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Ambassador Rice at the UNSC: The Sahel and Climate Adaptation

SONY DSCAt a briefing for the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice spoke at length about conflict, insecurity and vulnerability in the Sahel region, and the persistent drought overlaying it all. She also highlighted the U.S. role in assisting the region, stating:

The U.S. has committed more than $445 million in 2012 to humanitarian assistance for drought-affected and conflict-displaced communities in the Sahel. We intend these resources to alleviate the dire situation at hand, reduce chronic vulnerability, and ultimately to promote more inclusive growth.

These are, of course, worthy aims. But in order to truly succeed, plans for reducing chronic vulnerabilities in the Sahel will need significant “climate-proofing,” given the region’s worrying climate forecast.  As we have indicated previously:

There is strong evidence that climatic conditions in the Sahel have been steadily growing worse, particularly in regards to rainfall levels. According to at least six studies of this phenomenon, highlighted by UNEP in 2006 (see page 3), “the second half of the 20th century has witnessed a dramatic reduction in mean annual rainfall throughout the region.” A 2005 NOAA report attributed the low rainfall to changes in sea surface temperature (likely caused by a combination of natural variability and human-induced change), and both a NOAA study in 2006, and another by Shanahan et al in 2009, attributed drought in the West African Sahel to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which is responsive to sea surface temperature changes.

Absent significant and smart investments in climate adaptation measures, the Sahel may face an even more fragile future. Hopefully, the United States will be in a position to play a leadership role in helping to generate such resources.

Greening the Blue Helmets

In highlighting the climate and environmental security nexus, we often discuss the relationship between climate change, natural resource degradation and conflict, yet spend less time discussing implications for the world’s institutions of conflict-prevention and resolution (and the role of those institutions in terms of resource use). The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO), for example, is responsible for a relatively large force of over 120,000 peacekeepers, yet we do not hear a lot about how peacekeeping operations interact with natural resources and natural resource management, or how they account for the effects of climate change. This is despite the fact that there are currently a significant number of UN peacekeeping operations that were launched in response to a natural resource-related conflicts. To remedy this gap, Stuart Kent at the New Security Beat highlights the new UNEP report Greening the Blue Helmets: Environment, Natural Resources and UN Peacekeeping Operations, which provides a dozen concrete sustainability guidelines for UN peacekeepers to follow. Worth a read.

Socio-environmental Impacts of Iran’s Disappearing Lake Urmia

This is a guest post by Dr. Aref Najafi of the Lake Urmia Conservation Institute, and contributor to the recent UNEP report “The Drying of Iran’s Lake Urmia and its Environmental Consequences.” This post provides a more in-depth look at the political context of the Iranian government’s neglect of lake Urmia, building on our recent article on the climate, water and security dimensions of the problem. (more…)

Mali: Migration, Militias, Coups and Climate Change

This blog also appeared on the humanitarian news site, AlertNet.

The world is suddenly paying attention to the oft-ignored North African country of Mali, as it is racked by its most recent in a long string of crises: a coup d’etat. This political and constitutional crisis sits atop an already extremely vulnerable situation – a volatile mix of climate change, drought, food shortages, migration and immobility, armed insurrection and heavy weapons proliferation that threaten to plunge the country into a state of instability not unlike Somalia. As the international community, including the UN Security Council, moves to act on this crisis, it will be important to consider all the identifiable sources of Mali’s insecurity in order to get the solutions right. (more…)

The Sahel: Weather, Extremism and Weapons

The Economist published an interesting, if alarming, piece on Saturday exploring the explosive intersection of shifting weather patterns, political extremism, and the movement of heavy weapons in the Sahel region of Africa (for those who are unfamiliar, the Sahel constitutes the 5,400 km-wide arid and semi-arid plains south of the Sahara desert, and north of the more water-rich Sudanian Savannahs, stretching like a vast ribbon from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea). (more…)

Eye on Iran: Lake Urmia, Water, Climate and Security in a Volatile Region

This blog also appeared on the humanitarian news site, AlertNet

The strategic position of Iran, straddling the energy-thruway that is the Strait of Hormuz, bordering, among other nations, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and sitting a mere 1,000 miles northeast of an anxious Israel, is unquestionably important. However, while the recent focus has been on whether or not Iran has the capability and the will to turn its domestic nuclear energy program into a nuclear weapons program, another human and economic disaster looms relatively unnoticed: the drying up of Lake Urmia in the country’s northwest – the largest lake in the Middle East. Given the current volatile political landscape surrounding Iran, this is worth a closer look. (more…)