Climate change, which appears to be advancing around the world, affecting not just physical infrastructure but economies and livelihoods, is also an increasing security threat.
To reduce the impact of climate change, the world needs to start focusing its efforts on building resilience of economies and working on adaptation, Economist Bogolo Kenewendo, Africa Director and Special Advisor of the UN High Level Climate Champions team and former Botswana Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry told NE Global in an interview on April 27.
Kenewendo, who has a particular focus on Pan-African development, said there is an opportunity in the African continent to circumvent a traditional industrialization pathway and follow a green development pathway that completely foregoes emissions.
A recent annual report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted that from mountain peaks to ocean depths, climate change continued its advance in 2022. The report noted that droughts, floods, and heatwaves affected communities on every continent and cost many billions of dollars while Antarctic Sea ice fell to its lowest extent on record and the melting of some European glaciers was, literally, off the charts.
“Quite honesty we have seen quite a lot of change in the climate in the last couple of years – droughts, El Niños and floods happening,” Kenewendo said. “So, the impacts are there, and they are physical. Now what usually stalls conversation on climate action in the continent is when there is an expectation of an abrupt coal phase out because what that means is for a country that has over 70% of its energy being provided by coal and they are expected to do a phase out quickly, it essentially throws the whole community into poverty. Because energy poverty is high in any case but if you are no longer able to produce energy the poverty increases, opportunities for sustained livelihoods also decreases,” she explained.
Kenewendo said climate action must be an imperative of development. “You must look at the way people are living right now and as we propose a phase out, we also capture poverties, and we propose alternative livelihoods and alternative solutions for green energy in particular and those should have an expediential growth and should kick in immediately,” she said. “So, counties should not find themselves in a position where they are phasing out fossil fuels but investment in renewable energy is not growing as quickly. We really have to get to a point where we see climate action as a very active component of achieving and implementing sustainable development goals,” the soft-spoken politician and economist added.
Investing in adaptation and resilience
The former minister from Botswana argued that there is a strong case for investment for mitigation projects but there is also now a very strong case for investment in adaptation and resilience. “Here we are talking about some major assets – water, forests, mangroves. All big companies now want to talk about how they are offsetting. But I think over and above we are talking about offsetting and being members to the race to zero, dealing with our decarbonization agenda. We should all be held accountable in how we are investing in the major assets that are giving us oxygen. Be held accountable in how you are contributing to the protection of standing forests as it is over and above what you are contributing to reducing your emissions within your business operations. Because after all our futures are intertwined. What happens to the Congo basin will have a drastic effect on the sea levels rising in Europe,” she warned.
Kenewendo said that Europe has been blindsided by the situation in Africa and the European Union must take into consideration African priorities which can be mutually beneficial for Africans and Europeans. “If you think that it’s okay to think about net zero in Europe and not think about net zero adaptation and resilience across the world, then we are mistaken because if there is food insecurity in the continent we are going to go where there is food. So, if you focus on your area we are going to come here,” she said, smiling. “If we don’t think about building better built environments like housing, sheltering communities from rising sea levels, we are going to seek places where investment has been made and over and above that it also increases issues of climate security for Europe – not just migration,” Kenewendo said.
A devastating drought that has struck the Horn of Africa could not have occurred without global warming, according to a report by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) released on April 27. “Human-caused climate change has made agricultural drought in the Horn of Africa about 100 times more likely,” the report read. “The ongoing devastating drought would not have happened at all without the effect of greenhouse gas emissions,” it added. Since late 2020, countries on the Horn of Africa — Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan — have reportedly been suffering the worst drought in 40 years.
Military conflicts will start by scarcity
William Drozdiak, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, and a senior advisor for Europe with McLarty Associates in Washington DC, told NE Global on April 29 that climate change also poses a security threat as countries will be destabilized by the mass movement of people. This is of course no secret as US policy planners have been looking at these kinds of climate-driven scenarios for several decades already.
He cited as an example Lake Chad which is evaporating. Lake Chad provides food and water to approximately 50 million people today and in 15 years it will be completely dried up. “So those people will have to move and move right away and a lot of them will try to move to Europe or elsewhere in Africa. The middle classes will try to move towards Europe. And as we get more and more people you can imagine the reaction of those who support far right populist politicians that there will be tremendous social pressures and political pressures to push back on this,” Drozdiak said, a former editor at the Washington Post.
“So, I think these are concerns that we have to bear in mind. Institutions like NATO and the European Union in order to command the loyalty of young people for whom climate change is a top priority in their lives, they need to take serious action and not just say the words but actually do things that will make a difference and impress young people and make them support NATO and Europe in the future,” he added.
There will be land wars, there will be food wars, they will be water wars, Kenewendo warned. “We still have an opportunity to protect our water sources, to invest in them and ensure there is adequate access to water sources. We still have an opportunity to protect biodiversity through the big forests, the mangroves that we still have, that we can also work on regeneration. We still have an opportunity of ensuring that we restore the big desert, and we stop any further desertification, to create regenerative agriculture,” she said.
