Toward a shared vision on climate security in Senegal

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Photo: CGIAR’s Climate Resilience Initiative and partners meet in Dakar, Senegal to discuss climate security and chart a way forward

Climate change and variability have numerous security implications in the Sahel region in North Africa, which already has a precarious security situation. Senegal is considered an island of stability in the region, making it a key country to understand – and act upon – the risks posed by climate security.

By Carolina Sarzana, Victor Villa, Sokhna Ramatoulaye Cisse and Grazia Pacillo

Climate change is a worldwide emergency, a global issue that challenges the international community and calls for holistic solutions. As the impacts of climate change intensify, human security is increasingly under pressure. These threats are most prevalent in the Global South, which is least prepared to face climate-related security crises. The case of North Africa’s Sahel, one of the most vulnerable regions in the world, confirms this.

The Sahel region – the ecological transition zone between the tropical forests of Central Africa and the Sahara desert that spans seven countries – is experiencing increased climate stress, which is contributing to resource scarcity and fueling tensions over resource accessibility. There are rivalries between communities over water resources and tension between farmers and herders over control of land. Many other factors point to a bleak climate future for the Sahel.

There is sufficient information for a scientific analysis of climate security in the region, especially considering its high instability and terrorism threats. Senegal’s example is particularly relevant because the country’s neighboring Sudano-Sahelian security landscape is unfavorable to its stability. Senegal is “an island of stability in an ocean of instability,” said Dr. Bakaray Sambe, an expert in stabilization and conflict prevention at the Timbuktu Insitute, a Sengal-based think tank. Senegal, therefore, is surrounded by security threats and needs to develop and implement conflict-prevention strategies.

In this context, the CGIAR’s Climate Resilience initiative, or ClimBeR, which aims to build systemic resilience against climate variability and extremes and contribute to maintaining peace and stability, is committed to investigating climate security risks in Senegal. During a workshop held in October 2022 in Dakar, experts involved with climate and security issues in Senegal, and more broadly in the Sahel, met to discuss Senegal’s security architecture and its relationship with climate.

The workshop discussed how research could help policymakers mitigate the impact of climate conflict, build a community of stakeholders interested in increasing and ensuring climate resilience and sustainable peace, and inform national and sub-national policies and investments to foster climate-resilient peace. Climate-resilient peace is a transformative process that addresses inequitable access to natural resources. It reminds us of the need for responsible management of these resources for sustainable development and climate security.

The demand

“The concept of climate security is becoming the mainstream thinking in important organizations and institutions that are on the front lines of the world’s most complex and protracted crises,” said Peter Laderach, co-lead of the CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security research area.

Data shows that Senegal’s Global Peace Index has fallen by 3%, dropping 16 points in the world index to 70 in 2022 from 54 in 2021. Globally, the average level of peace in the world has deteriorated by 0.3% (GPI Report, 2022). It is unclear the extent to which climate change contributed to this decrease but Senegal’s government is factoring climate into its security-building plans.

Bounama Dièye of Senegal’s Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Equipment and Food Sovereignty (MAERSA) said there is a growing awareness of the security implications of climate change in Senegal. This awareness is reflected in the process of developing adaptation, mitigation and resilience-building strategies.

Stakeholders discuss at the ClimBeR Senegal Climate Security Workshop

Participants noted during the discussions that the country is particularly vulnerable to climate variability, particularly changes in rainfall patterns. Senegal’s heavy reliance on rainfed agriculture means that rainfall variability significantly impacts agricultural productivity, which affects food insecurity.

Lamine Diatta, an expert in agriculture, forestry, and other land use at Senegal’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD), noted some of the existing measures to deal with these climate challenges, such as the creation of a multidisciplinary committee developing terms of reference, studies and action plans.

At the political level, there are difficulties in implementing action plans, but a participatory and inclusive approach is being adopted.

Nevertheless, government and researchers must pay particular attention to the maritime sector, which has too many accidents to fishermen. Measures should be further developed by studying climate projections: temperatures and sea levels continue to rise and will continue to do so. A national adaptation plan is needed to achieve the desired results. The National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology’s (ANACIM) capacity in data acquisition materials for modeling is also required.

Amadou Sall, the head of the Natural Resource Management and Food Security Program at the Centre de Suivi Ecologique (CSE), said the impacts of climate on ecosystems would undermine living conditions by increasing food insecurity and loss of employment. This is expected to lead to an increase in internal and external migration.

In addition to the rural exodus, there is also nomadic insecurity and conflicts between herders and farmers, as mentioned by Dr. Sambe at the Timbuktu Institute.

Emmanuel Sauvage, the program director of Humanity and Inclusion West Africa, said exclusion is a vulnerability factor in Senegal. Vulnerable groups are excluded from decision-making and have limited access to services. Humanity and Inclusion in Casamance assessments revealed that regional tensions are affected by climatic, demographic, and natural resource inequality factors. Land pressure, for example, is taking a concerning turn in Casamance.

According to Ndeye Marie Diédhiou, the President of the Platform of Women for Peace in Casamance, women experience unequal access to land. They cannot own property and only use their husbands’ plots, even though they dominate rice production. Due to climate change and increased soil salinization, there is a reduction in rice production and an increase in land pressure, which further disadvantages women.

