Somalia is the second most climate-vulnerable country in the world and one of the least ready to face the climate crisis, according to the global climate index ND-GAIN. Despite its negligible contribution in terms of greenhouse gas emissions — estimated at about 53.70 MtCO2, representing less than 0.03% of total global emissions — the country is acutely experiencing climate change impacts. At the same time, Somalia is making important decisions to adapt and move forward.

Somalia is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, resulting in famine, water scarcity, food insecurity and environmental degradation. In 2022, four consecutive rainy seasons failed. When it finally rained, most areas received lower than average rainfall, exacerbating the country’s existing humanitarian crisis. Severe drought conditions displaced 7.8 million people from their communities. With the devastating loss of their livelihoods and livestock, many families were forced to flee their homes and headed to camps and informal settlements, hoping to find support there. However, food, medical care and clean water are not always available. In February 2023, the UN resident coordinator for Somalia warned that deaths in the country will “almost certainly” surpass those of the famine declared in 2011, when starvation claimed more than 260,000 lives.

In 2023, approximately half of the country’s population will need humanitarian assistance as a result of the drought, intermittent floods and ongoing civil conflict that began over thirty years ago. Nearly 16 million people call Somalia home, yet the climate crisis has increased the rate of severe droughts. With occurrences every other year, it is even more difficult for already fatigued communities and government agencies to stay afloat.

Within this dire context, Somalia’s government is taking concrete steps to plan for and reduce climate risks. Somalia prioritized adaptation in its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), submitted in 2021, and recently started developing its National Adaptation Plan (NAP). Through the adaptation component of its NDC and by mainstreaming climate adaptation into sustainable development, Somalia aims to enhance adaptive capacity, reduce vulnerability and strengthen its resilience to climate change. Priority areas for adaptation planning between 2021 and 2030 include agriculture and food security, water resources management and public health, and disaster preparedness and management. These priorities are informed by the country’s 2020 adaptation baseline vulnerability assessment and national and subnational adaptation plans and policies — including the NAPA, which includes an adaptation strategy and risk mitigation plan.

However, Somalia faces several challenges to implementing these adaptation plans and policies. Insufficient institutional coordination as well as financial constraints, such as the lack of investment planning and national funds for climate change adaptation interventions, limit capacity both at the national and state levels of governance. These constraints also make it difficult for Somalia to access international funds for adaptation.

Through the Green Climate Fund (GCF)-financed NAP Readiness Project, Somalia is working on strengthening its capacities and coordination. Somalia is also building a climate finance coordination mechanism and climate budget tagging procedures that will guide implementation and ensure country ownership of the financing framework and policy established under the National Climate Change Strategy (NCCS).

To strengthen this coordination, Somalia will align its NAP with the country’s National Development Plan 2020-2024, the Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace Agenda, and the NCCS. Through this process, Somalia will hereby institute a whole-of-society approach prioritizing resource mobilization for implementation, good governance and community-based adaptation.

Creation of a New Ministry to Tackle the Climate Crisis

To face the climate emergency, the Somali government established the national Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MoECC) in August 2022, with the mandate of advancing sustainable development, eradicating poverty and developing a climate-resilient economy. In February 2023, a draft of the first national environmental protection act passed in the cabinet.

This new ministry is working vertically and horizontally with existing government entities. Vertical strategies include national-level ministries collaborating with and convening all five federal states to learn from their current and past adaptation actions: preserving rivers, creating water catchment plans and artificial valleys and conserving water for recreation and drinking. Horizontal work includes bringing together various sectors and national ministries — including agriculture, livestock, water, finance, foreign affairs and energy — to understand how the country can adapt to climate change and ensure that intersectoral activities complement one another.

Long-standing Barriers Persist, but Somalia Looks Forward

Besides acute climate impacts, Somalia’s most pressing and urgent non-climate challenges are disruptions to national security due to the government’s ongoing internal conflict with the militant group Al-Shabaab, which spans over three decades. The conflict and resulting instabilities continue to endanger some regions and threaten the stability of the government and its activities, leading to weak governance, capacity building and coordination across ministries. Elevated security risks pose a major barrier to adaptation. Dr. Adam Aw Hirsi, Minister of State of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, said, “Government officials simply cannot visit certain regions to implement adaptation measures such as installing water catchments.”

By working closely with line ministries at the federal level and ministries at the federal member states, the government aims to integrate adaptation into peacebuilding processes and national adaptation planning. Putting adaptation plans into practice will require that both government personnel and non-government actors are provided with adequate guidance and training on how to engage in community-centered climate action while navigating security concerns and ongoing peacebuilding processes.

Another challenge is the lack of awareness of the impacts of climate change by the wider public. “Many people believe that climate impacts are simply a divine phenomenon,” said Dr. Aw Hirsi. More education to raise public awareness of climate change will therefore serve as another focus for the Somali government.

Dr. Aw Hirsi said, “Somalia is now starting to stand on its own feet and trying to adapt fast.” Despite the complicated sociopolitical and climate context within which it operates, Somalia is ramping up climate policy mechanisms, coordination and investments. With the support of international actors, the country continues to build its capacities to respond to climate shocks and the immediate needs of the Somali people, with the ultimate goal of strengthening Somalia’s resilience to withstand and adapt to future climate impacts.