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The serious threat of climate change

Environment

The serious threat of climate change

Cyclones Idai and Kenneth are prime manifestations of global climate change. Africa is already bearing the brunt of this phenomenon and worse is to come unless mitigation measures can be rapidly put in place. African nations are already doing their bit with their limited resources, but a more coordinated international effort is required, argues Wanjohi Kabukuru.

Tropical Cyclone Idai, which rammed a destructive path from Beira in Mozambique to hamlets in Malawi and Zimbabwe, with cumulative losses now pegged at slightly over $2bn and affecting over 3m people, is forcing Africa to rethink how it will cushion its development priorities from the vagaries of the weather and associated climate change effects.

“Yet another alarm bell about the dangers of climate change,” is how the UN Secretary General António Guterres described Cyclone Idai, which took 1,000 lives across the three countries and back-pedalled progress by destroying infrastructure, farmlands and properties.

Five weeks after Cyclone Idai, it was Cyclone Kenneth’s turn to swipe through the small island nation of Comoros and make landfall in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province. Cyclone Kenneth claimed 50 lives in the two countries and destroyed over 45,000 houses, directly affecting 250,000 people. 

According to Professor Salomão Bandeira of Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane University, there are seven tropical cyclone basins globally. These include the south-eastern Indian Ocean, northern Indian Ocean, south-western Indian Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, eastern and western parts of the North Pacific and the western South Pacific. 

Data released by the World Meteorological Organisation indicates that the south-eastern part of the Indian Ocean is the most active cyclone region in the southern hemisphere. And this explains why in the last 70 years, both Mozambique and Madagascar have been battered by more than 25 cyclones.

This vulnerability appears to have led to a radical shift in strategy, thrusting climate concerns right into the centre of Africa’s development planning.

Lasting impression on planners

As the effects of Cyclone Idai subsided, its dreadful impact has left a lasting impression on the continent’s development planners.

The number of casualties, the destruction of essential infrastructure, the forced migration, the havoc inflicted on farmlands through floods and upsurge of water-borne diseases as aftermaths of the cyclone, featured prominently during the fifth African Regional Forum for Sustainable Development (ARFSD), held in the historic city of Marrakech, Morocco in mid-April this year.

Oliver Chinganya the director of the African Statistics Centre at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, told the forum that climate change was likely to impede the attainment of the 17 global sustainable development goals if not addressed urgently.

“While extreme events are natural, climate change is worsening their occurrence and impacts, as demonstrated by the severe human and economic losses that occurred in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March 2019 from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai, which affected more than 2.6m people and caused more than 700 deaths,” Chinganya said.

“Climate change aggravates existing vulnerabilities and structural inequalities. Without urgent and ambitious global action on climate change, well beyond current pledges under the Paris Agreement, the development agenda for Africa is at serious risk of failure.

“Climate change is a particular threat to continued economic growth and to [the] livelihoods of vulnerable populations,” says the Nairobi-based UN Environment, hastening to warn that “no continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa.”

UN Environment warns that Africa will suffer the harsh consequences of climate change due to what it terms “considerably limited adaptive capacity… exacerbated by widespread poverty.”

“Climate change is a consequence of the current configuration of the global economy – future efforts to address climate change will depend on the plans and strategies that countries adopt to promote economic growth,” Chinganya says. “In that connection, it is critical to understand that climate change has no borders and can seriously impede the attainment of all other Sustainable Development Goals.”

While the devastation caused has altered discussion points at the continental development platform, this was not the first time warnings have been sounded over the threats posed to the continent’s growth agenda by climate change.

Early warnings of negative impact

As early as 2007, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had projected that climate change could reduce Africa’s collective GDP by 2% to 4% and that by 2040, the figure could rise to 25% per cent.

The Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, greater Horn of Africa, Nile, Niger and the Zambezi river basins have been identified as hot-spots of climate-related conflicts.

