TWN Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/9)

25 November 2006

Climate change already hitting Africa

A new report ‘Africa Up in Smoke 2’ ( says that climate change is already affecting peoples’ lives across Africa. Extremes in climate and continual warming are seriously impacting livelihoods, poverty and HIV/AIDS. Women and rural societies are under the greatest stress. But the international community has failed to meet its commitments to help the world’s poor to adapt to the impact of climate change.

The article below gives the highlights. It is reproduced with permission from South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6133, 3 November 2006.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Environment: Climate change already hitting Africa

By Martin Khor, Geneva, 2 November 2006

Even as global policymakers debate how to deal with anticipated climate change disasters of the future, the effects of climate change are already hitting the African region and many other parts of the developing world.

A report published on 29 October by a coalition of leading development and environment NGOs in the United Kingdom says that climate change is already having serious impacts on peoples' lives across Africa. The problems will get much worse without urgent action now.

The report, "Africa Up in Smoke 2", is based on the latest scientific research and as well as evidence from the ground.

The report is published by The Working Group on Climate Change and Development whose members include ActionAid International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Columban Faith and Justice, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Institute for Development Studies, International Institute for Environment and Development, MedAct, New Economics Foundation, Oxfam GB, Panos, World Vision and WWF.

It says that Africa is already warmer by 0.5 degrees centigrade than it was 100 years ago. According to the Hadley Centre, a leading climate research body in the UK, temperature increases over many areas of Africa will be double the global average increase, and drought patterns stand to worsen catastrophically.

The coalition stressed that Africa is the continent probably most vulnerable of all to the negative effects of climate change, and the one that faces the greatest challenges to adapt.

An example given is that for millions of people in the Horn and East Africa, the success or failure of rains due over the next two months will be critical. Whether the rains fall will determine if in 2007 there can be recovery from the serious drought of 2005-2006, or there will be another disastrous year.

Africa is undergoing big environmental changes. Although the climates of Africa have always been erratic, the latest scientific research, and the agencies' on-the-ground experience indicates new and dangerous extremes, continual warming and more unpredictable weather patterns.

The success or failure of one rainy season, or even several, cannot be attributed to global warming. But, says the report, Africa is steadily warming and the climate is changing.

Quoting the experience of ordinary African people and aid agency partners, the report catalogues the impact of rising temperatures, more frequent and severe droughts in some places, more torrential rains in others and greater climatic uncertainty for the continent's farmers.

Climatic unpredictability increases the pressure on people's lives and livelihoods from poverty, HIV/AIDS and government neglect. Women and rural societies, especially pastoralists, are under the greatest stresses.

While local conditions vary, across sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 33% of people are under-nourished, compared with 17% of people in all developing countries. This rises to 55% in Central Africa. The average number of food emergencies in Africa per year almost tripled since the mid 1980s. Climate change poses a new and unprecedented threat to food security.

The report says that the international community is failing to meet even the limited commitments it has made to help the world's poorest people adapt to the impact of climate change.

Contributions to the two funds specifically designed to help poor countries adapt stand at just $43 million in 2005-2006, around one tenth of the amount pledged, whilst the overall annual costs to adapt to projected climate change are likely to be between $10 billion and $40 billion per year.

The report contrasts this to the annual $235 billion subsidies for fossil fuel industries globally.

Among the proposals made by the coalition are the following:

-- Cut rich-country greenhouse gas emissions: Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut, so that average temperatures do not rise more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

The threat of major and irreversible climate change becomes far greater as temperatures increase. As Africa's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is negligible, the responsibility lies with the rich nations whose historical and continued excessive burning of fossil fuels is to blame for most of the current warming trends.

-- Build on the Kyoto Protocol to toughen up international efforts post-2012: To avoid possibly cataclysmic climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must ultimately be cut by between 60 and 90 percent.

It is widely agreed that we have less than 10 years before global emissions must start to decline - as yet they are rising remorselessly. International negotiations must deliver a fair, effective and equitable solution beyond 2012 that deepens reduction targets in the industrialised countries and allows greater mitigation contributions from some of the larger developing countries.

-- Support essential adaptation: Industrialised countries have committed to providing financial and technical resources to developing countries, but are failing to meet even the limited commitments they have made.

-- Empower poor communities to be part of the climate change solution: Donor governments have emphasised the role of new technology, in particular improving weather forecasting in Africa. But the development agencies believe adaptation must be more than this: it has to be about strengthening communities from the bottom up, building on coping strategies and empowering local people to participate in the development of climate change policies.

-- Strengthen disaster risk reduction: Reducing vulnerability through disaster risk reduction helps to build adaptive capacity for the future. Communities can be protected from disasters relatively cheaply and simply - the ways to do this are well developed and can be employed immediately. Thousands of lives could be saved and economic losses prevented each year if more emphasis was placed on this.

-- Reform emergency responses: For over 40 years emergency aid has remained the chief instrument to address food crises. While saving lives, food aid does not offer long-term solutions, and at worst may exacerbate food insecurity.

The humanitarian system must be overhauled. It must support people's livelihoods as well as meeting the immediate needs of the hungry.

The type of aid is still often inappropriate - 70 percent of food aid distributed by the UN is still the produce of rich nations.

-- To avoid food crises, poverty and power imbalances have to be tackled. The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa who subsist on less than one dollar a day has almost doubled since 1981, to 313 million people - 46 percent of the population in 2001.

The majority of the continent's poorest and most undernourished people live in rural areas - especially small-holders, nomadic pastoralists, and women.

The need to give more support to small-scale farming is critical, yet aid for agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa dropped by 43 percent between 1990-92 and 2000-02.

The coalition concludes that Africa urgently needs a new model for human development that is "climate proof and climate friendly and gives everyone a fair share of the natural resources on which we all depend."

It warns that unless the international community takes urgent action to reduce emissions, their efforts to end poverty in Africa will "go up in smoke."