“Climate Change Must be Seen as a Security Concern”

Accra, June 11, 2014 – “It has not been normal for rainstorms like these to happen at this time of the year, early in March.” President Mahama noted on this year’s rainy Independence Day. The President has done a great deal in raising concerns on climate change, and with the Former President H.E. John A. Kufuor serving as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, Ghana has great potential in not only taking the lead for the region in combating global warming, but also reshaping the agenda to highlight yet another dimension of climate change–the threat to peace and security.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day on June 5th, “Raise your voice, not the sea level” called to mind the urgency to help protect Small Islands States—collectively home to more than 63 million people—in the face of growing risks and vulnerabilities as a result of climate change.  Rising sea level is only one of the many threats resulting from global warming that are facing people and nations. Concerns on the multidimensional nature of climate change are steadily growing; military advisors are now adding to the woes and concerns being raised by the increasing number of economists about climate change. Global warming is no longer solely viewed as an environmental matter with potential economic repercussions, it is seen as a security issue that could breed violence and escalate longstanding political and ethnic tensions.  Evidence already shows that natural disasters, food shortages and droughts are on the rise in the footsteps of climatic changes, and they are threatening the peace in some places.

Climate Change is Bad News for Ghana

Ghana is considered to be a vulnerable target of climate change effects. The economy is heavily dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as rain-fed agriculture, wildlife resources, fisheries and hydro-power generation. The country is already experiencing the consequences of climate change, and until we do well to adapt or mitigate the impact of climate change, we are likely to experience a more drastic consequence. Over the past 40 years the average temperature in Ghana has increased by 1⁰C, with the rate of increase being more rapid in the Northern parts. Recent global warming events such as the northern floods in 2007, directly affecting a total of 317,000 people and destroying a vast number of schools, health facilities and roads, and the nationwide flooding in October 2010, have demonstrated that climate change is already setting new conditions for the livelihoods of many Ghanaians. “Our farmers could predict the weather with greater accuracy in the past. Today, the rainfall comes when it should not come, and do not come when it should come.” Former President John A. Kufuor recently stated at the Africa launch of the Climate Change in Africa: Guidebook for Journalists on May 20th.

Subsistence farming has particularly become more difficult, small-holder farmers naturally seek ways of diversifying their sources of livelihood by branching into other sectors. Global warming exacerbates existing challenges facing our nation such as poverty and water access, and particularly threatens vulnerable communities. Indeed, climate change is best seen as a threat multiplier, it can yield a spiral of negative effects that hit not only our farmers and our fishermen, but citizens of all layers and categories. The number of climate refugees from the Sahel is anticipated to increase exponentially in the future due to erratic weather conditions. Last year, some 11 million people faced the risk of hunger in the wake of the recent food crisis in the semi-arid Sahel. The term “climate refugees” is now well entrenched in terminology of global institutions, and Ghana is well likely to experience the augmented flow of cross-border migration, trailing in the effects of global warming.

The Security Dimension of Climate Change

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that climate change will continue to raise global food prices and possibly yield a global food crisis. According to a World Bank report, rising food prices have caused 51 riots in 37 countries since 2007. “Food price shocks can both spark and exacerbate conflict and political instability,” warns the report. As a net importer of food, increasing global food prices poses a serious food security threat to Ghana. The nation will not bear fruit of the price surges, but rather be at the paying end. Worst case scenario, it could spark violent acts as it did in Mozambique 2010. The numbers are not on our side:in 2013the World Food Programme (WFP) stated that more than 680,000 Ghanaians already were severely to moderately food insecure.

The CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board, a U.S. government-funded military research organization, found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is increasingly leading to conflict over food and water resources, escalating inherent political and ethnic tensions into violent situations. The relationship between climate and conflict is incredibly complex, but linkages can be drawn. A Pentagon report recentlyrelated the surge in asymmetrical warfare such as terrorismwith global warming, and the British newspaper The Guardian ascribed the evolution of Boko Haramin a structural contextof ecological degradation and climate change.

Focusing on the security aspect of global warming should however not risk devolving the humanitarian responsibilities in the combat againstclimate change. Concerns should be articulated as to not lose sight of the most vulnerable communities that stand in need of protection the most.

Ghana Could Benefit from Pushing a Tougher Climate Change Agenda

States, the major stakeholders in the climate change talks, have yet to internalize and articulate the concerns raised by institutions on the security implications of global warming. Ghana could benefit by raising these concerns in next year’s climate conference COP21 in Paris. Ghana can add to the recent wave of optimism in the climate change agenda, following the Obama Administration’s historic decision to surpass U.S. Congress and introduce a rigorous plan to cut climate gas emissions in the United States. Obama’s Administration’s federal policy action paves the way for a climate deal potentially worth celebrating, given the leverage the new U.S. legislation yields on other major pollutants. Ghana could be on the winning side in such a deal, and it should breed that opportunity by taking on a leadership role. One of the successes of the Brundtland Report of 1987, renowned for bringing environmental concern to the centre of the international political stage, was that it successfully exposed the security dimension of environmental threats. Next year, Ghana canenter the centre stageby altering the discourse of climate change and bring in the security aspect of global warming to the mix.

Written by Magnus Berg, Intern with the United Nations Information Centre, Accra