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Africa: Climate Change Threatens Continent

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 2, 2007 (071202)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Climate change is not just in the future. It is already having serious effects, says the latest UNDP Human Development Report. Africa "has the lightest carbon footprint but is likely to pay the heaviest price in the coming century for human-induced climate change." Meanwhile, Texas, with a population of 23 million, produces more carbon emissions than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, with 720 million people.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a brief summary of the new report, from, and excerpts from two short notes provided by the UNDP, one a summary on Africa and the other a note on Mozambique's forward-looking disaster planning.

The entire report, as well as numerous shorter press releases and case studies, is available on-line at

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from the Africa chapter of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Both reports were released last month in time for the UN Climate Change Conference, scheduled for Bali, Indonesia, 3-14 December 2007. Both reports stress the need not only to slow climate change but only to prepare for the effects that are already visible and certain to increase.

Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate change issues include:

Africa: Neglecting Agriculture, 2

Sahel: Beyond Any Drought?

Africa: Up in Smoke?

Africa: Economics of Climate Change

Africa: Environmental Threats/Opportunities

Africa: Africa's Lakes

East Africa: Dams and Lake Victoria


"No Easy Victories" Conversation and Celebration
Washington, DC, Busboys & Poets, December 8, 2007, 5:30 - 7 p.m.

Sponsored by Busboys & Poets, TransAfrica Forum, AFSC Africa Program, Africa World Press, and the editors of No Easy Victories. .
For more details:

To read excerpts or to order book:

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Climate Change Threatens Continent

27 November 2007

By John Allen Cape Town

The carbon emissions of developed countries threaten to devastate sub-Saharan Africa in the coming decades, says a major United Nations report issued today.

This year's Human Development Report, commissioned by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), says if the world does not act against climate change within 10 years, a two-degree Celsius temperature increase could:

  • generate massive agricultural losses, of up to U.S. $26 million by 2060, a figure higher than all the bilateral aid to the region in 2005;
  • make an extra 600 million people go hungry; and
  • spark new and more frequent epidemics of mosquito-born diseases such as malaria and Rift Valley Fever.

"The poor those with the lightest carbon footprint and the least means to protect themselves are the first victims of developed countries' energy-rich lifestyle," says Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report, in a press release issued with the report.

In the short term, the effects of climate change could be "apocalyptic" for the world's poorest people, say Kemal Dervis, administrator of the UNDP, and Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

And in the long term, the phenomenon is "a massive threat to human development In some places it is already undermining the international community's efforts to reduce extreme poverty."

The report, entitled "Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world," cites specific examples of how climate change affects Africans.

In rich countries, people react to its effects by "adjusting thermostats, dealing with longer, hotter summers, and observing seasonal shifts." In the Horn of Africa, it says, "crops fail and people go hungry, or women and young girls spend more hours collecting water."

Children born during droughts are more likely to be malnourished or their growth stunted. In Ethiopia and Kenya respectively, children aged five and under are 36 and 50 percent more likely to be malnourished; in Niger children aged two or less were 72 more likely to be stunted.

Rising sea levels might be countered in cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and New York, the report continues, but "coastal flood defences will not save the livelihoods or the homes of hundreds of millions living in the Niger or Nile deltas."

The report notes that Texas in the United States, with a population of 23 million, produces more carbon emissions than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, with 720 million people.

Africa, it says, "has the lightest carbon footprint but is likely to pay the heaviest price in the coming century for human-induced climate change."

The report says action on climate change needs to start with developed countries, but also makes suggestions for Africa's governments:

  • Expand meteorological monitoring networks to give farmers better information about climate patterns;
  • Improve social insurance to protect farmers and poor urban residents from the worst effects of climate-related disasters. The report cites a Zambian pilot project which pays $6 a month to families in the bottom 10 percent of the economy;
  • Invest in early-warning systems, such as Mozambique's early warning and rapid-response mechanisms following floods in 2000; and
  • Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, which have high rainfall concentrated in a few weeks of the year, should invest in water-storage or "water harvesting" facilities.

