Africa seeks to turn climate challenges into opportunities

by Suleiman Mustapha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 2 December 2011 10:23 GMT

"Our growing cities can be low-carbon and our agriculture can become climate-smart and more productive," says World Bank official

DURBAN (AlertNet) – With the world gathered in the South African city of Durban for the annual U.N. summit to take stock of collective decisions on fighting climate change, the global gaze is turning to Africa and how the continent is coming to terms with a shifting climate.

While Africa produces less carbon dioxide than any other region in the world, it is considered the most vulnerable to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that scientists fear will increase as the earth gets hotter.

Already, changing weather and rainfall patterns are having a major impact on the continent, with record greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere contributing to more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

The devastating drought that hit the Horn of Africa earlier this year affected 11 countries and more than 12 million people. In stark contrast, the Niger River rose to its highest levels in 80 years in 2010, making one million people homeless in West Africa.

Meanwhile, Lake Chad - the source of water for 30 million people in Chad, Niger and Nigeria - is drying up as rainfall patterns change across the continent, leading to migration and conflict.

And in Ghana, it is feared that acute water shortages linked to climate change could see the country become one of the world's water-stressed nations by 2025, according to a study last year that said urgent adaptation measures are needed to help Ghanaians cope with dwindling water supplies.


According to Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank vice president for the Africa region, climate change is adding to an already tough set of development challenges for the continent.

With the cost of adapting to a warmer world added to the mix, Sub-Saharan Africa alone will need to find another $14-17 billion a year between now and 2050 to fight climate change, according to a recent World Bank study.

But as momentum gathers behind action to fight climate change, Ezekwesili remains optimistic about the continent’s future. If Africa’s economies continue to grow at the present rate, the continent’s GDP could double in about 12 years.

“This means Africa has a unique opportunity as it goes about building its roads, cities and ports for the future,” she said in a written interview ahead of the Durban climate change conference. “Our growing cities can be low-carbon and our agriculture can become climate-smart and thereby, more productive.”

The World Bank Group has planned investments of around $7 billion to support Africa’s efforts to deal with climate change. They range from helping countries cope with climate risks and vulnerabilities, to designing new policies to boost renewable energy use.

“Our goal in Africa is to build a longer-term vision for growth. We have several programmes that are supporting countries to design policies that show a different pathway to growth,” said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank programme manager for the Africa region.

For example, Niger and Zambia have both participated in the World Bank-supported Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR), part of the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), a dedicated resource for climate action with the World Bank as one of the partners. Similar plans are being developed for 11 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The process of designing the (PPCR) programme has been important,” explained Pswarayi-Riddihough. “In Niger, they were building a development programme around food security. We helped push the envelope and now the plan incorporates climate change considerations.”


As it grows, Africa needs climate-resilient infrastructure that can withstand 1-in-50 year floods rather than a 1-in-100 year type event, the World Bank said in a statement.

 Progress is being made in Ethiopia, for instance, where more stringent road construction norms are being adopted that should avoid the greater costs incurred in repairing poorly built roads.

 In Madagascar, emergency preparedness plans are helping boost resilience to more frequent cyclones.

And in the Niger River basin, home to over a 100 million people in nine countries, riparian nations have come together to chart a development plan for water storage, irrigation, hydropower and fisheries. The group of countries has asked the World Bank to help the Niger Basin Authority assess risks from climate change to the broader plan, and incorporate these into future climate-resilient investments.

Some of the tools being used to better manage water resources include a new breed of sensors, mobile phones, satellite remote sensing systems and new open data platforms. Mobile phones are being used to send text messages to farmers about their quotas of irrigation water for the day.

The World Bank has also been reaching out to a new generation of creative thinkers in Africa through events like the Hackathon, organised in Zambia last month to help find technological solutions to climate risks and water scarcity by consulting experts around the world.

Africa is also showing it is possible to make the shift to renewables while providing much-needed access to energy.

New hydropower projects are under consideration in Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Cameroon. Kenya is expanding geothermal power production. And the Lighting Africa initiative, supported by the World Bank, aims to bring light to 250 million Sub-Saharan Africans by 2030 through high-tech energy-saving lamps.


Agriculture - which employs up to 70 per cent of people in some countries - is another big priority for Africa. Twelve West African and Sahelian countries are implementing a World Bank-led action plan for “climate smart agriculture”, which increases productivity while sequestering carbon.

In Ethiopia, the Humbo Community-Based Natural Regeneration Project is regenerating almost 3,000 hectares of native natural forest, and the community is earning revenues from the sale of carbon credits to the BioCarbon Fund , which is run by development agency World Vision in partnership with the World Bank.

And last November, the World Bank and the Kenyan government announced a new pilot project to develop a carbon offset market for soil carbon sequestration.

The World Bank, through the BioCarbon Fund, is showcasing the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project as an “early action” to demonstrate a “triple win” for climate change mitigation, adaptation and food security for small-scale producers, while delivering carbon finance through the sale of credits in the carbon market.

As Ezekwesili says, “climate change is not purely about threats, it’s actually the opportunities that it presents to Africa to completely transform its development path”.

Suleiman Mustapha is a business journalist based in Accra.


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