Thursday, May 30, 2013

Climate change: Is Africa Rising To The Challenge?

A climate change situation
Source: Paul Frimpong

Climate change is already a global cancer inhibiting the well-being of humans and economic growth throughout the world. Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer).

Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcing, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.

Climate change has attracted attention from all over the world with conferences and forums organised to provide lasting solutions to the danger that the climate poses to human existence and growth economically. For the climate to change on a global scale, either the amount of heat that is let into the system changes, or the amount of heat that is let out of the system changes. For instance, warming climates are either due to increased heat let into the Earth or a decrease in the amount of heat that is let out of the atmosphere.

Climate change is affecting Africa greatly. Climate change is a major threat to development outcomes in Africa, as the continent loses an estimated $17 billion annually in efforts to respond to the challenges posed by climate change. Climate change, coupled with food insecurity is already inhibiting the well being and economic growth throughout the continent. Studies have shown that, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change. The impact of climate change is huge on the African economy and the people.

The financial requirement for climate change adaptation programmes in Africa is estimated at around $20 billion to $30 billion per year.

Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting the well-being of humans and economic growth throughout the world. Threats from climate change and unsustainable resource use are affecting regions of the world and Africa in particular. These negative effects of climate change are greatly felt in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is because; the agriculture sector contributes largely the GDP of the sub-region; most of the human resources are found in the agriculture sector which is rain-fed; and the vast majority of the rural poor in Africa depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Reports indicate that by 2020, between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa will suffer an increase in water stress due to climate change.

And the area of the continent suitable for agriculture is likely to decrease, particularly along the edges of semi-arid and arid regions. Comprehensive studies on climate change show moving results and predict dire consequences on several species, the socioeconomic livelihoods of many African communities, as well as those of other developing nations. What is most clear is the fact that, climate change causes and mitigation measures have not been handled with the seriousness that they deserve and hence pose huge consequences on the ecological, economic and socio-physical components of Africa.

Most scientists have proposed that a major cause of climate change is human expansion of the “greenhouse effect” which is warming that result when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space. Thus, certain gases block heat from escaping and these include Carbon dioxide (CO2), Water vapour, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Methane and Nitrous oxide. There are many other different factors as well that complicate this system, including clouds, volcanic eruptions, oceans, and people.

Concerns about the effects of climate change are global and real. Climate change causes major diseases in Africa. A climate sensitive disease, such as malaria, has already begun affecting high altitude areas in Africa and even some parts of the continent which were previously malaria free. So one can actually see the consequences of climate change on the lives of people in Africa; at the same time, looking at the cost of eradicating climate associated diseases in Africa.

Climate change again causes droughts and floods. Visibly among them is the flooding in Kenya in 2011, the likes of which had not been witnessed since the 1990s. Several people died, while others became internally displaced in Kenya. Africa is predicted to experience greater impacts than other world regions, due to its great vulnerability and lower adaptive capacity. Increased drought spells have seen pastoralists loose thousands of cattle and millions in income. Rainfall in the Sahel has dropped 20-30 per cent in the 20th century, the world’s most severe long-term drought since measurements from rainfall gauges began in the mid-1800s.

Climate change in Africa can be a threat to forest loss. Forests are useful ecosystems that are vital in terms of water catchment towers, carbon sinks, timber, pasture, medicinal products and many more things. Climate change is fueled by forest loss and degradation. This in essence means that, climate change has led to depletion of forest ecosystems and forest resources as well. Multiple factors affect forests in Africa.

These include conversion of land uses and changes in land use patterns for agriculture, settlement, and industrial/commercial purposes. Tropical montage cloud forests are likely to be affected by climate change, especially temperature and precipitation change. Loss of forest in Africa has serious socioeconomic consequences, not the least of which is its negative effect on the GDP of a member country.

Africa’s economy relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture. Agriculture and tourism are among the key economic backbones of Africa. Agricultural based goods that are exported- mainly cocoa, coffee and timber- are the continent’s major foreign export earners. FAO noted that Africa has been transformed from being a key exporter of agricultural products into a net importer. More than 30 million people require food aid annually in Africa.

Other studies show that, whereas other parts of the world are coming out of poverty, Africa is seeing a worsening situation in widespread and abject poverty, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where many live below the international poverty line (African Security Review 2003).

The crop model indicates that in 2050 in Sub-Saharan Africa, average rice, wheat, and maize yields will decline by up to 14 percent, 22 percent, and 5 percent, respectively, as a result of climate change. Even though, the whole of Africa emits only 3.6% of carbon dioxide per year (UN Statistics Common Database 2006), which is considered to being very small compared to what is released by other regions, the continent is at a greater risk of the consequences of extreme weather.

In view of the challenges posed to the continent’s development by climate change, there is the need for Africa to consciously develop and implement policies to combat it. Africa is vulnerable to climate change impacts, and much of the climate induced change that has been seen up until now will be irreversible if drastic measures are not taken internationally.

There is therefore the need for African countries to collaborate and come up with an African solution and long term plan to deal with climate change. Country-driven solutions are key to addressing the challenges of climate change, especially nationally appropriate mitigation actions.

There is therefore the need for Africa to rise up to the challenge and take decisive action, on how to combat the dangers associated with climate change.

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