Climate Change – Africa’s New Development Threat?


Why Africa should remain below the 20C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)

In 2013, global leaders gathered at the UN Climate Conference in Bonn (Germany) to discuss the options for reaching the overarching objective of international climate policing, specifically that of limiting global temperature increase to 2oC (3.6 degree Fahrenheit). It was unanimously agreed that any temperature increase beyond this limit could be ‘dangerous’. Key research findings from climate researchers and evidence from scientific policy advice indicate that emissions will have to come down by 15 % by 2020 to stay below the threshold limit. There are of course challenges associated with achieving this ambitious target, but this is not the focus here.

In this article, I attempt to outline the importance of staying below the 20C threshold, particularly for sub – Saharan Africa. The socio-economic and political impacts of climate change has removed it from the narrow confines of scientific laboratories into the public domain – to be debated and discussed by stakeholders from a range of disciplines.
Research shows that the climate of southern Africa is highly variable and follows a pronounced gradient with arid conditions in the west and humid conditions in the east, characterized by latitudinal rainfall distribution pattern with the southern part having a low rainfall index and high variability compared to the north. Scientific research shows that the last 100 years has seen temperatures increase by about 50C in the southern African region and marked downward trends in rainfall1. In my country (Zimbabwe), scientific research shows that the northwest parts of the country will experience a 5-10 % decrease in rainfall and temperature increase of about 30C for the period 2040 – 20702. In fact, a report released by ICCC in 1998 predicted that if unabated, climate change will have negative impacts on food security for largely agro-based countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi among others. An increase in drought events over the last 3 decades is a clear warning to governments, donor agencies and the private sector for the need to redouble our efforts and commitment to tackling climate change. For example, the intensity and severity of El Nino induced droughts have become too common in sub Saharan Africa, with southern Africa alone experiencing not less than 8 droughts between 1980 and 2015. A World Bank report in 1989 suggested that about a quarter of Africa’s population were not consuming enough and adequate food to allow for an active working life. This figure has probably tripled or quadrupled with the increasing effects of climate change on food security3.
Some researchers have argued that climate change will likely alter or widen both the food production and revenue gaps – ability of families to purchase food surplus on global markets. Today, climate change is already preventing poor people from escaping poverty and in the absence of rapid, inclusive and climate smart development, an additional 100 million people could be thrown into poverty by 20304. In Zimbabwe, a significant number of rural and peri-urban households are already at high risk from climate change induced shocks attributable to massive crop failure, spike in food prices and increased incidences of disease and emergence of new pests that could potentially affect the food chain. When crop yields are reduced, they have a tendency to push food prices up, usually to the detriment of the poor who have to change their production and consumption habits. The resultant effect of these changes are low calorie intake and high incidences of malnutrition and undernourishment, particularly among the 0-5 year age group. The World Bank projects that food prices in Africa could be as high as 12% by 2030 and 70% by 2080. Recent medical research which shows that climate change’s effect on the food chain could affect people’s physiological capacity to obtain necessary nutrients from food consumed.
In conclusion, climate change is not only a scientific matter, it is a political and socio-economic issue deserving full attention from different stakeholders. Lack of commitment to addressing climate change could result in a significant reversal of development gains on the continent, hence astrong call for a multi-sectoral and holistic approach to addressing climate change. 1
1 Kandji et al (2006). Climate Change and Variability in Southern Africa; Impacts and adaptation in the agricultural sector, World Agroforestry Centre and UNEP Report, p 42
2 Morton, J. F (2007). The impact of climate change on smallholder and subsistence agriculture, PNAS 104 (50).
3 World Bank (1989). Sustainable Growth with Equity: A long term Perspective for Sub Saharan Africa. The World’s Women (A teaching kit sponsored by the Population Reference Bureau and the Rockefeller Foundation).
4 World Bank (2009). Making development climate resilient; A World Bank strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa, Report No 46947- AFR.

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