20 June 2023

Climate security in Egypt and beyond: interview with Ahmed Abdel-Latif

In recent years, Egypt has played a major role in the response to climate insecurity. It has established the Aswan forum as a forum to advance the operationalization of the Humanitarian, Development and Peace  Nexus (HDPN). It has also seized the opportunity of COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh to introduce the CRSP initiative, a push by the COP presidency of Egypt to discuss the global ramifications of climate peace and security, identify existing policy and knowledge gaps, and call for the implementation and dissemination of integrated responses.

Planetary Security Initiative has recently interviewed Ahmed Abdel-Latif the head of the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding, and Peacekeeping (CCCPA), to discuss his experiences with tackling climate insecurity and what he sees in terms of challenges and opportunities facing Africa and the world in this area.


Could you quickly introduce yourself to our audience?

My name is Ahmed Abdel-Latif, the Director General of the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding, known as CCCPA. We are an Egyptian institution that was established in 1994 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to strengthen the capacities of developing countries in the areas of peace and security. Over time, this has extended to include areas such as peacekeeping, peacebuilding, the role of women in peace and security, preventing radicalization and extremism leading to terrorism and combating transnational threats. The latest program established in 2019 focuses on climate, peace and development. 

In 2019, Egypt launched the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development, during its chairmanship of the African Union. The forum seeks to strengthen the nexus between peace security and development in Africa with African-made solutions, and by bridging the gap between policy and practice. This is done in collaboration with a broad range of partners at the national, regional, and international levels. CCCPA acts as the Forum’s Secretariat.

The Forum’s last edition, in 2022, focused on the impact of climate on peace and stability in Africa. Its Conclusions called for moving from analysis to action. Acting upon them, CCCPA developed on behalf of the COP27 Presidency, and with the support of UNDP and the  African Union Commission, an initiative called Climate Responses for Sustaining Peace (CRSP). It was launched at COP27 on Adaptation Day. We are currently working on taking forward this initiative. 

CCCPA has also been recently chosen to chair the  Network of African  Think Tanks for Peace (NETT4PEACE)which is a new initiative of the African Union Commission that brings together African peace and security centers to provide knowledge inputs in order to better inform African Union peace and security deliberations and interventions. 


Could you expand more upon the work you do for the Aswan Forum?

The Aswan Forum is not narrowly focused on hard security issues. It primarily focuses on advancing the implementation of the Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus. We tackle issues related to trade, finance, climate change, infrastructure, and economic development and their interface with peace and security. While everyone agrees on the importance of the HDPN nexus, efforts to operationalize it remain fragmented.  We seek to ensure policies of different actors are aligned to strengthen the implementation of the nexus. 

Moreover, the Forum has an interesting model, as its deliberations are prepared by expert workshops which put forward recommendations that are discussed at the Forum and then feed into the Conclusions. As the Secretariat, we then strive to advance the implementation of the conclusions working closely with the Forum’s partners including governmental actors, international and regional organizations and think tanks. This process is called the Aswan Cycle. It also features Aswan in Practice as an effort to connect the Forum’s high level policy discussions to action on the ground. 

Over the years, the Forum has become an incubator of initiatives, knowledge and best practices for tackling peace and security challenges facing the African continent, related not just to climate change, but also to a range of other challenges such as terrorism.


How do you intend to build on the work you have done for the CRSP initiative that emerged from this Aswan cycle?

The UNFCCC COP framework provides an inclusive framework to mobilize a broad range of stakeholders around many climate change issues including those relating to the impacts of climate change on peace stability and development. It is an important consideration behind the launch by the Egyptian COP Presidency of the CRSP initiative at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh. 

The initiative seeks to harness climate responses and actors within a sustaining peace paradigm to tackle both growing climate impacts on the peace and security as well as their root causes. It aims to do so by better connecting communities working on climate, peace building and humanitarian issues, catalyzing action through scaling up best practices and impacting by addressing the needs of local communities which are at the forefront of climate and conflict. The initiative has four pillars: strengthening the climate adaptation and peacebuilding nexus; strengthening climate resilient food systems for sustaining peace; advancing durable solutions for climate displacement and scaling up climate financing for sustaining peace. Work has started under the different pillars to address policy, knowledge and capacity gaps. As CCCPA, we carried out our first Climate Programing for Sustaining Peace training last March, the first of its kind in Africa, as a concrete step to operationalize CRSP initiative. It aimed to equip policy makers and relevant officials from African countries with knowledge and skills to design integrated responses to tackle climate risks. 

We will present elements of progress of what we have done in terms of the implementation of the CRSP initiative at COP28, which will have a dedicated thematic day on Relief, Recovery and Peace. 


You also mentioned that you have a focus on Africa, what do you see as the main climate security threat towards the continent?

Africa is confronted with a significant acceleration of climate change impacts, whether these are floods in South Sudan, droughts in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel. 22 million people are at risk of hunger in the Horn of Africa due to drought. Climate impacts are causing displacement and creating competition over water and food resources. It estimated that if no drastic action is taken now, there will be a 100 million Africans displaced by climate in 2100. Africa is the continent both most vulnerable to climate change and the least equipped, in terms of the strength of its capacities and resources, to face these impacts. It also receives only 4% of global climate finance. 

These impacts aggravate existing vulnerabilities and fragilities, which can feed into tensions. Though this depends heavily on the context in question, each response needs to be different, and there needs to be strong national ownership of these responses from national actors and local communities. Support to local communities which are on the front lines of these challenges and strengthening their resilience is particularly critical.


Do you see on a state level a realization of this being a growing issue, or do you still see hesitation to view climate change as a security issue rather than a development issue?

I believe there is a realization that this is a growing issue. At the same time, many states wish to see the narrative evolve and that it is less focused on security and more embedded in peace, resilience and development. The CRSP initiative is reflective of this evolving narrative. I think it is one of the reasons why it has attracted so much support. 

I also think many states also want to see their own efforts in this area recognized. When I read about climate and security issues, often what Africa is doing on the continent is not reflected. In many cases, analysis and discourse by some international actors do not pay attention to what is already being done in Africa to address these issues. For example, since March 2021 the African Union Peace and Security Council has had a summit meeting on the issues of climate, security and development. Since then, the Council has had several meetings on this topic, including under Egyptian presidency, and outlined a number of elements of response. In June 2022, the African Union issued a Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan that also addresses his issue. 

So there has been an important recognition in Africa of this challenge and the potential effects that climate can have on the stability of societies and efforts to achieve development objectives. 

But again, unfortunately, this does not seem to be well known enough, which is part of the reason why the last edition of the Aswan Forum sought to put a spotlight on these efforts. And at the COP,  Egypt launched CRSP which was the first time an initiative on this topic was put forward at a COP by a COP presidency, so it is really a historic initiative from Africa. We are pleased to see that this initiative has attracted considerable support from a wide range of partners.


What do you see as the reason for this?

I think that sometimes countries do not pay enough attention to what other countries are doing. They will raise and promote an issue, but without really engaging with what others are saying or doing about it. And I think that we see this on a range of issues, especially within the current international context. It is important to listen to what others are saying and doing, particularly from the global South. 

We need to give greater support to local and regional initiatives and ensure that this is not an issue that is only discussed in New York but also in Africa and elsewhere as well. 


Ahmed Abdel-Latif is the Director General at the Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding. More information on the Aswan Forum can be found here


This interview was conducted by Emil Havstrup and Sarah Lokenberg (Planetary Security Initiative).

Photo credit: Flickr/EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid