Workshop on Climate, Land use and Conflict in Northern Africa

September 22-24, 2014
in Lübeck, upon invitation

A workshop on “Northern Africa – Past, Present, and Future Climate Changes” was held in Hamburg in February 2011 to study the dynamics of the natural climate system.  This workshop emphasized lessons learned about the climate of Africa north of the equator from palaeoclimate modelling and reconstruction, and addressed questions such as: “How green was Northern Africa in the early and mid-Holocene?”, “How fast did Northern African climate and vegetation change in the past?”, and “How might Northern Africa change in the future?” It was foreseen that there should be a follow-up workshop with a focus on humans and human interaction with Northern African climate. Hence the current workshop attends to critically revisit and to assess the following topics:

1. Climate change in the recent past and possible future climate change

According to the latest IPCC AR5 report, estimates of possible precipitation changes in Northern Africa vary, except for the region adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea where a clear signal of reduced precipitation emerges. Therefore, it is not at all obvious from the CMIP5 models whether greenhouse-gas induced climate warming will lead to more or less rainfall in most parts of the Sahara, Sahel and Sudan. Models which include atmosphere-vegetation interaction indicate that there could be greening in the Sahel. What are the newest estimates? What do satellites tell us about current greening or drying?  Can a regional modelling approach provide more reliable projections?

2. Current land use and land cover change

Increasing population puts pressure on ecosystem resources and alters the land surface. How much of the land and its resources has been used in the past and today? Can we capture all forms and intensities of land management relevant to climate and conflict in this region from available inventories and remote sensing, or are novel approaches needed for monitoring? E.g., what is the contribution of human activity to current observations of greening and drying? How does land use affect key biospheric variables (whose changes may trigger conflicts)?

3. Current conflict and conflict potential

Food production is sensitive to changing climate conditions across Northern Africa, where economies strongly depend on agriculture or livestock. When reduced precipitation and droughts affect water security and crop yield, human security for a growing population is at stake. Regional water and food crises, combined with forced migration, can disrupt established relations (e.g., between farmers and herders). It can even destabilize societies and provoke additional violence in a region that is heavily affected by violent conflicts and political turmoil such as the Arab Spring. What are the latest empirical results on climate-conflict linkages in Northern Africa? And what are potential conflict pathways of water, food and migration based on regional case studies?

Synthesis climate – land use – conflict

To consider complex linkages of human-environment interactions in this regional climate hot spot, an integrative framework is presented to analyse and model the pathways between climate change, land use and conflict. What are the cross-cutting issues? And how could combined effects interact in a destabilizing way, such as tipping points and risk cascades? Water cooperation, co-development in migration and a renewable power grid between Europe and Northern Africa are suggested to prevent regional conflict. What are potential measures to increase stability and cooperation?