Mohammed Bila, a geologist with the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) notes that the political insurgency in the West African region started with the receding waters of Lake Chad over a decade ago.

“The situation in the Lake Chad [area] is of conflict and insurgency. This did not start now. The actual insurgency started in 2009 but before then there [were] other forms of conflict, mostly related to water scarcity within various areas of the Lake Chad Basin,” Bila says.

In March 2018, the World Bank Group released their report, Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, which noted that the worsening impacts of climate change in Africa, Latin America and Asia would see some 140m people migrate within their countries’ borders by 2050.

Projections availed by UN Environment indicate that by 2020, between 75m and 250m people on the African continent will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.

Cases of cholera, typhoid, malaria and other water-borne diseases were the immediate aftermath effects reported after Cyclones Idai and Kenneth compromised Beira and Cabo Delgado’s water and sanitation infrastructure. The World Health Organisation says some 190,000 people are at risk of diseases after Cyclone Kenneth pummelled northern Mozambique.

Africa’s response

Incidentally, mitigating climate risks and bolstering resilience while shoring up adaptation mechanisms is a costly undertaking. Aware of the risks ahead, most African nations are now racing against time to put in place mitigation and adaptation plans and investing heavily in the same. 

Adaptation costs for the continent in UN Environment’s estimates now stand at $50bn per year up to 2050. Climate financing is proving to be a major challenge for Africa as climate-related financial flows are short of the $100bn pledged at the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15), which was held in Copenhagen in 2009.

Data provided by the OECD indicates that cumulative climate-related financial flows into Africa from 2000 to 2017 rose from $615mn to $408bn. In the same vein, the pledge by developed nations to channel some $10.2bn to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is yet to be fulfilled as only $7bn has been made available. As of January 2019, African countries had only received $2.3bn from the GCF. 

As of March 2019, some 48 African nations had ratified the global climate change pact (best referred to as the Paris Agreement) and submitted their nationally determined contributions which are “efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.” To effectively implement the national determined contributions Africa collectively needs some $3trn.

Both the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) are pooling resources to help the continent address climate change vagaries and cushion the expected pace of development.

According to AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina, the bank is committing some $25bn on climate finance between 2020 and 2025. “The required level of financing is only feasible with the direct involvement of the entire financial sector,” Adesina says.

“Consequently the bank launched the African Financial Alliance on Climate Change (AFAC) to link all stock exchanges, pension and sovereign wealth funds, central banks and other financial institutions of Africa to mobilise and incentivise the shift of their portfolios towards low carbon and climate-resilient investments.”

In 2016 the World Bank launched the Africa Climate Business Plan, which is a platform for climate action that finances some 176 projects totalling $17bn. Now in its third year, the climate business plan is being trialled in eight countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Mali, Namibia, Uganda, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Kenya, covering adaptation, mitigation and resilience.

“For us climate change is not a future risk, it is already a reality evident in wrecked families, lands, livelihoods and homeless children and young people, who have no choice but to seek a future by migrating,” says Landry Ninteretse, the African regional team leader of the climate change lobby, 350Africa.org. “We urgently need to step up efforts in Africa to adapt to a rapidly changing environment before more harm is brought to frontline communities who face the brunt of climate impacts.”

The ARFSD forum in Marrakesh went on to note that the Paris Agreement offers Africa an opportunity to adopt low-carbon development pathways and capitalise on its abundant renewable energy resources to power socio-economic transformation.

“For developed countries the challenge is how to maintain present levels of GDP per capita while also addressing inequality, adopting climate mitigation measures and reducing emissions,” Chinganya says. “For Africa, the challenge is how to increase economic productivity to achieve higher GDP per capita while leaving no one behind [and] without increasing emissions.”

Of all the regions of the world, Africa is the least responsible for causing climate change but is having to pay the heaviest price. This is not fair. The international order must pull out the stops to support Africa and not limit this to pledges and fine-sounding words but contribute actual resources. After all, climate change knows no boundaries. NA

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