Climate change hitting Africa hard

Posted: 29 October 2006

A new report from unique coalition of the UK's leading development and environment agencies says the international community must act now, or Africa will go 'Up in smoke.'

Climate change is already having serious impacts on peoples' lives across Africa, and is set to get much worse unless urgent action is taken, according to a report from a coalition of UK development and environment agencies. The report is released in the run up to the next major UN Conference on climate change in Nairobi in November.

The report, Africa - Up in Smoke 2, is based on the latest available scientific research and evidence from those living on the front line of global warming. It shows that climate change is already having serious impacts on peoples' lives across Africa - and is set to get much worse unless urgent action is taken.

Andrew Simms, from the New Economics Foundation, said: "Global warming is set to make many of the problems which Africa already deals with, much, much worse."

Plant shoots, Africa
Plant shoots, Africa
Photo: Ami Vitale, Oxfam
Africa is already warmer by 0.5°C than it was 100 years ago, but temperatures have risen much higher in some areas - such as a part of Kenya which has become 3.5°C hotter in the past 20 years - putting extra strain on water resources. According to the UK's Hadley Centre, temperature increases over many areas of Africa will be double the global average increase, and drought patterns stand to worsen catastrophically.

Arid or semi-arid areas in northern, western, eastern and parts of southern Africa are becoming drier, while equatorial Africa and other parts of southern Africa are getting wetter, the report says.

Vulnerable

Africa is the continent probably most vulnerable of all to the negative effects of climate change, and the one that faces the greatest challenges to adapt. For millions of people in the Horn and East Africa, the success or failure of rains due over the next two months will be critical. Whether the rains fall will determine if 2007 offers the prospect of recovery from the serious drought of 2005-2006, or be another year of desperate struggle to survive.

But, the report says, whatever happens to these rains, Africa is undergoing big environmental changes. Although the climates of Africa have always been erratic, the latest scientific research, coupled with the direct on-the-ground experience of the agencies themselves, indicates new and dangerous extremes, continual warming and more unpredictable weather patterns. The success or failure of one rainy season, or even several, cannot be attributed to global warming. But, says the report, Africa is steadily warming and the climate is changing.

Quoting the experience of ordinary African people and aid agency partners, the report catalogues the impact of rising temperatures, more frequent and severe droughts in some places, more torrential rains in others and greater climatic uncertainty for the continent's farmers. Climatic unpredictability increases the pressure on people's lives and livelihoods from poverty, HIV/AIDS and government neglect. Women and rural societies, especially pastoralists, are under the greatest stresses.

Food security

While local conditions vary, across sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 33 per cent of people are under-nourished, compared with 17 per cent of people in all developing countries. This rises to 55 per cent in Central Africa. The average number of food emergencies in Africa per year almost tripled since the mid 1980s.

Climate change poses a new and unprecedented threat to food security, the report says. It calls for a "climate-proof" model of development and massive emissions cuts to avoid "possibly cataclysmic change".

There is a strong association between climate change and disease. Christian Aid has estimated that 182 million people might die from disease associated with climate change by the end of the century in sub-Saharan Africa.

Burden of climate change attributable disease in sub-Saharan Africa

The report says the international community is failing to meet even the limited commitments it has made to help the world's poorest people adapt to the impact of climate change:

  • Contributions to the two funds specifically designed to help poor countries adapt stand at just $43 million in 2005-2006 around one tenth of the amount pledged - whilst the overall annual costs to adapt to projected climate change are likely to be between $10 billion and $40 billion per year.

  • Yet it has been estimated that rich-country subsidies to fossil fuel industries come to $73 billion per year, and globally fossil fuel industries are subsidised to the tune of over $235 billion per year.

The report highlights examples of successful "climate-proof" development being pioneered by African organisations and people, which need to be supported and scaled-up. And the coalition makes urgent recommendations to the international community to take action to:

  • Cut rich-country greenhouse gas emissions: Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut, so that average temperatures do not rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The threat of major and irreversible climate change becomes far greater as temperatures increase. As Africa's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is negligible, the responsibility lies with the rich nations whose historical and continued excessive burning of fossil fuels is to blame for most of the current warming trends.

  • Build on Kyoto to toughen up international efforts post-2012: To avoid possibly cataclysmic climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must ultimately be cut by between 60 and 90 per cent. It is widely agreed that we have less than 10 years before global emissions must start to decline - yet they are rising remorselessly.

  • Support essential adaptation: Industrialised countries have committed to providing financial and technical resources to developing countries, but are failing to meet even the limited commitments they have made.

  • Empower poor communities to be part of the climate change solution: Donor governments have emphasised the role of new technology - in particular, improving weather forecasting in Africa.
weakened animals
weakened animals
People bringing their weakened animals to an Oxfam destocking programme. Photo: Jane Beesley, Oxfam.
  • Strengthen disaster risk reduction: Reducing vulnerability through disaster risk reduction helps to build adaptive capacity for the future. Communities can be protected from disasters relatively cheaply and simply - the ways to do this are well developed and can be employed immediately. Thousands of lives could be saved and economic losses prevented each year if more emphasis was placed on this.

  • Reform emergency responses: For over 40 years emergency aid, and food aid in particular, has remained the chief instrument to address food crises. Food aid does save lives, but it does not offer long-term solutions, and at worst may exacerbate food insecurity.

  • If food crises are to be averted, much more must be done to tackle the root causes of hunger. That means tackling poverty and the power imbalances that underpin it. The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa who subsist on less than one dollar a day has almost doubled since 1981, to 313 million people - 46 per cent of the population in 2001. The majority of the continent's poorest and most undernourished people live in rural areas - especially smallholders, nomadic pastoralists, and women. The need to give more support to small-scale farming is critical, yet aid for agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa dropped by 43 per cent between 1990-92 and 2000-02.

The coalition concludes that Africa urgently needs a new model for human progress and development that is climate proof and climate friendly and gives everyone a fair share of the natural resources on which we all depend, and that unless the international community takes urgent action to reduce emissions their efforts to end poverty in Africa will go Up in smoke.