Kenya places climate disorder at centre of UN security council bid

Facing internal pressure and transboundary tensions over water, Kenya says it will progress climate security issues if it wins Africa’s seat

Pasture for cattle is in short supply following drought in Laikipia County, Kenya. This has sparked local conflict (Photo: Flickr/Regina Hart)

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Kenya has made climate change a core part of its bid to obtain a seat on the UN security council, making an effort to “seek lasting solutions to security challenges caused by erratic climatic conditions” one of its 10 campaign pledges. 

The country is hoping to become a non-permanent member in 2021 to 2022. Kenya’s ministry of foreign affairs said it was well placed in helping the world deal with climate change-induced threats thanks to its experience of dealing with the impacts of extreme and variable weather.

Kenya is battling for Africa’s UN security council seat with Djibouti, which also has experience of dealing with food and water shortages as a consequence of changing weather conditions partially due to climate change.

The African Union recently endorsed Kenya’s candidacy by a considerable 37-13 margin over Djibouti. But Djibouti declined to bow out of the race. The election for non-permanent members of the UN security council will take place in June 2020, with successful candidates taking their seats in January 2021.

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Kenya’s foreign affairs cabinet secretary Monica Juma recently said climate change was negatively impacting global peace and security, with urgent action required to address the intertwined threats.

“Our pursuit for solutions on global challenges convinces us that we are well placed to contribute constructively in the UN Security Council,” Juma said at a conference on environmental governance and diplomacy in Nairobi in October.

Gerphas Opondo, a legal expert on multilateral agreements, told CHN climate change is a threat to global security, with weather events such as harsh droughts having the potential to trigger tension between two neighbouring countries sharing a transboundary water resource.

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As droughts become more frequent, many countries consider damming their rivers to boost water, food and electricity security at home, Opondo explained. But such projects deny users in a neighbouring country who may need the resources more the opportunity to share the resource.

Earlier this year, Kenya was forced to shelve plans to construct dams across the River Mara – the only major river supporting Maasai Mara and Serengeti national parks – following protests from Tanzania.

Ethiopia and Egypt are also involved in a long-running diplomatic standoff over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across Nile River. Egypt fears that the dam threatens its already scarce water supplies.

According to Opondo, “international conflicts over control of a transboundary resources can lead to wars, especially when diplomatic resolution fails,” which is why climate change has become a focus for African nations seeking membership of the UN security council.

This article was produced as part of an African reporting programme supported by Future Climate for Africa.

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