Avoiding disaster.

Position:Climate change in Africa
 
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The Stern Review, which is recognised as the most detailed and comprehensive study of the impact of climate change on the world, has stated categorically that the global phenomenon will become the biggest threat facing mankind. Africa, which is the least responsible for causing climate change is also the continent that will be hardest hit by global warming and rising sea levels. Unless something is done now, the outcome will be disastrous.

What can African countries do, individually and collectively, to reduce the impact of climate change and also to learn to live with it? Two experts in the field, both working at the African Development Bank (AfDB), which is deeply involved in devising strategies to deal with climate change, give their analysis in this month's cover story.

The report is by Yogesh Vyas, AfDB vice-president, lead environmentalist, infrastructure, private sector and regional integration and Daniele Ponzi, AfDB manager, sustainable development division, operations policy and compliance department.

Climate change is emerging as perhaps the most important international development challenge of the 21st century. The economic and social welfare of our societies and indeed their long-term sustainability is increasingly vulnerable to climate change risks.

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Developing countries are the most vulnerable and bear the highest risks on their natural resources as climate change and climate variability critically jeopardise their economic development and poverty reduction achievements. Direct and indirect impacts of climate change threaten to reverse decades of development efforts.

To address these risks, climate change issues and response strategies need to be integrated into the overall development agenda. One of the major climate change reports of last year, the Stern Review, concludes that there is still time to avoid the worst impact of climate change. However, delaying a response to climate change for too long might increase economic losses to as much as 20% of global GDP. In contrast, the costs of removing most of the climate change risks are around 1% of global annual GDP if we decisively start acting now.

Climate change in Africa

Expected impacts of climate change are inequitable. Poor countries will be hit hardest and earliest, while it is the rich countries that are responsible for three quarters of green house gas (GHG) emissions. Africa represents 3.6% out of the total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year, yet 14% of the population of the world lives here.

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The continent is steadily warming, climate is changing, and models predict further warming and further changes in rainfall patterns. The continent as a whole is warmer by 0.5[degrees]C than it was a century ago. Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of various factors, such as widespread poverty, the unsustainable use of natural resources, over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture, and weak governance structures.

In Africa, climate change is already having profound and irreversible impacts. These impacts will make the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) even more difficult to achieve.

The main impacts include, among others:

* The increased frequency of natural disasters, droughts, floods and other weather extremes that lead to loss of life, economic disruption, social unrest and forced migration as well as major environmental problems

* Sea-level rise and flooding that threatens agriculture, human health, infrastructure particularly in coastal cities and islands

* Prolonged drought periods that cause stress on water resources and reduced food security due to diminished agricultural productivity; increase in outbreaks of vector borne diseases and other health impacts

* Various threats to forestry, water resources, biodiversity, and other natural resources.

Over and above these direct impacts, climate change has cross-cutting impacts that include social costs, increased conflict and obvious economic costs.

Increased aridity and prolonged drought are accelerating the abandonment of the rural economy and encouraging migration to urban areas. Climate change is also increasing the risks of 'resource wars' as nations and communities fight for rights to key resources like water and land.

Important economic sectors including agriculture, fisheries, forestry, industry, energy and transport are very sensitive to climate change. Natural disasters destroy strategic national investments like infrastructure while there is lack of requisite insurance to cover the loss. It is estimated that the cost of disasters over the next 20 years will be from $6-$10trillion, i.e. 10 times predicted aid flows.

Small Island developing countries in Africa are particularly vulnerable. Sea-level rise is causing enhanced soil erosion, loss of productive land, increased risks of storm surges, reduced resilience...

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