Developed countries must cut emissions, invest in adaptation to prevent human development reversals

UNDP Human Development Report

Press Release 27 November 2007


Wealthy countries' carbon footprint threatens to stamp out progress in Africa, but the 2007/2008 Human Development Report proposes a way forward

Brasilia, 27 November 2007 - The heavy carbon footprint of developed countries threatens to stamp out and then reverse advances in health, education and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa unless critical steps are taken to cut emissions and invest in "climate-proofing" the livelihoods of the poor, according to the 2007/2008 Human Development Report (HDR) on climate change launched here today.

Building on the recently-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) HDR, entitled Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, sets out a pathway for climate change negotiations in Bali, Indonesia, and stresses that a narrow 10-year window of opportunity remains to put it into practice. ...

A "nine-planet" lifestyle

Nearly 550 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to energy. Families are left in the dark to cook with vegetation and animal dung over smoky stone fires, while their rich counterparts in developed countries run up the energy bills. Respiratory disease, in part caused by breathing in such smokey fumes, is the biggest killer of children in the world today.

"Fighting climate change" notes that if each poor person on the planet had the same energy-rich lifestyle as an American or Canadian, nine planets would be needed to safely cope with the pollution. In fact, the US state of Texas, with 23 million residents, emits more CO2 than all of the 720 million residents of sub-Saharan Africa put together, says the Report.

Faced with these stark differences, the authors note that critical global emission cuts should not undermine efforts to get basic energy services to the poor. The world's richest countries have a historic responsibility to take the lead in balancing the carbon budget by cutting emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, says the Report, in addition to supporting a new $86 billion annual global investment in substantial international adaptation efforts to protect the world's poor.

"Africa is entering a new century. There is promise. Growth and development are accelerating and peace is being consolidated in many parts of the Continent," said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervi.., "Getting the fight against climate change right would in turn catalyze significant human development advances across the board. But if we don't act on climate change, the hope of Africa—the continent with the lightest carbon footprint—could be stamped out."

Human development "traps"

Current evidence points to a direct linkage between climate change and increased risk of climate disasters, like floods and droughts, and the overwhelming majority of people affected live in developing countries, says Fighting climate change. The authors note that on average between 2000 and 2004, one in 19 people living in the developing world was affected by a climate disaster each year, compared to one person in 1,500 for OECD countries.

In the aftermath of a flood or drought, it is impossible to capture in images the depth of damage inflicted on poor people in Africa. With limited access to insurance, savings or assets, poor households are faced with stark choices in the face of climate shocks that can wipe out crops, reduce job opportunities, push up food prices and destroy property.

In the 1999 drought in Malawi, most poor people coped by eating less, says Fighting climate change. They also used up their savings or borrowed money and sold their livestock, poultry or household items. Then in 2002, when drought hit again, nearly five million people were in need of emergency food aid. It did not arrive immediately, says the Report, and households coped by turning to extreme survival measures such as theft and prostitution.

The Report illustrates how climate shocks can lock people into a downward cycle of poverty. The authors found children born during a drought, for example, were much more likely to be malnourished and stunted. In Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the world's most drought-prone countries, children aged five or less born during a drought are respectively 36 and 50 percent more likely to be malnourished that children not born during a drought. For Ethiopia, that meant two million additional malnourished children in 2005. In Niger, children aged two or less born in a drought year were 72 percent more likely to be stunted, according to the Report.

Fighting "adaptation apartheid"

The authors emphasize that while carbon dioxide emissions know no borders - one tonne of emissions from Texas does the same damage as one tonne emitted by Niamey, Niger - the capacity of the residents in these locations to cope with the effects of climate change varies dramatically.

As global warming changes weather patterns in large parts of Africa, crops fail and people go hungry, says Fighting climate change. By contrast, "in rich countries, coping with climate change to date has largely been a matter of adjusting thermostats, dealing with longer, hotter summers, and observing seasonal shifts."