The climatic factors that threaten human security in Senegal are multiple and evolving rapidly. Failure to acknowledge the role of climate as a “threat multiplier” jeopardizes the efficacy of national efforts to improve resilience capacities. Although there is no climate-related armed conflict, the importance of analyzing the climate-security nexus in Senegal is to enable the implementation of conflict prevention strategies. Bringing together different stakeholders to establish a common vision of climate security will be key to enabling local and adapted solutions to contain climate security risks.

The solutions

The CGIAR initiative for Climate Resilience is committed to producing policy-relevant evidence on how and where the climate is exacerbating the root causes of conflict and co-design solutions to mitigate the impact of climate on insecurities. With the involvement of various stakeholders, both local and national, several factors paving the way for climate security in Senegal have been identified.

Stakeholders discussed climate and security risks in Senegal at the ClimBeR Senegal Climate Security Workshop

First, it will be of great importance to clarify the concept of climate security in Senegal to enable appropriate mechanisms for maintaining peace and stability. In this regard, Bounama Dièye, from MAERSA, affirmed that climate security must be at the center of reflections to prevent conflicts in Senegal. But for that to happen, all relevant actors must be acquainted with the terminology. To address this, ClimBeR will work with partners to develop and disseminate definitions of climate security notions illustrated with concrete examples from the ground.

Hind Aissaoui Bennani, a regional specialist on migration, environment and climate change at IOM, recalled the importance of documenting communities’ perceptions of climate change, as they must be at the heart of public policies. ClimBeR will indeed focus on creating science-based evidence to map and better understand the ongoing dynamics and potential emergent risks relating to climate security. In this regard, listening to the most marginalized and invisible groups, such as women in the care sector, will be critical for designing appropriate measures. The first solution is to empower communities to express themselves and facilitate dialogue across different levels and communities. In relation to this, the ClimBer initiative aims to conduct more fieldwork with partners to better understand climate-related vulnerabilities and needs for security and resilience.

Similarly, existing local adaptation strategies must be documented and integrated with those transferred. While the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices, technologies and services is a necessity to adapt to climate-related challenges successfully, the consideration of traditional practices and knowledge remains crucial to ensure their suitability amongst communities. In rural Senegalese communities, for example, women develop climate resilience strategies on a daily basis to sustain livelihoods while also playing an important role in the maintenance of peace and social cohesion. For example, in Casamance, Diola women are at the heart of crisis resolution and peace preservation. To increase their resilience, emphasis should be placed on capacity building, awareness raising and the development of technical agreements with local communities. ClimBeR activities will therefore coordinate inclusive strategies through multi-level governance in the programming of climate security initiatives.

Bakary Sambe, a regional director of the Timbuktu Institute, mentioned that special attention must be placed on the relationship between climate, equal access to resources and conflict. In Senegal, it is crucial to focus on preventive policies and actions. Thus, programming activities relating to climate adaptation need to be designed and implemented in ways that are sensitive to the local context, considering potential maladaptation risks. ClimBeR’s strategy will thus focus on developing programming tools that can be used to recommend practices minimizing possible negative side effects and externalities, such as unequal distribution of resources and conflict risks. Dr. Sambe proposes solutions such as considering the concerns of livestock breeders in land use planning and the anthropological dimension of the issues.

The way forward

Remarks from Lamine Diatta (DEEC) at the ClimBeR Senegal Climate Security Workshop

The ClimBeR initiative is committed to supporting the implementation of solutions proposed by the stakeholders present at the workshop. Lamine Diatta and Bounama Dièye, representing DEEC and MAERSA respectively, have emphasized the importance of establishing a framework and structure for all initiatives interested in maintaining peace while strengthening climate resilience. The main strategic output arising from the workshop discussions is the proposal of a Climate Security Observatory platform to be integrated within the existing governmental committee on climate change: the National Climate Change Committee (COMNACC). This platform will enable collaboration between organizations working on climate adaptation to better organize solutions to address climate security risks. Establishing such a platform can become the communication channel to efficiently disseminate information on climate security and climate-related information to think about preventive solutions for security in Senegal.

This is aligned with UNOWAS’s proposal, introduced by Ngozi Amu, claiming that Senegal can be a prevention and preparedness model for climate-related security issues. It is critical to include scientists in climate policy discussions, as well as work with women and young people who have an open mind and the ability to work on climate security. There is a need to look at the possibilities of linking research with national and regional policy.

Slide from the presentation of Lamine Diatta (DEEC) on the institutional intervention framework for climate in Senegal and the potential positioning of the Climate Security Observatory platform

This observatory is a multifaceted system requiring institutional expertise to determine the arrangements needed to facilitate the project’s development. Bounama Dièye asserts that the establishment of the platform can be achieved through Ministries’ endorsements, which can help obtain a ministerial decree to mobilize all relevant organizations and actors around climate security. The question of whether the Ministry of Environment could formally support and integrate this observatory into the COMNACC or even the DEEC remains unanswered.

According to Diatta, the priority for this platform is to establish a common vision for climate security and to clarify its concept. In terms of content, it will provide information on Senegal’s specific climate-related security risks, map conflicts and produce unbiased qualitative and quantitative evidence. Climate security risks differ across agroecological zones, and the platform’s content must be the result of comprehensive research across all zones. The information provided must also reach the local communities, and for this we must find a way to allow other actors, who may not necessarily have online access, to benefit from it.


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