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Africa is feeling the heat: Turning the challenges of climate change into opportunities

A recent climate change report suggests that the globe is headed for a 2,9°C to 3, 4°C warming, a scenario that could spell disaster for the African continent. However, given the scale of the challenge, Richard Munang and Robert Mgendi argue, this could be an opportune moment for the continent to pull together for a common purpose.



A fortnight after the Paris Climate Change Agreement officially came into force on 4 November 2016, the latest analysis documented in the 2016 Emissions Gap Report concludes that even if the agreement is implemented successfully in its entirety, the globe is headed for a 2,9°C – 3,4°C warming. This is potentially catastrophic for Africa, considering the already grim statistics surrounding productivity losses in critical socio-economic sectors under the 20C warming scenario.

At 20C warming, agriculture yields of key food staples will decline by up to 40%, putting half of Africa’s population at risk of undernourishment. This poses a great danger for Africa’s children in particular; already malnutrition accounts for the death of over 50% of children below the age of five on the continent.

Sea level rise is also projected to hit our beautiful coastal cities in the coming decades, placing millions of people at risk of flooding. Added to that, the ensuing damage to infrastructure will undoubtedly reverse the economic and development gains coastal cities have made to date.

Urgent ambitious action needed


Ambitious action to cushion against these impending catastrophes is an urgent imperative. If not, the much-hyped Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on creating prosperous, socio-economically inclusive societies will remain a distant mirage for Africa. Given that the world may head towards 4°C warming, climate change adaptation costs for Africa may approach a staggering USD100 billion annually by 2050. Closing the funding gap will be extremely challenging in a 4°C scenario. This will severely impact on the region’s growth and, being a negligible emitter, the priority is for adequate mechanisms for the continent to adapt.

Failed maize crops in Ghana's Upper West Region, which has suffered failed rains and rising temperatures. Pic by Neil Palmer CIAT/Flickr

Failed maize crops in Ghana’s Upper West Region, which has suffered failed rains and rising temperatures. Pic by Neil Palmer CIAT/Flickr

Turning challenges into opportunities

Practical solutions to solving these challenges do exist in Africa and two catalytic sectors – agriculture and clean energy – can be leveraged to that end. Linking clean energy expansion to sustainable ecosystems-based adaptation (EBA) driven agriculture can address so many issues under the changing climate. Doing so will not only ensure the implementation of specific provisions of the Paris Agreement but simultaneously meet socio-economic development priorities. Among the key ones that are shared by both the AU Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 are food security, job creation and macro-economic growth.

Mainstreaming EBA techniques for on-farm production, for example, has the potential to increase yields by as much as 128%. Not only will this boost food security, while enhancing farmer incomes and combating poverty, it will also enhance the capacity of ecosystems to continue providing ecosystem goods and services that enable communities to adapt to climate change.

A need for a transformative model for partnerships in Africa

Alignment to fulfilling provisions of the Paris Climate Change Agreement deal is by no means enough. Practically unlocking this potential will require broad participation; involving both state and non-state actors as advocated under Section 5 of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the building of mutual partnerships to unlock the critical means of implementation. Actualising this collective effort through country-driven but continentally synergised and globally supported efforts is what is needed now and in the future.


EBAFOSA: an Innovative Implementation framework

EBAFOSA, a pan-African policy framework and implementation platform, is already convening global, regional and national stakeholders based in each member country in order to strengthen collaboration between the different actors. In Malawi, for example, EBAFOSA is fostering partnerships between EBA-agriculture actors and the Malawi Bureau of Standards to establish quality standards for EBA produce and to enhance their marketability in local and export markets.

In addition, EBAFOSA Malawi is facilitating the mainstreaming of high-value, climate-resilient food crops such as sesame – a drought-tolerant crop that requires less water than more traditional crops such as maize – produced through EBA approaches, to be a major crop in the country’s National Export Strategy. It goes without saying that the availability of a ready market for EBA produce will incentivise the application of these climate adaptation approaches. Moreover, the lessons from Malawi will be replicated across the 40 EBAFOSA member countries in Africa.

It’s now time for Africa to repair its roof

“The time to repair the roof,” President John F. Kennedy once said, “is when the sun is shining.” This is certainly true when it comes to climate change in Africa. It is now time to convert opportunity to reality. The SDGs and Agenda 2030 promise to leave no one behind and the AU Agenda 2063 promises to create the Africa we want. The irrefutable dire scientific warnings show very clearly that life itself is at stake in the fight against climate change. But we have the resources within us to win the fight. Let us win it for the mother who cannot feed her new-born child with the proper food required to live beyond the age of five. Let us win it for the 240 million Africans who go to bed with stomachs aching from hunger. Working together is the only way we can ensure that the African continent will never again experience the fear of want or need.


Dr Richard Munang is an Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang

Mr Robert Mgendi is an Adaptation Policy Expert

The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which they are affiliated.