"Somalia will become almost unlivable in certain areas"
UNSOM is special political mission that operates under a UN Security Council mandate to support Somali institutions, strengthen Somali coordination with international partners in the security sector, help Somalis advance in reconciliation and democratic governance, and promote the rule of law and human rights. It was established in 2012 and has been extended several times. It is the first mission to include the post of an environmental security adviser focussing on issues related to climate change and environmental degradation and the impact on society, security and conflict. It is funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Auswärtiges Amt). Christophe Hodder from the UK has been working in this position from June 2020.
Mr. Hodder, you are the first climate and security expert within the framework of a UN mission. How would you describe your job? What are your main tasks, and what is your principal role: adviser, coordinator, collection of data and research?
My role has two halves. Firstly it’s to try to work with the political, security and rule of law institutions to mainstream climate and environment into their work. This includes climate risk integration into political analysis and peacebuilding approaches. We are also trialing out new and innovative approaches to environmental mediation and peacekeeping as well.
The other half is to work on coordinating environmental and climate approaches across the country, the UN system and with local CSOs and NGOs. I also advise senior leadership on climate and environmental issues and I collect data and evidences on the links between climate change, competition over natural resources and conflicts in Somalia. Finally, I also support and advise the federal member states (Somalia consists of six federal states, with Somaliland in the north claiming independency; the editors) on environmental policy and co-chair several task forces on coordination across the Humanitarian/Development/Peace Nexus.
This does not seem to be a routine job. To illustrate what you’re doing and to better understand how it integrates into the UNSOM mission, what would a working week look like? Do you spend most of your time on the telephone, in meetings with officials and representatives or on the ground working with local institutions and people?
That’s right, it’s definitely not normal! So yes, my normal week is advising on the senior management teams and meeting officials on the Monday. On the Tuesday I coordinate the cross UN task force on Environmental Coordination where we look at joint planning, joint programmes and coordinating on the aid architecture to Somalia. On Wednesday I would be speaking to local NGOs and CSOs and support programmes, giving training, doing capacity building calls and then also working on the environmental approaches to mediation. On Thursday I would usually be chairing the national Nexus task force on flooding and water management and looking at issues around climate and water. Then I would have several discussions with government and then also with the AMISOM military on drone dropping seedballs or working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on issues of climate displacement. Friday is usually a day off in Somalia however I often work and catch up on research, do reading and try to write concept notes on innovative ideas for programmes.
Climate change is often referred to as a threat multiplier. How do climate change and security or conflict risks relate, especially with regard to the situation in Somalia? Has your personal understanding of the linkage deepened during your job?
For me Somalia and much of the Sahel and Horn areas are experiencing right now the impacts of climate change. Warming temperatures, now annual flooding/drought cycles and locust plagues that we see contribute to or multiply as you say the conflict. Last year alone 75% of all the 2.9 million people displaced in Somalia was due to flooding and drought overtaking conflict as the main cause of displacement. The displacement has led to heightened conflict over natural resources from grazing lands to water rights to not having enough space for everybody to live. UNEP and IOM did a great study on maladaptive techniques of climate displaced populations. We can see clearly that the displaced populations have to cut trees for their energy needs, this in turn contributes clearly to soil erosion and therefore increases in flooding and desertification. This in turn leads to further displacement and further conflict. Therefore, this cycle of climate-induced flooding/drought – displacement – desertification/deforestation – flooding – displacement is something that is very real and clearly showing in the trends. We are trying to make an estimate on the levels of conflict due to competition over natural resources. We don’t have the data yet but we do believe a majority of the conflicts in Somalia are originally over natural resources. With climate change we predict this will increase with Somalia heading to a 4 degrees rise by 2080 which is almost unlivable in certain areas. This is leading to massive urbanization, huge changes in livelihood and earning capabilities and is also playing into the hands of militant groups like Alshabab who are recruiting youths who have less and less livelihood options due to climate change.
As for climate change and conflict, environmental issues can also stimulate cooperation. On the other hand, adaptation measures should not aggravate existing tensions or create new ones. Do these ideas play any role in your work or for UNSOM in general?
So yes, for my role that does play an important part. As I mentioned we are trialing an environmental mediation approach where we are trying to see if we can galvanize the clans to stimulate cooperation on climate issues rather than see it as an inter-clan issue. And part of my role is also to see if we can make adaptation and mitigation approaches more conflict sensitive, as in trying to work with local communities to see climate adaptation as playing a role in the statebuilding and building of local systems.
UNSOM is a special political mission, without military involvement. But with regard to the MINUSMA mission in Mali, for example, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) also calls for an environmental security adviser “to support both increasing the priority of climate-related security risks and improving the capacity to address it”. In what way could that be helpful?
I think it would be incredibly useful for MINUSMA to have someone in a similar role that can help coordinate environmental approaches, can advise on environmental mediation and environmental peacebuilding approaches as well as trial and work on new approaches to peacekeeping such as environmental policing, protection of natural resources or bio-diverse areas as part of the peacebuilding approaches. It would be great to learn and work together and really get to the bottom of what do we do about climate security and how can we establish this as core parts of peacekeeping missions.
You have been working for around a year now in that position. What are the most urgent needs and long-term goals, and what has been achieved so far?
The most urgent needs include the flooding and drought cycle leading to displacement and conflict. Climate displacement and urbanization are going to really destabilize any peacebuilding approaches and with temperatures rising and more and more unpredictable weather events we need to ensure we are focusing fully on mitigating and adapting to the events. The long-term goals are to really ensure the mission is climate ready, have strategies and plans in place based on the predication models to try to deal with or at least support the communities’ and the system’s resilience building where we can.
So far we have managed to mainstream environmental and climate change in the UN Cooperation Framework. We have a lot of great coordination approaches set up which are already starting to deliver some results and finally we have concept notes that will hopefully lead to programmes looking at conflict mediation, environmental peacekeeping, climate displacement, reforestation and rangeland management etc. We have also delivered on helping and supporting the government at federal and local level to ensure the right policy and protection systems are in place. We hope all this will really start making an impact next year.
Some people might criticize that funding a position like yours is highly useful and necessary but addresses only the symptoms instead of the causes. The focus should also be on mitigation and reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.
While I agree the Paris agreement is absolutely essential and delivering on it is imperative for human survival, I think that roles like mine can totally help; first bring up evidence to the Security Council and to the international community and show that we need to act now as a global community; secondly we can help the peacebuilding/military/security and the political approaches to tackle and come up with innovative ways to the conflict and to the climatic events; thirdly my role can help coordinate, mainstream and provide expert technical advice to the UN and its partners and be a catalyst for change on green growth and mitigation/adaptation approaches.
Mr. Hodder, one last question, would you share your personal motivation with our readers?
My personal motivation is very much around trying to do something in this time of a global emergency. My opinion is that climate change will be the greatest challenge humankind has every experienced and I wanted to be part of that, help with my skill set to really try to make a difference and to try to be part of doing something about the climate emergency.
Mr. Hodder, thank you very much for the interview!
(Questions by Rüdiger Frank and Kristina Tonn.)
Christophe Hodder is the first Climate Security Advisor for a UN Peacekeeping mission in the world. He has spent the last 20 years in conflict or fragile states working on community and policy/political engagements working in some of the most unstable areas of the world. From working in Northern Nigeria and Mali to working on nature-based solutions in response to the Earthquake in Nepal, he is a passionate environmentalist that has a background in Environmental Health and behavior change. He currently lives in Nairobi with frequent travel to Somalia and lives there with his wife and two children.