07 December 2022

Climate-related security risks in the SADC region

Southern Africa is among the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. Climate-related impacts such as droughts, floods and tropical cyclones undermine development and reduce the availability of natural resources, affecting the majority of the region’s population. Further, climate change can increase the risk of insecurity and violent conflict, when its impacts interact with social, political and economic stresses to compound vulnerabilities. Although southern Africa is not a hotspot for climate insecurity in comparison with other regions on the continent, climate change is worsening livelihood and food insecurity, displacement and migration, and heightening competition over land and water resources. As a result, climate-related impacts are likely to exacerbate the tensions and dynamics of ongoing conflicts, as well as affect peace efforts in the region. 

Considering the transnational and multidimensional nature of climate-related security risks, regional organizations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) can play a key role in the assessment and coordination of responses to them in the region. SADC is an intergovernmental regional organization with 16 member states: Angola, Botswana, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its main objectives are to achieve development and economic growth, promote peace and security, and alleviate poverty in southern Africa. However, unless there is adequate assessment of and means to mitigate them, climate-related security risks may have negative impacts on peace and security in the region, and on the overall objectives of SADC.

As this SIPRI Topical Backgrounder shows, SADC mainly recognizes climate-related security risks implicitly in its mandate, policy documents and meeting notes, with a few exceptions that make the climate–security connection more explicit. Its responses to such risks are also highly sectoral, with limited capacity and resources for effective implementation. To date, SADC has no explicit action plan or policy framework targeted at addressing climate-related security risks. There is a clear need for SADC to step up its understanding and assessment of climate-related security risks, including coordination between different sectors, in order to mitigate and prevent them.

This backgrounder is based on a qualitative review of policy documents and meeting reports published by SADC and builds on SIPRI’s research into how regional organizations frame and respond to climate-related security risks. It provides an overview of the climate-related security risks in the SADC region, the current discourses on these risks within SADC, and SADC’s institutional architecture and policy responses to climate change. It concludes with some ways forward to consider for the future.

This Backgrounder was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and the full version can be viewed here.

Written by Katongo Seyuba and Tània Ferré Garcia at SIPRI
Photo Credit: NASA GoddardSpace Flight Center/ Flickr