The Platform


The science is unequivocally clear regarding the vulnerability of the African continent.

Africa is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and some 20 countries cutting across the continent are already warming faster than the globe. The point, therefore, is that the biophysical effects of climate change are universally felt across the continent and any regional differences are minor.

The causes of this vulnerability are both physical in terms of the climatic variability we experience and socioeconomic. On the physical front, Africa’s climate is naturally highly diverse and variable, to begin with. Within the same continent, we have extreme aridity of the Saharan deserts and extreme humidity of the Congo rainforest. These extreme circumstances to begin with makes the multiplier effect of the changing climate far worse compared to other continents that are not as diverse. On the socioeconomic drivers of vulnerability, while climate change effects are global, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects because they lack the resources they need to afford alternative goods and services to buffer against the worst of the changing climate effects.

For example, while other developed places in the West experience category 5 cyclones quite regularly, they do not experience the level of damage as we see in Africa as was the case during Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in southern Africa. A higher socioeconomic base enables populations to be in a position to afford alternatives to mitigate their losses and risk such as insurance. For example, in Louisiana, home and business owners filed up to $10 billion in insurance claims for damages caused by natural disasters in 2020.

In contrast, Idai and Kenneth – that hit southern Africa and caused a trail of losses and fatalities, caused damages exceeding $3 billion. There was no talk of insurance among the most vulnerable. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) that caused abnormal rains and the worst locust outbreak in 70 years, caused up to $8 billion in food losses. There is also no talk of insurance compensation among smallholder farmers. Without the ability to afford alternatives, communities are literally constrained in their ability to respond effectively to escalating climate change risks. The point, therefore, is that the core solution to climate vulnerability in Africa is on one word – socioeconomics.

The big question then becomes, what steps can you and I take as individuals or a community to address climate change?

We must adapt and invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and agriculture. But most importantly, we must unlock a pathway of inclusive and accelerated socio-economic growth, and work towards lowering our carbon footprint. Additionally, we all have steps that we can take as individuals to include the following:

First, individuals must become policy implementers. While policy is the biggest driver of change, it does not implement itself, neither is it the responsibility of a government alone to implement. We therefore must ask ourselves what we are doing to implement the policy measures already put in place by African countries. Most of Africa’s NDC’s focus is on land-based actions that are cumulatively responsible for up to 56% of Africa’s emissions. All these are areas that can be tapped with very accessible, non-capital intensive, income-generating actions. As individuals, we need to study these policy commitments and establish areas we can engage in to unlock enterprise opportunities while also driving the climate ends envisaged in such policies.

Second, individuals and communities must take advantage of existing policy incentives and act on them from an enterprising dimension. For example, Kenya in its 2021 Finance Act, has exempted 3 classes of clean cooking from 16% VAT. The aim is to attract implementation investment in this area. Individuals need to take leadership as local investors to invest in these areas either as consumers, or entrepreneurs to develop these clean cooking fuels.

Third, is purposeful passion and the right attitude. Policy incentives regardless of how timely they may be will accomplish very little if they fall on passionless citizens.

Fourth is discipline. Discipline means doing things not because it is favourable to do so, but because one has a deep-seated conviction that it is the right thing to do and that they must do things right. This is what makes the difference in establishing long-term success.

Fifth is skills retooling. As a journalist, for instance, the work you do is critical to shaping narratives. What you need to ask yourself is – how can the news presented on climate change start projecting investment opportunities for accelerated socio-economic transformation. A young artisan needs to start asking themselves how their sills can be applied to develop sustainable products that are on-demand in the community such as fuel briquettes. Getting to this level calls for what I call skills retooling. Each one must improve, refine, and adapt their skills to align with this paradigm shift of creating enterprise opportunities out of climate action.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

Dr. Richard Munang is a multiple award-winning environment and development policy thought leader and climate change and sustainable development expert. Richard is also author of 'Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism' in 2018.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.