“No peace under the Shea tree – Climate change and conflicts in the Sahel: Debunking the myths”

Launch of KAS-Policy Report

A reality-check for the EU’s climate-security policy nexus in the Sahel.


5th MDPD Paper cover Flickr - Teseum - CC BY-NC 2.0
5th MDPD Paper cover

On 4 March 2021, the Multinational Development Policy Dialogue of KAS and Delina Goxho, Independent Security Policy Analyst, launched a new report on “Climate change and conflicts in the Sahel: Debunking the myths”, assembling policy makers, experts and a wider policy-community in a public webinar. The report argues that the relationship between climate change and conflicts (the climate/conflict nexus) in the Sahel is not as straightforward as it is being claimed within policy circles. Climate-induced resource scarcity does not seem to be the determining factor behind rising insecurity in the Sahel. It is incapable, unwilling or predatory state institutions instead that contribute to regional conflicts.


Speakers agreed that discussions on the climate/conflict nexus are at a relatively initial phase and that in order to avoid basing policies on untested or erroneous assumptions we must invest in credible research. Speakers highlighted that it is vital to understand how quick shifts in donor priorities push local authorities and NGOs in West Africa and other regions of the world to adapt to the various buzzwords of the European policy community. This has negative impacts on policy: moving priorities from countering violent extremism, to migration, to climate change mitigation does not allow for much needed strategic considerations on whether interventions were successful or not. Thus, it is hard to apply lessons-learnt if focuses keep shifting. Speakers also acknowledged that a potential counterproductive effect of the climate/conflict nexus narrative in the Sahel is that it might provide yet another hook for local authorities to stoke blame elsewhere (for example onto climate change) and avoid implementing much needed governance reforms within their countries. In other words, placing the blame on climate change could represent a way for Sahelian governments to sidestep the governance issue when tackling the security crises in the Sahel.


Perspective from the Sahel region


Dr Mamane Garba Hina Bello from the University of Niamey reported that armed conflicts in the Sahel have existed for decades, including conflicts between farmer and herder communities, rebellions and other types of conflicts (especially over land heritage or water resources), and intergroup conflicts. In addition, there has also been a recent increase in extremist violence in the region, although the causes for such violence are yet to be determined. He highlighted how the climate/conflict narrative could be exploited by local governments: this is already the case with the pandemic, where “health measures” are used to repress opposition and civil society. Political leaders are drawing upon the new climate change narrative in order to attract financial resources. However, according to Dr Bello, in many instances, funds are not allocated to climate-development activities but are redirected either into politicians’ own pockets or used to harass opposition leaders.


Perspective from the European Union


With regard to funding and to the role of the European Parliament in the Sahel region, Ms Bentele, MEP in the Environment and the Development Committees, underlined that in order to align with the commitments made in the European Green Deal, Europe has now agreed to spend 30% of its budget on climate protection. She clarified that although the EU clearly has an interest in promoting climate mitigation, this should not be done at the expense of other priorities, such as good governance, health, and security. Funds must prioritise rule of law, respect for human rights and good governance, so as to ensure a coherent approach.


On European action in the Sahel more generally, Ms Goxho reported that following the recent G5 Summit in N’Djamena, point 21 of the final Communiqué [ext. link:] (and the establishment within the European External Action Service of the P3S Secretariat - ext. link: emphasises the importance of ensuring the redeployment of administration and basic services to benefit the population. More attention to climate-related problems and climate-sensitive projects should be taken into account in this respect. It is relevant to mention, as highlighted in the KAS report, that in some cases development and climate-related aid can exacerbate conflict dynamics, for example by increasing the value of land. To avoid counter-productive effects, there needs to be credible mediation efforts and law enforcement mechanisms: development and climate aid cannot be viewed as mere technical support, as the political component of aid provision must be taken into account.


Digging deeper into the EU’s development policy in the Sahel, speaker raised the question whether slow progress of the region’s development can be attributed to a lack of political will or lack of resources and expertise. If there is a lack of resources at the local level, then capacity building measures must be provided by partners. But if the issue relates to a lack of political will, then aid must be made conditional on performance: safeguards must be put in place to guarantee for a certain behaviour on the part of local leaders; a functioning judicial system is also vital; and both ex-ante and ex-post conditionality measures are important to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation at all stages. More importantly, evaluation should not be based on outputs (e.g. amount of wells built) but on outcomes (e.g. access of the population to water, population’s perception of benefits).


Climate change in the EU’s Strategy for the Sahel


​​​​​​​Speakers agreed that including climate in the upcoming EU Sahel Strategy is important and that supporting academic research in order to have expertise coming from the region would provide policy makers with a better understanding of climate dynamics in the Sahel. External aid must be disbursed following demands identified locally and implemented through local management. Increasing diversity of partners is essential if European policy makers wish to affect positive change in the Sahel: interlocutors should not only be Sahelian governments, but researchers, experts, local leaders and credible civil society representatives. At a European Parliament Committee level, the issue of climate change in the Sahel region needs to feature in the work of the Development Committee, as at the moment the Sahel has only been discussed within the Foreign Affairs Committee only.


As underlined by answers provided by all speakers, the EU should have the strategic patience to adopt a long-term approach to the Sahel: this is not a new endeavour on the part of Brussels, as the EU has been present in the region for two decades now, through development support primarily. Viewing the Sahel as an integral part of the EU neighbourhood will avoid quick-fix thinking on the region and set up avenues for partnership conditional on performance of Sahelian institutions and leaders. Dr Bello in particular remarked that “although climate adaptation measures should always be taken into account when tackling development in the Sahel, priority should be placed on reducing poverty, inequality and corruption”. Improving governance records and the education and judicial systems should be at the forefront of both local and international interventions in the Sahel.


Ultimately, as pointed out in the report, conversations between speakers and the audience highlighted that climate change is a relevant risk in the Sahel region, but that this is not seen to be linked to conflict. In addition, even in instances of farmer/herder conflict, which has been a feature of the Sahelian security landscape for decades, investments in mediation, good governance and climate adaptation should be prioritised, rather than climate-related projects deriving from a perception that climate change affects violence levels.



Delina Goxho, Independent Security Consultant




Thursday, 4 March 2021, 10.00 – 11.00 AM CET



10.00 – 10.05 Welcome and Opening

Denis Schrey, Programme Director, Multinational Development Policy Dialogue, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung



10.05 – 10.10 Impulse

Presentation of KAS-Policy Report “No peace under the Shea tree – Climate change and conflicts in the Sahel: Debunking the myths”

Delina Goxho, Independent Security Analyst



10.10 – 10.45 Virtual Panel Discussion

The Climate-Security Nexus in the Sahel – reality or flawed narrative? Perspectives from the region and the EU


Hildegard Bentele, Member of European Parliament, Development (DEVE) and Environment (ENVI) Committee

Mamane Garba Hima Bello, Researcher / Economist, University of Niamey / Nigerien Ministry of Planning

Delina Goxho, Independent Security Analyst



Louis Mourier, Programme Manager for Climate Policy, Multinational Development Policy Dialogue, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung



10.45 – 10.55

Q&A with audience ​​​​​​​



10.55 – 11.00

Closing Remarks

Denis Schrey, Programme Director, Multinational Development Policy Dialogue, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung


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  • Denis Schrey - Programme Director MDPD KAS / Delina Goxho - Independent Security Policy Analyst / Louis Mourier - Programme Manager MDPD KAS / Dr Mamane Garba Hina Bello - University of Niamey

    Louis Mourier