In California, for example, rising winter temperatures are expected to reduce snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which acts as a water storage system for the State. As this threatens the availability of water throughout the year, California has developed an extensive system of reservoirs and water channels to maintain flows of water to the dry areas, while also investing heavily in recycling water.

In northern Kenya, by comparison, increased frequency of droughts means that women are walking greater distances to fetch water, often ranging from 10 to 15 kilometres a day, says the Report. This confronts women with personal security risks, keeps young girls out of school and imposes an immense physical burden - plastic container filled with 20 litres of water weighs around 20 kilograms.

"Leaving the world's poor to sink or swim with their own meagre resources in the face of the threat posed by climate change is morally wrong," writes Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, in the Report, "[but] this is precisely what is happening. We are drifting into a world of 'adaptation apartheid'."

Current spending through multilateral mechanisms on adaptation in developing countries has amounted to $26 million to date - roughly one week's worth of spending on United Kingdom flood defences. This is nowhere near sufficient, says the Report, and it calls on the developed countries to support a new global investment of at least $86 billion annually, or 0.2 percent of OECD countries' combined gross domestic product (GDP), in adaptation efforts to climate-proof infrastructure and build the resilience of the poor to the effects of climate change.

Learning From Experience

United Nations Development Programme (New York)

27 November 2007

Mozambique has shown countries can learn to live with the threat of floods, reducing vulnerability in at-risk communities, says this extract from the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report 2007/2008.

Countries cannot escape from the accidents of geography that put them in harm's way and increase their exposure to climate risks. What they can do is reduce these risks through policies and institutions that minimize impacts and maximize resilience. The experience of Mozambique powerfully demonstrates that public policies can make a difference.

One of the poorest countries in the world, Mozambique is ranked 172 out of 177 on the Human Development Index (HDI) and has more than one-third of its people living on less than US$1 a day. Progress in human development has gathered pace over the past decade, but extreme climate events are a constant source of vulnerability.

Tropical cyclones that gather in the Indian Ocean are a major cause of storms and flooding. The flooding is aggravated by the fact that Mozambique straddles the lowland basins of nine major rivers including the Limpopo and Zambezi that drain vast areas of south-eastern Africa before crossing the country on their way to the ocean.

In 2000 Mozambique was hit on two fronts. Heavy rains at the end of 1999 swelled river systems to near record levels. Then, in February 2000, cyclone Eline made landfall, causing extensive flooding in the centre and south of the country. Another cyclone Gloria arrived in March to make a bad situation worse. Emergency services were overwhelmed and donors were slow to respond. At least 700 people died and 650,000 people were displaced.

During 2007 Mozambique was revisited by a similar climate event. A powerful cyclone, accompanied by high rains, destroyed 227,000 hectares of cropland and affected almost half a million people in the Zambezi basin. Yet on this occasion 'only' 80 people died and recovery was more rapid.

What made the difference? The experience of the 2000 flood gave rise to intensive dialogue within Mozambique and between Mozambique and its aid donors. Detailed flood risk analysis was carried out across the country's river basins, identifying 40 districts with a population of 5.7 million that were highly vulnerable to flooding. Community-based disaster risk management strategies and disaster simulation exercises were conducted in a number of high-risk basins.

Meanwhile, the meteorological network was strengthened: in flood-prone Sofala province, for example, the number of stations was increased from 6 to 14. In addition, Mozambique has developed a tropical cyclone early warning system.

Mozambique's policymakers also recognized the importance of the mass media in disaster preparedness. Radio is particularly important. The local language network of Radio Mozambique now provides regular updates on climate risks, communicating information from the National Institute of Meteorology.

During 2007, early warning systems and the media enabled government and local communities to identify the most at-risk areas in advance. Mass evacuations were carried out in the most threatened low-lying districts. Elsewhere, emergency food supplies and medical equipment were put in place before the floods arrived.

While much remains to be done, Mozambique's experience demonstrates how countries can learn to live with the threat of floods, reducing vulnerability in at-risk communities.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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