In November 2015, many of the world’s leaders met in Paris, France to hammer out a new and binding agreement that would combat human induced global warming and climate change. According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada; “We have an opportunity to make history in Paris – an agreement that supports a transition to a low-carbon economy that is necessary for our collective health, security and prosperity”.
What is the evidence?
The scientific evidence is clear: climate change is one of the greatest threats of our time. From increased incidences of droughts, to coastal flooding, to the expanding melt of sea ice in our Arctic, the widespread impacts of climate change compel Canada to take strong action now. A 2014 synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that humans have had a profound influence on the world’s climate system, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. We know human activities such as deforestation, and burning fossil fuels are shifting the average weather conditions, and there is ample evidence that climate change amplifies heat extremes. “Of all the different extreme events that can happen, the partial attribution of heat waves to ongoing climate change is one of the easier connections,” according to NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt.
In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems globally. Climate change generally increases the spatial variability of precipitation, contributing to a reduction of rainfall in the subtropics and an increase at higher latitudes and in parts of the tropics. While warming is expected everywhere on Earth, the amount of projected warming generally increases from the tropics to the poles in the Northern Hemisphere. Climate models suggest a global warming of about 3° C and a sea level rise of about 68 cm by the year 2100 due to the CO2 emission projected under the Business‐As‐Usual (BAU) scenario. Globally, the rates of surface warming increased in the mid‐1970s and the global land surface has been warming at about double the rate of ocean surface warming since then. Global mean surface temperatures continue to rise, with 11 of the last 12 years ranked among the 12 warmest years on record since 1850.
Why Africa is vulnerable
Climate change is real, and Africa is not immune to this phenomenon. In fact, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change by virtue of its poor state of economic development and low adaptive capacity. In addition, extreme and abject poverty, frequent natural disasters such as droughts and floods, and heavy dependence of agriculture on rainfall further increases the continent’s vulnerability.
Climate change could seriously affect agricultural production in many African countries. Currently, agricultural losses are estimated to be possibly severe for several areas like the Sahel, East Africa, and southern Africa, accompanied by changes in the length of growing periods impacting mixed rain-fed, arid and semi-arid systems under certain climate projections. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020 (IPCC, 2007). This will lead to loss of livelihood and social anarchy amongst the people.
Without mitigation, however, a magnitude of climate change is likely to be reached that makes adaptation impossible for some natural systems, while for most human systems it would involve very high social and economic costs. Consequences of this include persistence of economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities particularly for the economic and livelihood sectors. Climate change, variability and associated increased disaster risks are an additional burden to sustainable development in Africa, as well as a threat and impediment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Constraints in technological options, limited infrastructure, skills, information and links to markets further heighten vulnerability to climate stresses. Africa’s human existence and development is under threat from the adverse impacts of climate change – its population, ecosystems and unique biodiversity will all be the major victims of global climate change.
Examples of this phenomenon abound, for example, changes in a variety of ecosystems are already being detected, particularly in southern African ecosystems, at a faster rate than anticipated. In addition, some regions in East Africa have become drier due to changes in land use pattern and climate. Water sources are becoming intermittent or disappearing; streams that used to run year-round are now seasonal. By 2020, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments project that 75-250 million people are estimated to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Some assessments, for example, show severe increased water stress and possible increased drought risk for parts of northern and southern Africa and increases in run-off in East Africa. Water access is, however, threatened not only by climate change, but also by complex river basin management. This, coupled with increased demand, will adversely affect livelihoods. Changes in the ecosystem have also had significant impact on wild sources of food which have become hard to find (Report Summary for Policy Makers, IPCC, 2007). Human health, already compromised by a range of factors, could be further hit by the negative impacts of climate change and climate variability. For example, previously malaria-free highland areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi could also experience incidences of malaria by 2050s, with the conditions for transmission becoming highly suitable by 2080s.
