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Africa: Climate Change Threatens Continent
Dec 2, 2007 (071202)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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 http://allafrica.com, 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
- 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
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
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
The report says action on climate change needs to start with
developed countries, but also makes suggestions for Africa's
- 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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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