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Climate change, a growing number of voices in media and policy circles warn, is raising the risks of violent conflict in the twenty-first century. Dire futures are predicted for some of the world’s poorest, least prepared countries and their most vulnerable citizens. This report, sponsored by the Centers of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace, evaluates these claims for conflict-prone Nigeria.

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Summary

  • Nigeria’s climate is likely to see growing shifts in temperature, rainfall, storms, and sea levels throughout the twenty-first century. Poor adaptive responses to these shifts could help fuel violent conflict in some areas of the country.
  • A basic causal mechanism links climate change with violence in Nigeria. Under it, poor responses to climatic shifts create shortages of resources such as land and water. Shortages are followed by negative secondary impacts, such as more sickness, hunger, and joblessness. Poor responses to these, in turn, open the door to conflict.
  • Drawing lines of causation between climate change and conflict in specific areas of Nigeria calls for caution, however, particularly as the scientific, social, economic, and political implications of the country’s changing climate are still poorly understood. President Goodluck Jonathan’s government needs to initiate a serious program of research and policy discussion before taking major adaptive steps.
  • Government and private actors also need to ensure that particular adaptive responses do not themselves fuel violence but actively help build peace. Successful adaptation measures will be crosscutting in design and impact, based on inclusive planning and implementation, steer clear of political patronage traps, and confront political and scientific uncertainty.
  • Solid engagement on the part of the Nigerian federal government is key to achieving the best outcomes, even if most adaptation is done privately. Thus far, official responses have been weak. Along with better information and discussion, Nigeria needs a main federal oversight body to coordinate research and policy, larger roles for sister agencies, and an implementation plan. The country also needs and deserves the help of more developed nations in the form of both adaptation funding and technical assistance.

About this Report

Climate change, a growing number of voices in media and policy circles warn, is raising the risks of violent conflict in the twenty-first century. Dire futures are predicted for some of the world’s poorest, least prepared countries and their most vulnerable citizens. This report, sponsored by the Centers of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace, evaluates these claims for conflict-prone Nigeria. Based on a comprehensive literature survey, interviews with senior government officials, academics, and private sector figures, and the author’s work as a conflict analyst in Nigeria, the report calls for a more nuanced approach to mapping the links between climate change and conflict. It reviews evidence of such links in Nigeria and outlines a process for achieving conflict-sensitive adaptation to the effects of climate change.

About the Author

Aaron Sayne is the West Africa Program Director for the Transnational Crisis Project. Also a practicing attorney, he has worked on oil, conflict, and economic governance issues in Nigeria since 2005.

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