Climate change and security
Lord Jonathan Evans, Member of the House of Lords, who formerly served as the Director General of the British Security Service, the United Kingdom’s domestic security and counter-intelligence service MI5, told NE Global that Africa is obviously an extremely important region in terms of several security issues both in terms of natural resources on the economic side and there are several counter-terrorism challenges in Africa.
He noted that climate change poses a security threat for Europe and the UK. “I think this has been clear for the last 15-20 years. The climate stress in the Sahel region has created social and economic circumstances which then led to national security threats,” Evans said, referring to the semiarid region of western and north-central Africa extending from Senegal eastward to Sudan. “There has been very considerable terrorist and inter-communal violence in those areas which was partly ideological but is also very largely a competition for resources,” Evans said.
Kenewendo pointed out that at the Munich Security conference earlier this year, climate action was talked about but in a very high-level sense because the focus rightfully so is now on Ukraine. “But if we do not talk about financing adaptation in developing countries, in Europe, wherever, we are completely overlooking the fact that we are facing a security threat from climate shocks. And the security threat can rise out of floods that flood nuclear plants. It can be anything, it doesn’t have to be people moving. It can be that we are failing to recognize that all resources are under threat because of a changing environment we need to invest more in adaptation and resilience,” she said.
Rare earth minerals in Africa
Drozdiak noted that China is already in Africa exploiting it with the Belt and Road initiative and creating enormous debts that are going to weigh down these governments. “The Wagner group is going in as a security support for dictators in Mali and Chad and Central African Republic and there are stripping these countries of their valuable resources like gold and minerals,” Drozdiak said. “So, in Africa and other parts of the world this return of global power competition is becoming a threat to the livelihoods of these countries,” he added.
Kenewendo warned that there is a big rush towards rare earth and critical minerals that are needed for the energy transition without necessarily thinking about the sustainability of mining them, the sustainability of livelihoods of people who have to be relocated for the mines and those that live around the mines and how exactly it is that those communities will become involved in the development of the supply chain of rare and critical minerals for the transition.
“Last year there was a conference that was organized around financing critical minerals, and you know where that conference was? In Geneva. Did it have any Africans? No. And now what did the African governments do? They have banned exporting of lithium without value added by countries, have banned some export of some critical minerals to certain parts of the world and it’s a response to the lack of consultation in a multi-stakeholder environment. And that kind of response and that kind of policy change doesn’t support that we have a common goal and a common agenda,” Kenewendo said. “An ideal energy transition should not leave anyone energy poor that is all that matters to me. We shouldn’t find ourselves exacerbating inequalities and disparities,” the former minister from Botswana stressed.
Natural gas to help Africa’s energy transition
Africa is at the cusp of energy sector transformation driven by natural gas. “Natural gas is cleaner than coal but most importantly the people that will need natural gas more are those who cut down forests to cook. So, we would like to maintain the forests because we need the natural assets, and we would like for people to cook without their lungs being destroyed by using hazardous issues,” Kenewendo said. “So, if we look at natural gas in the continent as a clean solution providing sustainable livelihoods, reducing health impacts and reducing the impact on the protection of natural assets, I’d consider this a transition source of energy because what we have to think about is the development aspect that centers on people and planet,” she added.
Kenewendo said one of the projects that Europe and Africa can work on together is the development of green hydrogen in the continent. “A few years ago, Europe launched the Global Gateway program and it promised to finance energy production in the continent. What green hydrogen hubs in Africa will do is provide clean energy for the continent and for Europe because already export channels are being built, storage facilities, special economic zones and so forth and this is very clearly a mutually beneficial project that we should be embarking, we should be financing the technical development and then financing the development of green hydrogen within Africa,” she said.
Another area of cooperation is the protection of nature. “We have standing forests; we have standing mangroves. Let’s all agree that we can develop carbon credits from standing natural assets and those can have access to the European market, into the compliance (offset) market. And I specifically say the compliance market because you look at VCM (Voluntary Carbon Market), Compliance Market has a much higher price per ton. While the VCM is $2-3, compliance is $86 to $120. The difference is big. Now if Europe wants to really show, they really are keen to the protection and conservation of natural assets in the continent, one way is to ensure that there is ease of access and recognition of standing nature assets that we all benefit from. At the moment, the Congo basin is the only one that captures sufficient carbon in the world so its destruction would be detrimental to all of us,” she said.
Making the right investments
“I made a case yesterday that sometimes people think we are being emotive when we say the Congo basin countries should be paid for maintaining the basin — oh, there is no commercial sense for standing forests — But there is a commercial sense if we cut down the forests and rebuilt it. Then carbon markets react. But the other thing you should think about is under those standing forests there is oil – there is an opportunity cost. So, the longer we think about how we are going to pay the countries that are custodians for the Congo basin, Amazon, Indonesia, the more they think about the value that markets already know of what is underground,” Kenewendo said, adding, “For the forests we are discussing what is the value, for the oil we already know what the value is. So, we are giving people a choice of what? Tapping into the oil and we don’t want that.”
This article first appeared in NE Global, and is republished with permission.