Climate change is one of the most challenging threats to sustainable development in Africa. Although the continent contributes only about 3.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, its countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change in the world. This vulnerability derives from multiple stresses coupled with low adaptive capacity. First, the geographical location of many African countries is characterized by already warmer climate, marginal areas that are more exposed to climatic hazards such as rainfall variability, poor soils and flood plains. Secondly, the economies of most African countries rely heavily on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, other natural resources and tourism.
Thirdly, the continent is unable to respond adequately to the direct and indirect effects of climate change because of widespread poverty, poor economic and social infrastructure, conflicts, limited human and institutional capacities, and inadequate technologies and financial resources. Vulnerability to climate change in Africa is particularly high for the poor, who tend to live in environments that are most susceptible to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.
The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other major reports such as the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change point to some of the current and projected impacts of climate change on Africa’s development. Such major impacts that threaten the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and sustainable development in the region include:
Increasing water stress and water-related conflicts;
Constrained agricultural production and increasing food insecurity;
Increasing energy constraints, further compounding challenges for industrial development;
Rising sea level degrading livelihoods and environment in coastal areas;
Loss of biodiversity, forests and other natural habitats, threatening the well being of millions of people, whose livelihoods depend on biodiversity resources;
Expanding range and prevalence of vector-borne diseases, adding to the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, affecting mostly the poor who live in deplorable conditions and lack access to health care; and
Increased risks of conflicts, instability and security threats, associated with massive population migrations induced by extreme climate events.