In most African countries, access to energy is an existential nightmare. Only about 50% of urban dwellers and a measly 8% of rural dwellers have access to electricity, albeit irregular. Extreme poverty and the lack of access to other fuels mean that 80% of the overall African population relies primarily on biomass to meet its residential needs, with this fuel source supplying more than 80%of the energy consumed in Africa. Further challenges from urbanisation, rising energy demands and volatile oil prices further compound energy issues in Africa. Climate change could worsen an already hopeless situation.
In addition to the above is the possibility of projected sea-level rise affecting many African coastal cities with large populations sooner rather than later. Currently, Africa has over 300 coastal cities (with over 10,000 people), and an estimated population of over 66 million people (2015 estimate) living in low elevation (<10-m) coastal zones. Sea-level rise will probably increase the high socio-economic and physical vulnerability of coastal cities. The projection that sea-level rise could increase flooding, particularly on the coasts of Eastern Africa, will also have implications for health.
According to projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change will lead to an equivalent of slightly less than 2% to 4% annual loss in GDP in Africa by 2040 (including market and non-market sectors, without adaptation).
By 2100, it is estimated that climate change will lead to an equivalent annual loss in GDP in Africa of 10% (including market and non-market sectors, without adaptation), with an upper value equivalent to an annual 25% GDP loss by 2100. Adaptation could (but not entirely) reduce the economic costs of climate change in Africa significantly, from 2% to 1% of GDP by 2040 (that is, from $ 230 billion to $ 148 billion), and from 10% to 7% of GDP by 2100 ($ 530 billion to $ 349 billion with a business as usual (BAU) scenario).
Why Canada must care
Africa’s contribution to the world’s total emissions of greenhouse gases is less than 3%, a very meagre contribution compared to what developed and newly developed countries have contributed to date (this include Canada). To limit the temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, developed countries (including Canada) would need to reduce emissions in 2020 by 25–40% below 1990 levels and in 2050 by approximately 80–95%. Protecting the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind should be based on the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. This leads to the requirement that developed countries take the lead and freely allow for the transfer of advanced energy efficient technologies to developing countries, and strengthen an appropriate financial mechanism to help meet the additional cost of emission stabilization/reduction. Canada is at the forefront of this thinking, and we are doing our part to ensure sustainable future for all by assisting with the transition to green economies and the building of climate resilience.
Currently, Canada is supporting over 80 climate change projects and initiatives in Africa. Some of these projects include the following:
- Strengthening economic skills and climate change adaptive capacity (IDRC)
- Adaptation to Social, Environmental and Climate Change Impacts on Vector-Borne Diseases in Africa
- Canada Fund for African Climate Resilience
- Support to the Congo Basin Forest Fund
- Institutional Capacity Building Support Project.
In addition, Prime Minister Trudeau has announced that Canada will contribute an historic $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing countries tackle climate change. He made the announcement in November of 2015, ahead of the Paris climate conference while attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta. Canada is committed to ambitious action on climate change, and is focused on the economic opportunities of our environment and creating the clean jobs of tomorrow.
The science on climate change is indisputable and its significant impacts are already being felt by economies and communities, particularly in the world’s most poor and vulnerable countries. Canada’s positive contribution will support the transition to low-carbon economies that are both sustainable and more resilient. Countries in need will receive support, in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, to respond to climate change and adapt to its impacts. This contribution will support the commitment Canada made under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord to work with partners to jointly mobilize, from a wide variety of sources, US $100 billion annually by 2020. The success of all these projects and the additional funding by the Canadian government depends on how well they are implemented as we move forward. We must not fail!!
About the writer
Andy Kusi-Appiah is an Adjunct Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa. He is also the founder of SkillFocus, an Ottawa-based soccer development program for elite athletes, and has also served as head coach for elite teams in both Ontario and Quebec (1995-2010). He is also the co-founder and CEO of the Canadian Education Management Agency. Andy was the Senior Advisor on Diversity Issues to former Mayor Bob Chiarelli, and has also served on numerous advisory committees and task forces at the City of Ottawa.