Climate Change and Growth in Africa: Challenges and the Way Forward

Feb 1st, 2014 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Disasters and Climate Change, News, Weather

29d1795c-5446-e53eThe recent trends of increasing global temperatures and incidences of extreme climate events in Africa—mainly droughts and floods—are likely to continue. These severe climate events demonstrate the level and depth of the impact that climate change has on African economies. African policymakers should prioritize climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in the development agenda of 2014 and beyond in order to continue and sustain its current growth. Furthermore, despite the fact that Africa is the continent most affected by—and perhaps because it is also the smallest contributor to the man-made effects of—climate change, Africa’s voice in international climate change negotiations is very limited. To successfully minimize the effects of climate change, Africans must strategize in order to increase their voice in these negotiations.

In 2012, 70 percent of major global droughts occurred in Africa. Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Malawi, Angola, Chad and Ethiopia were particularly hit hard, and more than 16 million people in those countries were affected (Emergency Events Database [EM-DAT] 2013). In the same year, floods claimed 363 lives in Nigeria (Andrew 2013) and 65 lives in Niger (BBC News 2012). In 2013, heavy rains continued with major flooding in Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. The macroeconomic impact of these episodes of extreme drought and flooding is significant. For instance, climate-related shocks have reduced Mozambique’s GDP growth by more than 1 percent per year. In Zambia, rainfall variability will lower agricultural growth by 1 percent each year and cost the country $4.3 billion in GDP over 10 years (ADBG 2013).
Climate change poses a significant and unique challenge to Africa because so much of its economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base like rain-fed, subsistence agriculture. Dependence on such resources exposes the continent to the risks of reduction in agricultural production, municipal water supply for home use and sanitation services, industrial water use and hydroelectric power generation. Unfavorable changes in temperature and rainfall patterns also increase the risk of insect-borne diseases, create conflict over water and grazing resources, and threaten the lives and property of citizens across the continent. Because of the challenges of climate change and variability, Africa appears ill prepared to adapt to or mitigate the powerful effects of climate change. With no adaptation strategies in place, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) projects that, by the year 2020, 75 to 250 million people in Africa will be exposed to high water stress conditions with some countries experiencing up to a 50 percent reduction in yields from rain-fed agriculture.
Finally, Africans must play a more prominent role in the global governance of climate change issues. Africa’s voice in international climate change negotiations has been very limited and the continent has struggled to influence global policies to tackle its particular challenges. For instance, in the annual Conference of Parties (COP) organized by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), African delegates are often marginalized, underrepresented, uncoordinated and ineffective in influencing policies favoring the continent. The implication is that African interests are not adequately taken into account. Moving into 2014 and beyond, effective African voices on matters of climate change are critically important.
Four major policy areas can help make Africa climate-change resilient in 2014 and beyond.
The first is adaptation. Policymakers in Africa need to prioritize investment on research for the development of improved agronomic practices, agricultural enterprises and enterprise mixes that can thrive under moisture stress, and better water and soil conservation techniques. African governments should also invest more in irrigation facilities and upgrade the skills of native workforces and institutional capacities in climate forecasting, early warning and disaster management. Moreover, policies for developing new infrastructure such as roads, houses, canals and dams should include strategies for climate resilience in the planning and implementation stages.
The second policy area is mitigation. Mitigation in Africa can be achieved through many means. The major alternatives include reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and promoting green energy. Local and international financial sources should be tapped to assist with the reclamation of degraded lands, reforestation, afforestation and agro-forestry practices that can play the triple roles of providing adaptation, mitigation and income generation for the poor. Given the potential benefits of REDD+, policymakers should focus on tackling the political, institutional, technical, social and economic challenges associated with its implementation. Moreover, as one of the significant outcomes of COP19 in Warsaw was an agreement on a framework to financially support REDD+ in developing nations, African countries need to be prepared to benefit from this framework. To this effect, African policymakers should prepare national regulations on the delineation of local property rights, convenient governance mechanisms for payments of carbon benefits, and efficient emission accounting systems. Policies that increase technical capacities needed at the community level on effective systems of monitoring, reporting and verifying through education can reduce the challenges associated with implementation of REDD+ in Africa. Moreover, incentives such as tax reductions or soft loans can encourage the participation of the private sector.

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