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Climate Change in Africa ….. How much do the elite & political class know?


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Photograph credit: BBC –It came before the CORONAVIRUS Virus. A December 15, 2019 BBC Report highlights the effects of Climate Change in Africa, the poorest continent in the world.  Immediate-past president of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Donald Kaberuka in an AfDB Report years back had warned that: ‘’We have two challenges, fighting global poverty and fighting climate change. Fail the one, fail the other.” President, African Development Bank Group. It is a huge problem that there are too many illiterates on matters pertaining to Climate Change in Africa among even opinion leaders. The consequences, experts say could be deadlier than COVID-19 and it has started ravaging several parts of the world violently.

  • Africa is more vulnerable than any other region to the world’s changing weather patterns,
  • The African continent will be hardest hit by climate change.

There are four key reasons for this:

  • First, African society is very closely coupled with the climate system; hundreds of millions of people depend on rainfall to grow their food
  • Second, the African climate system is controlled by an extremely complex mix of large-scale weather systems, many from distant parts of the planet and, in comparison with almost all other inhabited regions, is vastly understudied. It is therefore capable of all sorts of surprises
  • Third, the degree of expected climate change is large. The two most extensive land-based end-of-century projected decreases in rainfall anywhere on the planet occur over Africa; one over North Africa and the other over southern Africa
  • Finally, the capacity for adaptation to climate change is low; poverty equates to reduced choice at the individual level while governance generally fails to prioritise and act on climate change
  • Is Africa sleepwalking into a potential catastrophe?

Monsoons altering: African climate is replete with complexity and marvels. The Sahara is the world’s largest desert with the deepest layer of intense heating anywhere on Earth. In June and July the most extensive and most intense dust storms found anywhere on the planet fill the air with fine particles that interfere with climate in ways we don’t quite understand. The region is almost completely devoid of weather measurements yet it is a key driver of the West African monsoon system, which brings three months of rain that interrupts the nine-month-long dry season across the Sahel region, south of the desert.

For the decades following the 1960s and peaking in 1984, there was a downturn of rainfall of some 30% across the Sahel, which led to famine and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of many millions. No other region has documented such a long and spatially extensive drought. Evidence points to Western industrial aerosol pollution, which cooled parts of the global ocean, thereby altering the monsoon system, as a cause.

The currently observed recovery of the rains is projected to continue through the 21st Century, particularly over the central and eastern Sahel. But that change seems to depend on exactly where future heating in the central Sahara peaks, emphasising cruelly the region we least understand. In southern Africa we are seeing a delay in the onset and a drying of early summer rains, which is predicted to worsen in forthcoming decades. Temperatures there are predicted to rise by five degrees or more, particularly in the parts of Namibia, Botswana and Zambia that are already intolerably hot.

The East African paradox: Meanwhile, over Kenya and Tanzania, the long rains from March to May start later and end sooner – leading to an overall decrease in rainfall. This observed change sits uncomfortably next to predictions of a wetter future in the same season – a problem scientists have termed the East African Climate Paradox. Central Africa, one of three regions on the planet where thunderstorms drive the rest of the planet’s tropical and sub-tropical weather systems, lives perilously close to the rainfall minimum needed to support the world’s second largest rainforest system.

Even a little less rainfall in the future could endanger the forest and its massive carbon store. We know remarkably little about that climate system – it is scarcely even monitored – there are more reporting rain gauges in the UK county of Oxfordshire than the entire Congo Basin.

Global warming: severe consequences for Africa – United Nations …… MITIGATING EFFECTS N AFRICA: As the whole world confronts COVID-19, focus has shifted largely from other horrible problems confronting humanity, chief among these the problem of CLIMATE CHANGE. How many people know what climate change means in Africa? Please go around to ask even the enlightened populace in offices and supermarket and you would be shocked at the level of ignorance about Climate Change – perilous occurrence that is already considered a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing problems, including conflicts. In implementing its Climate Change Action Plan, the Bank Group intends to invest about $6.4 billion over this 5-year period and will significantly scaleup investments to support climate-resilient and low-carbon development in Africa. Interventions will be in the areas of renewable energy, sustainable transport, smart agriculture and sustainable land and water management. These climate change relevant investments will benefit from the Bank’s use of its privileged position to catalyze public-private partnerships in Africa. The AfDB is also supporting the strengthening of country policy and regulatory reforms as this are essential for transitioning towards a low carbon and climate resilient economy.

