Introduction: Sub-Sahara Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources.

Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize. This is hugely problematic in terms of human security, as it will jeopardize health, livelihoods and development. Moreover, a decrease in ‘interaction capacity’ is also likely to decrease the ability of states and other social organizations, such as clans, ethnic and criminal networks to exercise large-scale violence.

In the future, climate change may serve as an additional driver of conflict, leading to the degradation of freshwater resources, declining food production and an increase in extreme weather events, resulting in environmentally induced migration. More effective governance responses, including stepped-up regional cooperation, could serve to mitigate the negative impacts currently experienced.

Yet, the problem of understanding climate change or global warming is one of the major problems confronting the African people, governments and the African Union (AU). Moreover, since climate change leads to acute conflicts, it becomes imperative to gain a proper understanding of this phenomenon in Africa.

Regional hotspots:

There is a wide range of regional examples that illustrate how unequal access to essential resources, distributional conflicts and insufficient management hamper development and increase the potential for conflict . They include:

  • Somalia and its conflicts over access to and control over resources,
  • the Niger Delta and Sudan and their respective disputes over crude oil,
  • the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of violent struggles over minerals and forests,
  • the Nile Basin and the state of transboundary water cooperation, and
  • the Sahel zone, where water and food scarcities are increasing and leading to more migration.

Agriculture, which provides a livelihood for about three-quarters of Africa’s population, is mainly rain-fed. Severe and prolonged droughts, flooding and loss of arable land due to desertification and soil erosion are reducing agricultural yields and causing crop failure and loss of livestock, thereby endangering rural and pastoralist populations. The Horn of Africa’s pastoralist areas (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and the Ugandan border) have been severely impacted by recurrent droughts.

Climate change risks:

  • In 2008, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned that the progress in human development achieved over the last decade may be slowed down or even reversed by climate change, as new threats emerge to water and food security, agricultural production and access, and nutrition and public health.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that northern and southern Africa will become much hotter and drier, while eastern and central Africa will experience increased rainfall.
  • The region’s vulnerability to climate change is partly driven by geography, i.e. its high exposure and sensitivity to the changing climate, but exacerbated by its low adaptive capacity.
  • Climate change has a direct impact on food production and income generation. On average, approximately 60% of employment in Africa is provided by the extremely vulnerable agricultural sector.
  • Environmental migration can be observed during drought seasons. It increases the pressure on areas that are already densely populated and thus the competition for natural resources, leading to e.g. conflicting land-use claims. Traditional pastoral communities find themselves travelling farther and increasingly leading their animals into farmlands in search of pasture.
  • The productivity and sustainability of Africa's environment is heavily dependent on how climate change is managed. The range of livelihoods, and consequently the opportunities for human development and alleviation of extreme poverty and hunger, are characterized by a total dependence on natural resource systems. According to the UN report on development in Africa, the region is failing to keep pace with the rest of the world in terms of development. Africa also has the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty, currently numbering 330 million in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty not only makes people vulnerable but also limits their choices. In addition, natural disasters such as floods can overwhelm a poor household, destroying its ability to cope. If crops fail, subsistence farmers have few or no alternative means to provide food for their family. Over 70% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa survives by subsistence agriculture and their livelihoods depend on natural resources.

Socio-economic and socio-political challenges:

As one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the projected impacts of climate change, Africa faces many challenges at this critical juncture. Traditionally, national development plans, poverty reduction strategy papers and sectoral strategies in climate sensitive sectors have paid little, if any, attention to climate variability, and even less to climate change. Africa’s ability to turn a threat into an opportunity hinges on actions taken today.

Low institutional capacities and the consequent mismanagement of natural resources in many African states exemplify the so-called resource curse theory. Corruption and insufficient capacities as well as bad economic policies have impeded resource-rich countries from reaping the benefits from their natural wealth, often leaving them heavily indebted instead.

Regional institutions:

There are various regional institutions that deal with environmental issues, such as the Africa Group on Climate Change, the Africa, Climate Change and Security Dialogue Process (ACCES), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Africa-Europe Energy Partnership (AEEP). South Africa has entered into cooperation with other emerging economies. The continent further hosts the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) is one of the promising avenues towards strengthening regional cooperation on environmental and climate issues, for example ithrough the structures of the African Union or of the Regional Economic Committees, such as the Southern African Development Community.

In the Nile basin, ten riparian states compete for the river’s water, both for their livelihoods and as a source of energy for industry, and all are severely affected by droughts and floods. The Nile Basin Initiative is one effort to reconcile conflicting interests between upstream and downstream countries. Transboundary water cooperation, though oftentimes ineffective, is urgently needed – not only in the Nile basin, but also in the Great Lakes region, the Chad Lake Basin and the Zambezi Basin (UNEP).

In addition, the African Union Commission (AUC) in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), is supporting a major new initiative, The 'Global Climate Observing System (GCOS)-Africa Climate for Development’, launched in 2007. The programme, part of the GCOS, is designed to integrate climate information and services into development activities in support of Africa's progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. A major objective is to mainstream climate information in national development programmes, focusing initially on the most climate-sensitive sectors.

The AUC, through convening preparatory and consultative meetings, mobilizes all African negotiators on climate change with the aim of implementing a common negotiating position on key climate change issues. The Commission also embarked on developing a comprehensive climate strategy for Africa. However, there is more to be done and the AUC needs to act aggressively in terms of creating a specialized unit on climate change and desertification control. This unit will strengthen the capacity of the Commission to be more informed on climate change trends and to adequately plan and be better prepared to support Member States in undertaking mitigation and adaptation measures on the continent. It will also enhance partners' coordination and the implementation of climate change activities on the continent in accordance with national, regional and international obligations.



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