Posted by: Home Strange Home | June 3, 2009

Climate Change in Africa

Yesterday I attended a talk by Dr. Camilla Toulmin, the Director of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, on the impact of climate change in Africa. The IEED is an independent research organization devoted to sustainable development and focuses on five key areas: climate change, governance, human settlements, natural resources, and sustainable markets. The Institute works with governments, business, NGOs, indigenous people’s groups, academics, and multilateral agencies such as the OECD and the UN.

Dr. Toulmin opened with some thoughts on why Africa is more susceptible to climate change than other regions. She pointed out that Africa relies more on land and natural resources for its economy; primary products represent a greater percentage of GDP than in other regions. Africa already has higher than average temperatures, with few areas that cannot be farmed because the weather is too cold (unlike Canada, which could potentially benefit from global warming by opening up new northern regions for agriculture).

Research studies have offered various predictions regarding the direct and indirect effects of climate change on Africa, which vary from region to region. North and South Africa are expected to get drier and hotter; East Africa may get wetter; and there is no consensus on what to expect for West Africa. In areas that become drier, there is likely to be a stress on the availability of water and pressure on land as fertile areas shrink. This could lead to land rights issues, especially in regions such as West Africa where 98% of land has no paper documentation whatsoever. Population movements are likely to result from droughts.

On the other hand, climate change offers some opportunities for Africa, notably possibilities for solar energy and the retreat of malaria in areas that become drier (but conversely, malaria will spread into areas that become warmer and wetter). Also, new programmes are being put into place to compensate countries for not chopping down their tropical forests.

Dr. Toulmin commented on the response of African governments to climate change and commended Mozambique in particular for the changes it instituted after the well publicized 2000/2001 flood. The Mozambican government has improved its disaster responsiveness and was much better prepared in 2007 when another flood struck. Dr. Toulmin also highlighted how our “green” consumer choices at home may affect people in Africa – when we avoid consuming air freighted fresh fruit and vegetables from places like Kenya for environmental reasons, we may be destroying local livelihoods.

Source: Dr. Camilla Toulmin, International Insitute for Environment and Development.

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