UN WORRIED: The United Nations, in a 2018 Report by Ibrahim Thiaw, special adviser of the UN Secretary-General for the Sahel, says the Sahel region is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with 300 million people affected. Drought, desertification and scarcity of resources have led to heightened conflicts between crop farmers and cattle herders, and weak governance has led to social breakdowns, says Mr. Thiaw. The shrinking of Lake Chad is leading to economic marginalization and providing a breeding ground for recruitment by terrorist groups as social values and moral authority evaporate.

The World Economic Forum in a 2015 Report warned that: All countries stand to lose if we fail to reach a deal in Paris that restricts global warming to 2˚C. But African countries will lose the most – because they are the most vulnerable. Global warming has exacerbated the climate risk that Africa has long faced because of its high levels of background poverty, its farmers’ dependence on rainfall, its weak infrastructure, and its lack of social welfare “safety nets”. Climate justice and basic human solidarity demand international cooperation to contain these risks. Africa has done little to cause global warming – its greenhouse gas emissions are only 4% of the world’s total. But it is already facing the worst effects of climate change.

For sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades, the ramifications of the world’s warming by more than 1.5° C would be profound. Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase; regions in Africa within 15 degrees of the equator are projected to experience an increase in hot nights as well as longer and more frequent heat waves. The odds are long but not impossible, says the IPCC. And the benefits of limiting climate change to 1.5° C are enormous, with the report detailing the difference in the consequences between a 1.5° C increase and a 2° C increase. Every bit of additional warming adds greater risks for Africa in the form of greater droughts, more heatwaves and more potential crop failures.

Recognizing the increasing threat of climate change, many countries came together in 2015 to adopt the historic Paris Agreement, committing themselves to limit climate change to well below 2° C. Some 184 countries have formally joined the agreement, including almost every African nation, with only Angola, Eritrea and South Sudan yet to join. The agreement entered into force in November 2016. In December 2018 countries met in Katowice, Poland, for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—known as COP24—to finalise the rules for implementation of the agreement’s work programme.

As part of the Paris Agreement, countries made national commitments to take steps to reduce emissions and build resilience. The treaty also called for increased financial support from developed countries to assist the climate action efforts of developing countries. But even at the time that the Paris Agreement was adopted, it was recognized that the commitments on the table would not be enough. Even if the countries did everything they promised, global temperatures would rise by 3° C this century. According to the IPCC, projections show that the western Sahel region will experience the strongest drying, with a significant increase in the maximum length of dry spells. The IPCC expects Central Africa to see a decrease in the length of wet spells and a slight increase in heavy rainfall.

West Africa has been identified as a climate-change hotspot, with climate change likely to lessen crop yields and production, with resultant impacts on food security. Southern Africa will also be affected. The western part of Southern Africa is set to become drier, with increasing drought frequency and number of heat waves toward the end of the 21st century. A warming world will have implications for precipitation. At 1.5° C, less rain would fall over the Limpopo basin and areas of the Zambezi basin in Zambia, as well as parts of Western Cape in South Africa.

But at 2° C, Southern Africa is projected to face a decrease in precipitation of about 20% and increases in the number of consecutive dry days in Namibia, Botswana, northern Zimbabwe, and southern Zambia. This will cause reductions in the volume of the Zambezi basin projected at 5% to 10%. If the global mean temperature reaches 2° C of global warming, it will cause significant changes in the occurrence and intensity of temperature extremes in all sub-Saharan regions. West and Central Africa will see particularly large increases in the number of hot days at both 1.5° C and 2° C. Over Southern Africa, temperatures are expected to rise faster at 2° C, and areas of the southwestern region, especially in South Africa and parts of Namibia and Botswana, are expected to experience the greatest increases in temperature.

