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Africa’s High Cost of Adapting to Climate Change

  • Joe DeCapua

Protesters march during a climate change rally outside a climate change summit held in the city of Durban, South Africa, Friday, Dec 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

Protesters march during a climate change rally outside a climate change summit held in the city of Durban, South Africa, Friday, Dec 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

Africa is being called the continent most vulnerable to climate change. A report commissioned by the African Development Bank says if the continent does not adapt it may be unable to meet its future food security needs. The report was released at the U.N. climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.

Economist John Ward said there are several reasons why Africa is more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change than other regions.

“First of all there’s physical exposure to the effects of climate change. How much warmer it will get? What changes in precipitation you might expect? And there there’s good evidence to suggest that just by sheer bad luck, if you like, Africa’s physical exposure to climate change is quite acute and with some really quite serious temperature increases predicted well above the global average,” he said.

Ward, director at Vivid Economics, said up to 50 percent of Africa’s population live in countries that are most exposed to the physical impacts of climate change.

“Africa faces some pretty severe challenges largely because its economy is so heavily centered around agriculture, which is well known to be particularly sensitive to variation in climate change,” he said.

A third factor making the continent vulnerable is its poor capacity to adapt.

“The abilities of countries in Africa to respond to the changing climate with a degree of flexibility to create new opportunities. And again, here, Africa seems to be particularly badly exposed. Some of the factors you kind of think about there are literacy rates and the standards of health provision in a country. And again, Africa, unfortunately, tends to do pretty badly against many of those indicators,” he said.

A lot of money over many years

The report estimates it will cost between $20 and $30 billion a year for the next 10 to 20 years for Africa to adapt to climate change. It says this money is over and above funds already being spent to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Innovative funding methods are being considered, but Ward admitted it’s difficult to reach agreement in these tough economic times.

The immediate priority, he said, is to improve health and education systems and strengthen water and sanitation infrastructure.

The continent is being looked upon to produce a great deal more food over the coming decades to help meet global demand. It’s estimated the world population will grow to 9 billion by 2050.

“Some of the analyses that we looked at suggested that without responding to the challenge of climate change and adapting to the problems that climate change will bring then agricultural yields in certain African countries could fall by more than 10 to 20 percent, that sort of region. And so if you factor that into the challenges already created by Africa’s growing population, then clearly it becomes an absolutely critical issue to deal with,” he said.

The economist added that poverty can only make the effects of climate change worse. He said a climate change disaster would cause twice as much economic damage in a poor country as it would in a middle income country.

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