• Opinion
  • August 2, 2019
  • 10 minutes
  • 0

To fight climate change, Africa needs data and dollars

Opinion: 7 out of the 10 most climate-vulnerable countries are in Africa

This opinion article was written by Anthony Nyong, Director for Climate Change and Green Growth Department African Development Bank and one of Apolitical’s 100 most influential in climate policy. For more like this, see our environmental policy newsfeed. 

In the first five months of 2019, two cyclones hit Southern Africa with devastating results. 

Tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth came just five weeks apart, leaving damage estimated at about $2 billion USD in their wake, more than 600 people died leaving close to two million more displaced from their homes and in dire need. Eastern and Southern Africa are yet to recover from the damages of the 2015 El Nino event.

The climate is changing. And that change is wreaking havoc across the globe. 

In The World Economic Forum 2019 Global Risk Report has identified the top 3 global risks facing the world as weather-, climate- and water-related. For Africa, the unfolding crisis poses a real threat to hard-won economic and development gains. 

The continent has enjoyed a modest but upward trajectory over the past decade. Real GDP rose by 4.9 percent a year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and 1990s. That growth is now under serious threat, which in turn could push countries into higher levels of extreme poverty.

Vulnerable Africa

The African continent is already paying a high price for a global challenge that is not of its own making. Africa contributes less than 4% to global greenhouse gas emissions levels, and yet it bears the brunt of the negative impacts.

Seven out of the ten countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather and climate impacts in 2017 are located in Africa. 

Across the continent, countries are feeling the impacts of climate change, ranging from extreme weather events, stress on water resources to a fall in crop productivity and tangible changes in the incidence and geographic range of parasitic and waterborne diseases like malaria, as temperatures rise and changing patterns of rainfall.

Given the evidence available on Africa’s vulnerability, we cannot continue to play a wait and respond game

These impacts are exacerbated by the continent’s limited adaptive capacity and the large share of rain-fed agriculture in its economies creating a recipe for significant income losses, food insecurity and migrations when disasters strike.

While global attention is focused on driving down emissions, demonstrated by the allocation of 80% of global finances to mitigation compared with only 20% for adaptation, greater efforts must be paid to helping developing countries to adapt and build resilience. 

I commend the efforts of the Global Commission on Adaptation on its mission to ensure that adaptation and resilience receive the global attention they deserve, and that parity is achieved between mitigation and adaptation finance globally. 

The cost of climate adaptation for Africa could be as high as $7-15 billion USD per year by 2020, and it is expected to rise rapidly after as global temperatures rise, resulting in greater impacts with increasing frequency. Several African countries are reallocating scarce resources meant for development to address the aftermath of climate events. Many of these countries are currently spending on average of 2 percent of their GDP annually to address the consequences of climate change. This is unsustainable!

Given the evidence available on Africa’s vulnerability, we cannot continue to play a wait and respond game. It simply doesn’t make sense. It is time to do things differently. We must act now to build adaptive capacity and climate-resilience in Africa!

Building resilience

While global investments have increased which could potentially position Africa to face future climate-driven risks, the share of finance flowing to Africa is abysmally poor (just 4% in 2017).  

Also, only about 12% of funds for adaptation and disaster risk management are invested into risk reduction and prevention while 88% go into emergency response globally. It makes economic sense to invest in resilience building. It is estimated that every dollar invested in building resilience could save between 5-10 dollars in damages. We must shift our focus from disaster relief to resilience building.

The greatest challenge to building resilience in Africa is the lack of reliable climate data. 

Therefore, part of the investment in adaptation must be dedicated to equipping the African continent with the climate and weather information systems it needs to inform development planning and responses to weather and climate events. Africa’s weather observation networks currently meet about one-eighth of the global minimum requirements. That means disaster risk managers, communities and those tasked with responding to disruptive weather events often don’t have access to the high-quality information they need to get the job done. 

Enabling countries to not only access critical information, but also to produce, use and share it in real time can make a big difference, before or when disaster strikes. Africa needs functioning early warning systems.

Preventing disaster from space

The ClimDev-Africa Special Fund (CDSF) at the African Development Bank is supporting institutions across Africa on disaster risk reduction. 

The Fund is strengthening the continent’s capacities to handle severe weather events by improving climate and weather information infrastructure. Reliable access to the data and services needed to manage the impacts from extreme weather events can be the difference between total devastation and a mere disruption. 

It is time to cut our collective dependence on emergency responses

A network of four regional satellite retransmission stations implemented by the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development and financed by the CDSF will have the capacity to run high-resolution models over their respective countries with minimum computing facilities. 

The network will receive data from polar orbiting satellites, which will provide capability to model and predict weather across Africa and enable the development of early warning systems.

Initiatives like these can transform how countries prepare for disaster risks and manage humanitarian assistance in a way that integrate with wider development efforts. For communities across Africa that are already living with the very real impacts of a changing climate — this is certainly a game changer. However, more needs to be done.

This however requires scaled-up finance. The African Development Bank is leading the way and has committed to allocate $25 billion USD between 2020 and 2025 to climate finance. Much of this will be devoted to financing adaptation and resilience building. 

This on its own will not significantly move the needle. I call on other donors and development partners to join hands with the African Development Bank. 

The limits of resilience 

However, here are limits to adaptation and resilience. It is obvious that high-emitting countries will need to show greater ambition and commitment by upwardly reviewing the targets in their NDCs. The latest IPCC report on the impact of a temperature increase of 1.5o C has shown that there are clear benefits to keeping warming below 1.5C compared to 2C, but that this requires unprecedented transitions and commitments.

The climate crisis is undeniable, even to the staunchest deniers. A 2018 Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change report makes clear that an increase in global warming will “…affect human health, with primarily negative consequences.” 

It is time to cut our collective dependence on emergency responses and instead, to shift our focus to helping countries in Africa reduce their vulnerabilities and to build climate-resilient economies. — Anthony Nyong

This article is part of a series of articles from Apolitical’s 100 most influential in climate policy. Click here read the previous article in this series by Amal-Lee Amin, chief for climate change at the Inter-American Development Bank. 

(Picture credit: Unsplash)


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