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The impact of climate change on human security in South Africa

Rabie, Elsa (2008-03)

Thesis (MA (Political Science))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is conclusive that climate change will lead to scarcity of the basic resources that sustain life for people around the world – fresh water supplies, food production and land for habitation and cultivation. It is argued that environmental scarcity leads to migration which in turn results in conflict in the receiving area as competition over resources develops. Based on the main theories relating to resource scarcity and conflict, the purpose of this study is to examine the link between climate change and human security. The relevance of this research is the fact that the Stern Review concludes that climate change poses a serious threat to the world and that Africa will be one of the hardest hit continents. Africa is already vulnerable to climate variability and has the least capacity to respond, and this study aims to establish the impacts of resource scarcity on human security in South Africa. The theoretical approach addresses the much debated concept of ‘human security’ as it has developed since the end of the Cold War and the analysis is based on the main conflict theories that maintain that competition over access to scarce resources is one of the root causes of violent conflict. The research design for this study is of an empirical nature with the units of analysis being states, physical events and processes and the resulting human actions. It is a descriptive analysis, interpreting the impact of climate change on scarce resources and the resulting propensity for conflict. Much of the violence against migrants has been the result of varying degrees of xenophobia amongst all racial groups in South Africa. This study proposes the hypothesis that migration results in increased competition over scarce resources in receiving areas, which as a result of xenophobia leads to conflict. Based on the theoretical arguments put forward, the paper aims to determine what policy options for adaptation, mitigation and governance would be most likely to reduce the harmful impacts of climate change on vulnerable regions and groups of people in South Africa and neighbouring countries in order to contain migration and lessen the likelihood of violent conflict. Having identified xenophobia as a spark that could ignite violent inter-group conflict it would be useful to gain some theoretical insight into reducing group prejudice and attaining group cooperation through inter-group contact. It is apparent that there is no single theoretical approach that can be applied to gain a better insight into the complex link between resource scarcity and conflict. The different theories are mutually compatible and each theoretical perspective contributes a partial elaboration to and additional insights into the climate change/conflict hypothesis. There is possibly room for a new theoretical approach to gain a better understanding of the complexity and the uncertainties that are inherent in the study of a mechanism as complex as climate change. South Africa has the responsibility to use its global political influence to promote a shared understanding of responsible behaviour across all societies. Active participation will enable South Africa to guide global negotiations towards outcomes that will lessen the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable countries and populations. In conclusion, possible policies and actions are identified that could support these objectives. Without urgent, appropriate intervention climate change will undermine any efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and a crippled African continent will be a threat to world security.

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