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The Cost of Climate Change and Africa’s Future

A number of world leaders are coming together in Paris to reach an agreement that will put us on course to limit global warming to 2oC above pre-industrial levels. As this happens, the continent is faced with a barrage of challenges that are unprecedented in their scale and complexity. These include poverty, ecological degradation, food insecurity, population growth, youth unemployment, and of course climate change, which will dramatically define the contours of the continent in the years to come. As the African proverb goes: “When the music changes, so does the dance”.

The music definitely has changed. Science is telling us that climate change, once considered a distant future threat, has become one of the most urgent questions of our time. Already, development gains made over the past decade in highly climate sensitive major economic sectors have been reversed and the burden is set to become heavier. The plain truth is that we cannot achieve a world of zero hunger unless we tackle climate change.

Climate related disasters such as floods and droughts, increased food insecurity, and malnutrition are already causing havoc. And when agricultural land is affected and essential food supplies are no longer available, millions on the continent will suffer. We are already seeing the devastating impact of extreme events on the livelihoods of most of the vulnerable in our societies. The world leaders thus have an obligation to achieve a climate deal that signals a global commitment to limit climate change and thereby help end hunger.

 Photo: Bob Nichols

But for this to happen the cost of building both social and biophysical resilience to climate change cannot be ignored. According to the 2nd Africa Adaptation Gap Report, there is no silver bullet solution to closing the huge adaptation costs which could soar up to US $50 billion annually by 2050.

Increasing temperatures- increasing suffering

Despite the astronomical costs, the stakes could not be higher. A 2oC increase in temperature, for instance, will result in major yield reductions of key staple foods (7 – 13% for maize, 11 – 40% for millet), putting a significant percentage of Africa’s population, mostly children, at risk of undernourishment and increased malnutrition. The report also warns that should the temperature increase by 4oC, rising sea levels will put over 10 million people at risk of flooding in large coastal cities in Mozambique, Tanzania, Cameroon, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco and other countries by 2050. Not to mention the ensuing damage to infrastructure and disruption to food supplies in urban areas, exposing people to higher food prices.

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Stranded villagers in one of the Malawian districts affected by the flooding disaster Source: Malawi24

Looking internally to close the gap

The astronomical costs we will have to bear as a result of increasing emissions makes adaptation an urgent imperative for Africa. Furthermore, the continent must look inward to find the financial reserves. While these adaptation costs continue to escalate, official development assistance(ODA) to Africa is declining and pledges from the G8 have yet to materialize. But rising to the challenge and addressing the systemic harm that climate change may cause to African development prospects warrants leaving no stone unturned in exploring opportunities for supporting adaptation actions and measures in Africa.

The report findings show that even if the explored avenues for revenue generation were implemented across Africa, only a maximum of $3 billion per year would be raised by 2020 by pursuing a number of national and continental-wide measures elaborated in the report. Rapidly rising adaptation costs would exceed these potential revenues raised through levies as early as 2020. While this is not adequate, it demonstrates the extent to which African countries can contribute to closing the adaptation gap with the right measures in place. In tandem, international climate financing should be mobilized to meet the shortfall.

Ethiopia has received a multi-million dollar grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for climate-resilience projects, the Ministry of Forestry, Environment and Climate Change said last week.

A steep and rapid increase in adaptation funding combined with what can be generated domestically is thus an urgently needed first step to close the adaptation-funding gap if we are to avert the sufferings of millions. With this urgency at hand, mobilizing domestic funding may just be the pathway Africa should follow to achieve inclusive growth under a changing climate, considering that its key economic sectors are climate dependent.

The recommendations of the 2nd Africa Adaptation Gap Report provide the needed space to start looking internally. It is our responsibility that the most vulnerable people on the continent, in particular women, young people and small holder farmers, have the resources and the opportunities to thrive under climate change and not just cope. Africa needs to leverage its resources to ensure that its people can become agents of change and steer their countries towards prosperity and wealth creation for the benefit of all. That is the urgent imperative for now.

Dr. Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which they are affiliated.

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