Perhaps no region in the world has been affected as much as the Sahel, which is experiencing rapid population growth, estimated at 2.8% per year, in an environment of shrinking natural resources, including land and water resources. Inga Rhonda King, President of the UN Economic and Social Council, a UN principal organ that coordinates the economic and social work of UN agencies, told a special meeting at the UN that the region is also one of the most environmentally degraded in the world, with temperature increases projected to be 1.5 times higher than in the rest of the world.

Largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture, the Sahel is regularly hit by droughts and floods, with enormous consequences to people’s food security. As a result of armed conflict, violence and military operations, some 4.9 million people have been displaced this year, a threefold increase in less than three years, while 24 million people require humanitarian assistance throughout the region.

The Africa Progress Report, 2015, Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities, identifies a range of practical measures for supporting low-carbon development while expanding power generation and accelerating progress towards universal access to energy. It also sets out an agenda for the Paris climate summit, linking international action to African strategies for climate-resilient development. Five key steps are essential for achieving climate justice for Africa:

Phase out fossil fuel subsidies: Many rich countries say they want a climate deal. But at the same time they spend billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money subsidising the discovery of new coal, oil and gas reserves. These governments should be pricing carbon out of the market through taxation, not subsiding a climate catastrophe. G20 countries should set a timetable for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, with a ban on exploration and production subsidies by 2018.

Clean up climate finance: Africa is poorly served by a climate finance system with as many as 50 funds operating under a fragmented patchwork of mechanisms that does little to bring in private investment. Funding for adaptation must be increased and consolidated. Facilities for financing mitigation and supporting low-carbon development – notably the Clean Technology Fund and the Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries Programme – should be restructured to be more responsive to Africa’s needs and opportunities.

Drive Africa’s low-carbon energy transition: African governments, investors, and international financial institutions must significantly scale up investment in energy – especially renewable energy – to unlock Africa’s potential as a global low-carbon superpower. A ten-fold increase in power generation is required to provide all Africans with access to electricity by 2030. This would reduce poverty and inequality, boost growth, and provide the climate leadership that is sorely missing at the international level. Africa’s innovative ‘energy entrepreneurs’ are already seizing the investment opportunities across the continent.

Leave no-one behind: Africa’s energy systems are inefficient and unjust. They provide subsidized electricity for the wealthy, unreliable power supplies for firms and very little for the poor. Governments should act to achieve universal access to energy by 2030, which means providing access for an additional 645 million people through connections to the grid or decentralized mini-grid or off-grid provision. Every government should map the populations that lack access and identify the most effective routes for delivery. Better and more accessible energy can also power up Africa’s agriculture. Governments should work with the private sector to develop the innovative business models needed to deliver affordable energy to people who live on incomes of less than $2.50 a day – a market opportunity worth $10 billion a year.

Adopt new models of planned urbanization: As the world’s most rapidly urbanizing region, Africa has opportunities to develop more compact, less polluted cities, alongside safer and more efficient public transport. Economies of scale and rising urban incomes have the potential to expand opportunities for providing renewable energy and achieving universal access to basic services. Linking African cities to the growing range of global city networks, including the “C40” group of cities, could unlock new opportunities for exchanging knowledge, building capacity and providing finance. Governments, multilateral agencies, and aid donors should work together to strengthen the creditworthiness of cities while developing innovative partnerships for clean energy.

As Kofi Annan, chair of the Africa Progress Panel states, “Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa are emerging as front-runners in the global transition to low carbon energy. Africa is well-positioned to expand the power generation needed to drive growth, deliver energy for all and play a leadership role in the crucial climate change negotiations.” The COP21 summit in Paris provides a platform for raising the global ambition, setting a course that avoids climate disaster and showcasing Africa’s pathway for a future powered by inclusive low-carbon energy.

