“Climate security risks cannot be downplayed” – Interview with Janani Vivekananda

Thirsty cows drinking in a water hole near the village of Dagala in Chad and used by nomad tribes. The picture has been taken on 2nd of february 2017.

This Friday sees the start of the Munich Security Conference. We hear from Janani Vivekananda, one of adelphi's experts on climate and security, why decision makers worldwide need to prioritise climate action once more on the global security agenda.


The Munich Security Report 2018 published in the run-up to the conference acknowledges that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that fuels global insecurity. Hardest hit are those states that are already prone to vulnerability, such as Lake Chad and the Sahel zone: “The Sahel region is trapped in a vicious circle in which poor political and security governance, combined with chronic poverty and the effects of climate change, has contributed to the spread of insecurity”, states UN Secretary General António Guterres in the report. Janani Vivekananda has been working in the field of climate change resilience for 12 years now. The Munich Security Conference offers a great opportunity for decision makers to address climate change once more on the global security agenda. It is time to move from discourse to action, she says in our interview.

What are the interlinkages of climate change and security in the Lake Chad region?

Janani Vivekananda: The Lake Chad region provides a very stark example of how climate change can have important impacts on security. Uncertainty around rainfall timings and duration is the biggest problem. More than 90 % of the population in the Lake Chad region are farmers, fishers or pastoralists. The variability in rainfall patterns and the lake water level makes farming more difficult. In short, changing lake levels induced by climate change increase the insecurity of livelihoods of an ever increasing number of inhabitants. Unemployment and hunger make them ripe for recruitment by armed opposition groups such as Boko Haram. As their livelihoods degrade, they may seek alternative ways to make a living, such as joining armed opposition groups. This is an example of how climate change acts as a threat multiplier, exacerbating already existing stressors caused by high levels of political exclusion, inequality and weak governance.

How can development policies help to build up resilience?

Janani Vivekananda: The drivers of the conflict such as political marginalisation and poverty need to be addressed. Whole communities don’t feel represented by their governments, calling for stronger lines of communication and concerted efforts towards inclusiveness. To address poverty, alternative ways to earn a living must be offered. However, it is absolutely essential that these be climate-proof. More often than not, they are not, leading to even bigger frustration and insecurity. Promoting for example alternative farming techniques that will also be affected by climate change induced stresses in the medium to long term will create more harm than good. Mandated by the G-7 member states, adelphi, together with local experts, is currently generating knowledge in this field to support local implementing organisations as well as donors. These efforts are based on the report "A New Climate for Peace", also commissioned by members of the G-7 member states in order to identify the climate-fragility risks that pose serious threats to the stability of states and societies in the decades ahead.

Do you think the climate-security nexus is already adequately addressed by the global political agenda?

Janani Vivekananda: Some promising progress has been made in 2017. Climate change has clearly been stated as a security threat in the Resolution 2349 on Boko Haram's presence in the Lake Chad region and the Presidential Statement on Peace Consolidation in West Africa by the UN Security Council. However, this acknowledgement is not yet reflected on the operational level. There is a lack of adequate frameworks, funding and programming on the ground. The UN-Resolution 2282 on Sustaining Peace mentions climate change not even once, and the Secretary General's Report on Lake Chad includes only one brief reference to the World Bank’s Lake Chad Development and Climate Resilience Action Plan. The challenge therefore lies in creating more coherence and consistency within the policy framework.

"We need to allocate the necessary resources to climate change mitigation"

Janani Vivekananda: Whilst the danger to security is clearly on the table, adequate funding lacks behind, even though everybody knows that, when it comes to risks, we know that prevention is better – and cheaper – than cure. Still, spending on climate change in the EU is still only slightly more than the budget to counter terrorism. The risks of terrorism pose very important threats but the extensive nature of climate security risks cannot be downplayed either: Terrorism was responsible for 265 deaths in OECD countries in 2016. In the same year, that 688.5 million people or 9.3 percent of the world’s population suffered from severe food insecurity, exacerbated by climate-related events and 24.2 million people were displaced as a consequence of slow-onset climate disasters. It is time to question this asymmetry in funding.

What are your hopes for the Munich Security Conference?

Janani Vivekananda: The Munich Security Report already clearly acknowledges the role of climate change in global security. The Munich Security Conference offers a great opportunity for decision makers to prioritise climate action once more on the global security agenda. We finally have to move from discourse to action and understand the need to dial from response to prevention. This means allocating the necessary resources to climate change mitigation!