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Climate Adaptation in the Context of Africa

by Boitumelo Pauline Marumo

3 April, 2024

This blog post discusses climate change adaptation in Africa, a continent facing the harshest consequences despite minimal contribution to global emissions. The information is sourced from various reports and initiatives, including the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report 2023. Botswana Climate Change Network has various resources on translating and reviewing climate documents and policies at a national and global level, such as the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report.

Rising temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events are wreaking havoc across Africa. Food security, water security, public health, and infrastructure are all under severe threat. A recent community outreach program conducted in northern and northeastern Botswana by Botswana Climate Change Network, revealed that the vast majority of farmers interviewed perceived long-term changes in climate patterns. Unfortunately, most of these same households did not adjust their farming practices in response to this warming trend.

Dried up Nata River, Botswana. March 2024

Africa's vulnerability stems from a multitude of challenges. Many African countries struggle with poverty, hindering investment in large-scale adaptation projects. Weak governance structures can further impede the implementation of effective adaptation plans. There's also a critical need for more scientists, engineers, and other technical specialists to design and execute these strategies. Often, climate change adaptation falls low on the priority list for African nations grappling with numerous challenges such unemployment, national debt.

The human cost of climate change in Africa is staggering. In 2022 alone, over 110 million people were directly impacted by weather, climate, and water-related disasters. These events inflicted billions of dollars in economic losses and resulted in thousands of fatalities, according to the Emergency Events Database. The true toll is likely much higher due to under-reporting.

Agriculture is the backbone of Africa's livelihoods and economies, employing over half of the workforce. However, climate change has caused a significant decline in agricultural productivity, dropping 34% since 1961 - the steepest decline of any region globally. Projections indicate a sharp rise in Africa's annual food import bill, reaching US$110 billion by 2025 from US$35 billion currently. The level of damage and associated costs will depend on various factors. UNECA's African Climate Policy Centre estimates potential losses and damages due to climate change in Africa to range between US$290 billion and US$440 billion, depending on the degree of warming.

Heatwaves, waterborne diseases spread by floods, and malnutrition are all taking a significant toll on public health. Many African countries already have weak healthcare systems, further strained by the impacts of climate change. For instance, Botswana is currently facing its worst drought in 40 years, largely attributed to El Nino. This has resulted in three consecutive failed rainfall seasons, causing a sharp decline in agricultural productivity and food security, especially for small-scale communities reliant on crops and livestock for sustenance. Reports indicate that farmers are resorting to selling their land in response to these hardships.

Even if Africa completely mitigated its greenhouse gas emissions, its contribution is minimal in comparison to other regions. The efforts to curb emissions within Africa would have a negligible impact on slowing the damage. According to UNECA, African countries already spend a significant portion of their GDP (2-9%) on adaptation – a figure exceeding their spending on healthcare, education, or other public services in some cases.

Scientific studies show a global temperature increase of approximately 1.1°C since the 1800s. This warming is causing widespread and rapid changes in our planet's climate systems. As a result, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe across the globe. Climate models predict a world heading towards a temperature rise of 2.5 to 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, significantly exceeding the safety limits established by scientists. With each fraction of a degree of warming, the impacts of climate change will become more frequent and intense, making adaptation considerably more challenging and expensive for people and ecosystems.

Botswana's 2020 National Adaptation Plan Framework acknowledges climate change as a cross-cutting issue impacting numerous sectors. The report highlights how decreased rainfall can lead to droughts, impacting agriculture, health, and water sectors. Reduced water availability will subsequently affect construction, tourism, services, and more. The impacts of climate change ripple across various sectors through negative feedback loops, emphasizing the critical need for adaptation.

One of the main elements of the Paris Agreement is "The Global Goal on Adaptation," which is implemented globally. It was important for the Paris Agreement to include it because it emphasizes how important it is to adapt to climate change in addition to reducing emissions. Additionally, it acknowledges how vulnerable developing nations are to the effects of climate change and promotes assistance in their efforts to adapt. First of all

World leaders made choices regarding the GGA, which is currently known as the "UAE Framework for Global Climate Resilience," during the Global Stocktake at COP28 in Dubai. As part of the "adaptation cycle," countries committed to setting global time-bound goals centered around particular topics and sectors, including as food and agriculture, livelihoods and poverty eradication, and water and sanitation.

Many successful climate change adaptation initiatives are often local movements utilizing locally developed technologies and approaches. Underfunding of African-based institutions significantly hinders building resilience and adapting to climate change. This limited funding restricts African countries' ability to access and utilize climate data, technology, and other resources necessary for effective responses. For instance, climate advocates in Botswana criticized the allocation of funds for research and development, arguing for a dedicated climate change adaptation fund.

This picture illustrate degraded grazelands along the Nata - Maun road in Botswana. March 2024.

Nature-based solutions are another adaptation strategy that is quickly gaining popularity. They use the natural world's processes to their advantage to combat the problems caused by climate change. The Great Green Wall of Africa is an ambitious initiative to restore ecosystems along the southern border of the Sahara, and Djibouti is one of many African nations participating in it. The goal of the effort is to stop the desert from spreading and destroying lives and water sources as a result. The government of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, started an extensive ecological experiment to plant the native plant spokboom in order to repair enormous tracts of degraded land. Spekboom improves groundwater supplies and lessens flooding by increasing water infiltration in the ground. Moreover, the plant absorbs carbon dioxide more quickly than most others.

The Green Revolution achieved limited success in Africa, although some countries like Kenya and Nigeria implemented credit systems or subsidies to assist farmers in adopting new, expensive technologies.

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