Climate change adaptation has often been viewed as a social undertaking but in reality this is not the case. A new report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), Keeping Track of Adaptation Action in Africa, shows that adaptation is a business with a quick turnover that can offer new ways of making a living.
Done correctly, climate adaptation techniques can improve income and social welfare, protect and restore ecosystems, and serve other economic sectors and wider groups in the community.
The UNEP report uses graphics and photographs to communicate and showcase data on adaptation actions across Africa. It uses stories to illustrate how low-cost adaptation actions have contributed to human welfare, poverty alleviation and employment - and also how these actions have worked in harmony with nature to strengthen ecosystems.
The report paints a picture of what building community resilience to climate change can mean in practice. Jobs have been created, youths empowered, food and water security enhanced, and institutions strengthened. Vulnerable communities have gained the means to deal with climate impacts.
The UNEP report marks a shift in the climate change narrative from that of doom and gloom, setting out what adaptation can achieve. This is especially important at a time when a very bleak and frightening picture of climate change impacts on African countries is emerging.
The findings of UNEP’s 2013 Africa Adaptation Gap Report highlighted key questions: What is being done in Africa to prepare for and respond to climate change? What should preparedness and response involve?
The report warned that Africa’s coastline is expected to undergo a sea-level rise 10 percent higher than the rest of the world. Arid areas in Africa are expected to increase in size by 4 percent, and north, west, and southern countries in Africa will see declines of up to 50 to 70 percent in groundwater recharge.
Under current plans, damages are expected to comprise about 4 percent of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100. In a scenario without adaptation measures, losses could hit 7 percent of Africa’s GDP ($350bn) per year by the 2070s. If the world continues moving towards a global temperature rise of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, funding for adaptation will need to increase 10 percent annually by 2020.
With the factual assessment highlighting the urgent need for successful climate change adaptation actions, UNEP was motivated to provide clear evidence for donors and other partners. This week’s report demonstrates how adaptation can boost resilience, as well as generating new economic opportunities and co-benefits that transcend cash profits.
With relatively few inputs, communities from Rwanda east to Togo and south to Zambia have secured water supplies, rehabilitated land, improved crop yields, created work, inspired young people and built resilience to climate change through innovative and unique techniques.
For example, an aquatic ecosystems project in a Togolese community led to an increase in access to water for human use, agriculture and livestock of 488 percent.
And under a forest restoration project in Rwanda, 2,500 farmers were trained in land husbandry, and 4,850 people were employed and paid via saving and credit cooperatives. The $100,000 project served as an impetus for a grander Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture investment of $25 million.
Yet, despite promising results, many of the examples are still small in scale and scope, and geographically isolated. The main agenda now should be how to use these early initiatives to boost food production and economic growth - given that in some parts of Africa, rainfall volumes are likely to improve while in others they are predicted to fall.
Higher rainfall should be managed well for agricultural production and to forestall the negative risks from reduced rainfall in other parts of Africa. This process can be enhanced if private and public institutions invest more in water management and better farming methods.
Further research is required on the beneficial economic impacts of adaptation, and how to link and take to scale proven technologies, processes and systems, while investing in future adaptation approaches.
The UNEP report, rooted in the understanding that ecosystem-based techniques are an optimal approach to powering African development, opens the door to more sustainable economic growth in a climate-constrained world.
Richard Munang is UNEP's Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Co-ordinator, tweeting @MTingem
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which he is affiliated.