UN Secretary-General António Guterres says while the African continent makes a negligible contribution to climate change, it is suffering some of its most dramatic and devastating consequences.
“Unless we reduce emissions rapidly, climate change will have serious consequences that will undermine both sustainable development and security across Africa,” warned Guterres, in his message marking Africa Day, which fell last Saturday.
Although such warnings are not new, we are currently seeing dramatic effects of climate change. Early this year, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe were devastated by Cyclone Idai claiming hundreds of lives and leaving thousands displaced. Within a short period, Cyclone Kenneth again hit Mozambique and brought serious floods in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
In Zambia, the last decade has seen very unusual rainfall patterns, with Southern, Western and parts of Central and Eastern provinces experiencing drought spells.
Almost four years ago Malawi witnessed floods which caused severe food shortages. The situation is becoming clearer that climate change is on us and we have to implement strategies to survive. However, we seem not capable or ready to execute policies and projects to address the issue. Next week, Zesco will embark on load-shedding until December because of poor rainfall that has led to low water levels at Kariba Dam. But this is not the first time Zambia has had to go into load-shedding option at great cost to the economy all because we have been too slow to align our energy generation matrix to changing times.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the UN observed that Africa’s vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by a number of non-climatic factors, including endemic poverty, hunger, high prevalence of disease, chronic conflicts, low levels of development and low adaptive capacity.
It stated that, “The average income per capita in most African countries is lower now than it was 30 years ago. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that has had negative annual growth of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), -1 per cent between 1975 and 1999, compared with 6 per cent for East Asia and the Pacific and 2.3 per cent for South Asia. One-third of the people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from chronic hunger (FAO, 2007). Four in ten people are infected with HIV/AIDS in some African countries (UNDP, 2007). The costs associated with health spending and losses in labour and productivity are greatest in some of the poorest countries; these losses amount to about 5 per cent of GDP, or some US$28.4 billion annually, in sub-Saharan Africa (UNDP, 2006). Of the 25 countries in Africa that faced food emergencies in 2003, ten are currently experiencing civil strife and four are emerging from conflicts. Conflicts often divert scarce resources into military budgets and away from development needs, and result in high numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees.”
In a write-up for FAO, Balgis Osman-Elasha said, “Strategies for sustainable development and climate change adaptation have many common elements, so addressing them jointly can create synergies. Sustainable development, defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs”, entails a harmonious integration of a sound and viable economy, responsible governance, people’s empowerment, social cohesion and ecological integrity. Sustainable development does not mean economic stagnation or giving up economic growth for the sake of the environment; it should entail promoting economic development as a requisite for maintaining environmental quality. Economic development leads to increased capacity to address environmental and social problems. Maintaining environmental quality, in turn, is essential for sustainable development.
“The link between climate change and sustainable development stems from the fact that climate change is a constraint to development, and sustainable development is a key to capacities for mitigation and adaptation. It follows that strategies for dealing with sustainable development and climate change have many common elements so that applying them together creates synergies. It also follows that since dealing with climate change exclusively could be very expensive, it has to be factored into the development agenda.”
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that extreme events, including floods and droughts, are becoming increasingly frequent and severe in Africa. Certain regions of Africa are more prone to such extreme events than others. It is probable that the increased frequency of recorded disasters is a result of a combination of climatic change and socio-economic and demographic changes.
It was also noted that habitats and ecosystems in Africa were under threat from a variety of stresses such as deforestation, land degradation and heavy dependence on biomass for energy, to which climate change is likely to be an additional stress factor.
Climate change is now recognised as an equity issue because the world’s poorest people, those who contributed least to the atmospheric build-up of greenhouse gases, are the least equipped to deal with the negative impacts of climate change. Wealthier nations that have historically contributed the most to global warming are better able to adapt to the impacts. Addressing disparities between developed and developing countries is integral to the success of global climate change mitigation and adaptation.
But home-grown interventions are still available to deal with some effects of climate change if we are to avert full blown crisis.