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For a number of reasons, climate change will affect Africa more disproportionately than other regions.

Picture a majestic redwood forest, where each tree stands tall and strong, supporting one another as they collectively form a vast ecosystem. The individual trees in this forest represent different aspects of our world, such as health, poverty, hunger, economics, security, and equality.

Climate change is the invisible force that threatens to uproot these trees, destabilizing the foundation of the forest and potentially leading to its collapse. Our collective responsibility is to ensure that we nurture and protect the forest, so it can continue to flourish for generations to come.

Climate change is an all-encompassing crisis that interconnects every facet of human life. It is the ultimate test of our ability to adapt, grow, and come together as a global community. Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it’s a health issue, a poverty issue, a hunger issue, an economic issue, a security issue, and an issue of inequality and injustice

First and foremost, climate change is a health issue. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and air pollution are increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

To help illustrate the problem, an analysis of thousands of public health events recorded in Africa between 2001 and 2021, concluded that 56% were climate-related. There has been a 25% increase in climate-linked emergencies between 2011 and 2021. These health risks disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, particularly children, the elderly, and those living in low-income communities.

One of the most accessible ways to enhance the health resilience of vulnerable communities is to improve nutrition to build natural immunity. To this end, accessible climate solutions stand as transformational solutions in building resilient health under a changing climate.

For example, prioritizing organic-based approaches in agriculture enhances yields by 128% and also results in more nutritious food with more immune-boosting compounds. This is a very crucial aspect considering 60% of Africans derive nutritional supplementation from food rather than medical supplements. Furthermore, the risk of foodborne diseases, such as fungi, mold, and aflatoxin attacks on stored food increases with increasingly variable weather. A possible solution to this problem may lie in solar dryers that have been shown to effectively dehydrate food and reduce the risk of aflatoxin by up to 54%.

African girl collecting water
(Riccardo Mayer)

Climate change also increases the usage of agrochemicals which leads to health risks. For example, in some African countries, there is an over 40% chance that food samples contain traces of up to 14 banned pesticides, with residue concentrations exceeding safe limits. The leaching of these chemicals increases the risk of health risks such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), where Africa has the highest incidents globally. Using natural solutions like biofertilizers and biopesticides reduces reliance on these agrochemicals, lowering disease risks.

Prioritizing incentives, supporting skills retooling, and affordable capital for enterprises engaged in the food sector to prioritize organic-based approaches will go a long way to unlock these benefits for Africans.

Moreover, climate change is a poverty issue. As natural resources become scarcer, agricultural productivity declines, and weather patterns become more unpredictable, the poor are the most vulnerable to these impacts. The loss of livelihoods and displacement caused by climate change can exacerbate existing inequalities and deepen the divide between the haves and have-nots. Climate change is projected to push upwards of 40 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

Africa can address these challenges by leveraging climate solutions to build resilience in the most inclusive sector of the continent – agriculture. Accordingly, while over 60% of the continent’s population is engaged in agriculture, the continent loses upwards of 50% of all the food that it produces. This translates to billions in lost revenue. To cover deficits, up to $43 billion is expended on imports. This is to say that the continent loses up to $90 billion each year in opportunities in its food systems.

Embracing simple, clean energy solutions, like solar dryers and other low-cost technologies has been shown to increase incomes by up to 30 times while mitigating up to 200,000 tons of carbon emissions. Cumulatively, decentralizing clean energy to power agro-value addition can create a $1 trillion industry by 2030. This is how we can combat poverty through the climate lens.

Similarly, climate change is a hunger issue. As droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events disrupt food production and distribution, the number of people suffering from malnutrition and food insecurity is expected to rise. For example, it is estimated that up to 80% of unpredictable cereal harvests in Africa’s Sahel are because of climate variability. Food security declines by 5–20% with each flood or drought in Africa, in addition to a 1.4% reduction in food calories per year from key food security crops. Furthermore, climate change has reduced agricultural productivity growth by 34% since 1961. Organic-based solutions to agricultural production can ensure increasing yields of healthier food under the changing climate, and this is what the continent needs to focus on increasingly.

Additionally, climate change is an economic issue. The economic impacts of climate change are diverse, ranging from damage to infrastructure and property to reduced productivity and increased healthcare costs. Cumulatively, Africa is projected to face an up to 15% drop in its GDP because of climate change in just 7 years and an up to 75% shrinkage in incomes by 2100. Addressing these challenges requires a global commitment to transition towards sustainable economic practices and investment in green technologies.

Prioritizing clean energy-powered value-added actions in the continent’s food systems can potentially create a $1 trillion industry by 2030. It is estimated that if Africa focuses on building a competitive, low-carbon manufacturing sector, the region will lower its future emissions risk and generate upwards of $2 billion in yearly revenue by 2030 while creating up to 3.8 million jobs over the next 30 years. Furthermore, bridging the continent’s infrastructure gap using green solutions significantly lowers the risk of climate change-induced destruction.

Accordingly, implementing green infrastructure solutions to control flood water in cities has proven cost-effective. It is over six times cheaper and provides up to $1.5 billion in savings. For example, after devastating flooding in Mozambique in 2019, the country chose to rebuild using green infrastructure solutions. As a result, an estimated 234,000 people are protected from future flooding. In South Africa, the application of green infrastructure in Cape Town yielded a flow of ecosystem services valued at over $280 million per annum, equating to 10%–25% of the total annual municipal budget. In Seychelles, rainwater harvesting from roof catchments of schools resulted in savings of up to $250 in monthly water bills per school. A cumulative sum of $3,000 is saved yearly instead of traditional approaches of extending municipal piped water that comes with monthly water bills. This informed the integration of rainwater harvesting into building codes and is key to expansion.

Going forward, the key is prioritizing incentives – such as tax breaks, training, etc., to catalyze the growth of enterprises that will enhance the application of these green infrastructure solutions.

Furthermore, climate change is a security issue. As environmental conditions worsen, conflicts over resources and migration have worsened. For example, studies indicate that a 1% increase in temperature leads to a 4.5% increase in civil wars. By 2030, Africa could experience a 54% increase in armed conflict because of climate change. As such, addressing climate change is a national and international security matter. Aside from territorial expansion, most conflicts are primarily driven by a competition for resources.

Finally, climate change is an issue of inequality and injustice. The impacts of climate change are not distributed evenly across the globe, and they disproportionately affect the poorest communities. While Africa as a region is a minimal emitter, accounting for just about 2-3% of emissions, it stands out as disproportionately vulnerable because of a low socioeconomic base. The poor are disproportionately vulnerable because they lack the resources they need to afford the critical goods and services to enable them to buffer against the worst of the changing climate effects. Unequal access to socioeconomic opportunities and participation in economic growth compounds climate vulnerability.

Therefore, addressing climate change must align with unlocking inclusive socioeconomic opportunities and driving the continent towards a just transition into the green economy. The aspects shared above serve to drive Africa towards this trajectory and, in this way, lower systemic inequalities and work towards a more equitable, just world for everyone.

In the face of climate change, we must stand united, like a resilient coral reef protecting a delicate ecosystem. The coral reef symbolizes strength and beauty, with each piece coming together to create a vast and colorful landscape. Only through our collective efforts and a shared commitment to sustainability can we overcome the challenges of climate change and protect our shared home. Let us rise to the challenge and work together to ensure that the coral reef of humanity remains vibrant and strong for future generations.

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.