In the Sudano-Sahelian region, progress is being made to prioritise transboundary climate and adaptation risks.
But governments and regional organisations need to work together more to recognise and address climate risks that cross borders. The Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises (SPARC) programme spoke to experts and policymakers in the region who say that using regional institutions to strengthen and implement co-ordination across borders is key to addressing transboundary climate and adaptation risks.
Q: Until now, governments and others have had a ‘blind spot’ about taking climate change adaptation measures across local and national borders – why do you think that is?
Sarah Opitz-Stapleton, research associate at SPARC and ODI: “Climate researchers, planners, community organisers, development banks and multilateral organisations have viewed adaptation as something done at the ‘local level’, with local often defined as a town, village, city or province.
“This ‘localised’ view is important. But it overlooks how climate change can interact with trade policies and pathways, human security, national finances and debt, regional cooperation, and the management of shared natural resources like rivers.
“We need adaptation at multiple scales and levels. National governments and international bodies have more oversight of areas such as trade, border sovereignty and positions on human mobility, foreign direct investment and borrowing. These policy areas have a deep bearing on countries’ ability to manage climate change risks that are geographically broad reaching, connecting the local to the regional and global.”
Q: The dryland regions of Africa are highly climate-vulnerable. What insights can we gain from these regions in transboundary adaptation challenges and opportunities?
Laura Cramer, PhD fellow at the International Livestock Research Institute: “In eastern African drylands, specifically, you cannot talk about climate change without addressing the challenges for pastoralism, one of the foremost ways that rural people in these regions make their livelihoods. Climate change is driving rising temperatures, changes in forage and water available for livestock, and new incidences of pests and diseases. These all have negative impacts on the people and their animals in these areas.
“The region’s rangelands span national borders, and since pastoralists rely on moving around to find pasture and water, they must cross these borders. Pests and diseases are crossing borders too. To address these issues, countries must work together to have a common strategy and to cooperate. Allowing freedom of movement, while having a coordinated disease surveillance and response system in place, can be mutually beneficial. The IGAD Regional Pastoral Livestock Project – in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – is an excellent example of how countries can collaborate to ensure they are jointly addressing the challenges brought by climate change.”
Emmanuel Seck, programme manager at Enda Energie: “In West Africa, transhumance is both a challenge and an opportunity in agriculture. In the Sahel, it is a form of resilience and a traditional practice that supports breeders and livestock.
“Drought, migration, youth unemployment, and conflicts due to competition over resources are also challenges that cross borders. The drop in water levels in watersheds, as in the Volta, Niger and Senegal rivers, threatens economic activity, and these countries face food insecurity.
“But with climate change, it is possible to create opportunities through jobs for young people, for example with forestry and agricultural value chains, by developing local entrepreneurship through creating small businesses.
“Adaptation measures to address these cannot be sectoral. They must be systemic, transversal and sustainable. But there are sectoral adaptation programmes at the regional level that we can learn from, including the Regional Project for Supporting Pastoralism in the Sahel (PRAPS) and integrated programmes for the management of water resources. For this to happen, it is important to work with regional institutions.”
Q: What could governments, communities and others do differently in practice to address transboundary climate risks?
Sarah Opitz-Stapleton: “First, governments could do a better job of mainstreaming climate risk management into their short, medium and long-term social and economic plans. They are not doing this at the moment: governments typically fail to analyse and address transboundary climate risks that are inherent in country trade policies, financial strategies (including foreign direct investment and aid flows), geopolitical and social policies (to manage urbanisation, cross-border movement and other demographic movements). National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) could pull together these implications.
“Risk assessments for NAPs need to go beyond analysing ‘traditional’ sectors like agriculture, forests or water and begin to explore the international dependencies in these traditional sectors, like imports of seed and fertiliser. They also need to examine transboundary risks along non-traditional pathways such as those highlighted in a recent SPARC report, in which we examine how policy-makers and experts in Africa perceive transboundary climate and adaptation risks.
“Our research highlights how contentious national management of shared natural resources, like shared rivers, can be. Individual countries might be in dispute with their neighbours and this can spill over into national adaptation actions. Because of this, our research shows that regional organisations could manage how transboundary climate risks and adaptation opportunities are assessed and negotiated. The policy-makers we spoke to told us regional cooperation is critical to meet these complex challenges.”
Emmanuel Seck: “Ensuring that adaptation policies and strategies are consistent remains a challenge, but one that could be improved by using inter-municipal cooperation.
“We also need better ownership of adaptation initiatives, so it is vital to involve communities in how we analyse climate vulnerability and develop strategies for adaptation options. These communities have endogenous knowledge that is not well recognised in climate adaptation.”
Q: Looking ahead: what developments do you envisage in the broader climate policy landscape with regards to transboundary climate and adaptation risks?
Laura Cramer: “Most countries have submitted their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in line with the Paris Agreement, and there is very little inclusion of transboundary issues within those. As we move toward the UNFCCC Global Stocktake of progress against the Paris Agreement goals (2023), there is a key opportunity for researchers and civil society to publish evidence regarding transboundary climate and adaptation risks and to advocate for more attention to these issues within not only national documents but also in regional bodies.
“If we can make the case for the need to consider transboundary issues as part of country responses to climate change, it can help inform the next round of enhanced NDCs.”
Rajeshree Sisodia is a Communications and Engagement Consultant with the SPARC programme. She specialises in engagement and communications work in climate adaptation and resilience.
Watch SPARC researchers discuss the importance of addressing transboundary climate and adaptation risks in an online event at UNFCCC COP26
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