Climate Change, the Sahel, and Predictions of a Troubled Future

A new report, “Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics,” contains some grim news for the Sahel. Greg Mills and Terence McNamee of the Brenthurst Foundation write in the Independent Online about the report’s implications for Mali. Noting that the report “predicts that global climate change will curb agricultural output in Mali more than any other country, except its West African neighbours Niger and Burkina Faso,” Mills and McNamee outline the interlocking challenges Mali faces. These include security problems (such as AQIM), rapid population growth, weak employment prospects for youth, and entrenched poverty. The authors see potential for economic growth in mining and cotton, but they recommend serious political and economic reform, such as passage of the new family code. They argue that the next president, to be elected in 2012, will have to make tough choices that could strain the consensus-based fabric of Malian democracy:

Stability in Mali has been achieved in part through a strong tradition of inclusiveness and building broad consensus, ensuring that no groups are excluded. Yet this otherwise positive trait makes it almost impossible for the government to make hard decisions in the national interest, the kind of decisions that are to the short-term detriment of some but in the long run help the country’s development.


If the government avoids the hard choices, its much-admired democracy is sure to falter under the weight of young Malians’ unfulfilled expectations.

The thrust of Mills and McNamee’s suggested reforms makes me uneasy – will further privatization of key industries really benefit Mali, and is it really to Mali’s advantage if politicians force through unpopular reforms? – but their point about Mali’s challenges is irrefutable. Moreover, their argument that “there is nothing Mali can realistically do to mitigate climate change either, but it can adapt to it” sounds ugly, but is correct to the extent that Mali cannot force more powerful countries to stop polluting. Government policy (or even regional initiatives like a proposed “great green wall“) can only do so much to mitigate the effects of climate change, and in some cases these policies carry significant downsides, even in ecological terms. Mali is in a bad spot.

The regional implications are equally frightening. Mali’s problems, as Mills and McNamee say in the beginning, are also Burkina Faso’s and Niger’s. The political landscape varies from place to place, but both countries have their own serious problems: Niger faces an influx of refugees from Libya, recurring droughts, and the challenge of AQIM, while Burkina Faso saw weeks of protests and mutinies this spring. Niger and Burkina Faso also, like Mali, have rapidly growing populations and weak economies. As the physical temperature of these countries rises, the political temperature seems likely to rise as well. Leaders in all three countries, already in complicated positions, will face even tougher choices going forward.


2 thoughts on “Climate Change, the Sahel, and Predictions of a Troubled Future

  1. There is always something that can be done. Aggressively plant trees. Increase the size of the forests and standing tree population. It is not right to start thinking that we are helpless against climate changes. Every single tree planted can help cool a portion of the planet’s surface, right where the tree will stand. A standing tree can help keep some water on the ground and take out some pollutants, CO2, and water vapor from the atmosphere. Planting a tree can be an expression of hope, a defiance against those who express doom and gloom. A group of people, a family, or friends can plant clusters of “parent trees” anywhere near water sources. There are 7 billion humans now and half of that are adults who each can plant a tree; doing so will add up 3.5 billion standing trees over the planet.

  2. The current changes in temperature are trivial compared with what has happened in the past. It is only 40,000 years since the balmy garden outside my office was under several hundred metres of packed ice. The real problem in the climate change debate is to get everyone to admit that catastrophic climate change is normal and can happen within a century or so. See Is global warming a threat because of overpopulation?. The only solution is to ensure that populations are in balance with global resources. I can see the value in short term solutions but everyone must realise that no trees will grow in Mali if global temperatures increase by even 2 degrees. The people moved to Mali during a relatively cool period and it has been getting hotter ever since…it is a shame that Africa is so full that they cannot move out.

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