AWARENESS: Uno Ijim Agbor (Ph.D) in a study discovered that: Climate change scourge is increasingly becoming too pronounced in the developing countries and effort to tackle it is hindered by limited public officers’ awareness of the phenomenon. In other words, awareness crises permeate public life of Developing Countries. The position of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism of South Africa supports this observation. It argues that general awareness within government on the likely impacts of climate change is somewhat limited especially in those departments not directly involved with climate change issues. Officials in other departments, within all spheres of government, often do not see climate change as a priority and some even see it as working against national development priorities (DEAT, 2004).

STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION – Prof. Alfred Opubor in a paper looked beyond natural disasters to alert that how well communication sinks is also a function of good living. He stated that: People who are hungry are largely invisible. Many of them just waste away, their bodies shrinking and emaciating outside the glare of public attention, lacking the nutrition that they need to hold on to life. According to a recent review: “Eight hundred million people go hungry every day. Two billion people suffer from chronic malnutrition. Two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, which lead to chronic health problems. Around half of the deaths of children under five (ten million each year) are associated with malnutrition.” Why? Not because food is in short supply in the world. “The world produces enough food each year to feed all its inhabitants; if it were shared out evenly, everyone would have enough to eat. Nutritionists consider that a healthy diet provides 2,500 calories of energy a day.

In the USA, the average person consumes 3,600 calories a day. In Somalia, Hungry people generally suffer in silence. However, when hunger is fuelled by famine caused by drought, war or other natural and man-made disasters – and becomes generalized – hunger is the news. Then we see the emaciated bodies of women and children on international television, as we saw in Ethiopia in the 1980s, in the infamous cases that brought Bob Geldorf and Band-Aid to prominence, a quarter of a century ago, and that still assaults us as we watch images of Darfur currently, and Niger, not too long ago. And before that, the Sahel’s thirteen years of drought in the 1980s, when millions of heads of cattle and thousands of people perished for want of food. These stark images are striking on television, and were effective for mobilising pity and money in the past; though viewers in many countries in the West seem now to be weary of disaster footage from Africa. Hunger makes news when it becomes famine.

African Scientists: Silent and unknown? African scientists are silent and absent in the media. I think we need a pact between broadcasters and scientists in Africa to focus on some of the slow and steady work that is being undertaken in university laboratories, in research institutes and commercial organizations. I recall about twenty years ago, suggesting on at least two occasions, to two different Ministers of Science and Technology in Nigeria, a series of broadcast programs on” Nigerian Scientists and their Work”. At first it was going to be a radio series, with possible extensions later into television. I felt at the time, and I am still of the same view today, that in their own quiet way, there are scientists in Nigeria whose work is making significant contributions to solving development problems facing the nation. The Honorable Ministers listened to me very politely in their offices, promised to get back to me; later referred me to their Permanent Secretaries and some other officers; and sad to say, nothing came of the project. I had planned to travel to a few places where researchers were gathered; to undertake interviews of some of the talented men and women who were grinding away, often with little funding and precious little equipment, trying to answer some important questions and provide viable applicable results. Maybe the Ministers were not sure why a non-science professor at Unilag would want to meddle in such matters. What are individual African governments doing about hunger? What is Africa doing collectively about hunger?

THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA: There are many national initiatives; some sub- regional plans and at the level of ECOWAS and the African Union, mechanisms in place to discuss drought, famine, hunger, malnutrition and related development issues. There are scientists and research institutes that are working on drought- resistant plant varieties, on quick-yielding fruit, tubers and grain; on cassava and rice and millet and sorghum, and animal husbandry. The role of broadcasting is to showcase these activities and to provide informed assessments of their progress and constraints. What are those famous researchers doing at IITA, WARDA, FIIRO, ICIPE, CRAT, and similar places? What answers are they coming up with to our perennial development problems in the area of food security and nutrition, food preservation, and pest control?