Africa’s action plan for climate change

Africa should not wait to take action on global warming.

Farming areas in Africa will be seriously affected by rising temperatures [AP]

In a first ever report, presented by the United Nations Environment Programme, the challenges of adapting to the changing climate in Africa are pinpointed. The report titled “Africa Adaptation Gap Report” confirmed that Africa is already committed to spending $7-15bn to adapt to climate change each year as a result of historical emissions.

The finding highlights an important question: What is being done in Africa to prepare for and respond to climate change? What should preparedness and response involve?

Adaptation costs can only grow from the bottom rung of $7bn, moving up the ladder as the world gets hotter. If the world continues moving towards 3-4 Celsius, funding for adaptation will need to increase by 10 percent each year by 2020. In other words, by 2040 adaptation could cost $45-50bn each year – a price Africa can hardly afford, as showcased in the Africa Adaptation Gap Report.

Modernising the approach to climate change adaptation is no simple task, but as one of the most affected regions in the world, Africa cannot afford to wait.

The report opens by determining that “Africa is a “vulnerability hot spot” for the impacts of climate change”. It’s no surprise that this is the report’s highlighted conclusion. Africa will experience a 10-percent higher rise in sea levels than the global average; if the world exceeds 3 Celsius globally, “virtually all of the present maize, millet, and sorghum cropping areas across Africa could become unviable.” And if the world reaches 4 Celsius, 20- and 30-percent reductions in precipitation will occur in northern and southern Africa, respectively. This is what spells disaster in a continent where 240 million are already malnourished and 96 percent of agriculture is rain-fed.

A full-spectrum approach

What needs to be done is modernising and streamlining the current approach to climate resilience. This includes partnerships, information sharing, and collaborative planning. Africa has a great opportunity to make large strides because environmental resources and climate impacts do not stop at national borders – a truism Africa understands all too well. This could be done through the facilitation of strong partnerships and information sharing across all countries; decision-making that incorporates risk analysis; demonstration projects and lessons learned; and adaptation planning.

Riding on the momentum ignited at the Africa Ministerial Conference for Environment (AMCEN) 5th Special Session and more broadly at the First African Food Security and Adaptation Conference, Africa is well-positioned to develop an interstate programme to respond to climate change. Africa has tried this avenue in the past – on a smaller scale – and would be wise to build and strengthen previous efforts across the continent. A modernised Africa adaptation programme could equate to a panacea for Africa.   

Proposed details include embedding climate change risk management approaches into all levels of investment and planning; facilitating access to adaptation, financing and maximising returns from international and regional financing mechanisms. Also, it calls for facilitating a knowledge database (based on rigorous monitoring and evaluation) that will enable knowledge sharing in formats to allow comparisons across borders, sectors, and circumstances. It is also imprtant to aggregate lessons learnt from demonstration projects in countries into capacity development programmes and mainstreaming them to support national programmes on climate change, as well as to use regional approaches to catalyse the integration of adaptation to climate change into national planning and fostering greater institutional linkages. And finally, it is key to include utilising emerging opportunities (eg, “green jobs”) resulting from the implemented actions to guide countries in their transitions to low emission carbon, resilience development and green growth.

Modernising the approach to climate change adaptation is no simple task, but as one of the most affected regions in the world, Africa cannot afford to wait. Collaboration, shared learning, and open-sourcing data are good places to start. Africa, beyond any other continent, may very well be the best poised region to take on climate change adaptation where it starts at coastlines and tree lines, not national boundary lines.

Richard Munang is UNEP’s Africa regional climate change co-ordinator. Follow him on Twitter: @MTingem

Jessica Andrews is a Programme Officer in the Regional Office for Africa, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).