventions to prevent conflict.   

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