Climate variability is common throughout Africa and it is increasingly limiting development. Extremes of rainfall are the most damaging aspect of climate variability and Africa frequently suffers the devastating impacts of floods and drought. Lives, livelihoods, crops, livestock and infrastructure are lost during these events and the financial cost is well beyond the means of African countries, meaning that they are neither prepared for such events nor able to afford to repair the damage caused. It is the poor who are the most vulnerable as they have no alternative source of income to their direct, subsistence level dependence on natural resources (either through cultivation, livestock rearing, or harvesting resources from natural habitats). Most countries have developed and implemented strategies for coping with climate variability, including ratification of the UNCCD, and development of National Action Plans. There are also effective climate and hazard monitoring programmes and early warning systems in many sub-regions. However, given the additional impacts of climate change, these systems may need additional trained staff, financial resources and equipment. The main priorities for action are therefore to strengthen coping strategies for effective management of the impacts of extreme events, increase food security, and maintain healthy ecosystems.
Africa’s limited economic and infrastructure resources for mitigating or coping with shifting patterns of food production, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters and rising seal levels make the region one of the most vulnerable to climate change
Africa’s limited economic and infrastructure resources for mitigating or coping with shifting patterns of food production, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters and rising seal levels make the region one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Although many African countries have ratified the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, most countries (with the exception of those of Northern Africa and South Africa) have negligible GHG emissions. Developing countries such as those in Africa stand to gain from the proposed mechanisms for emissions trading, reforestation schemes, and cleaner development. Emphasis in the global arena should therefore be placed on their implementation as soon as possible, to assist in meeting development objectives through sound environmental management.
Above all, it is critical that action be taken immediately. Further delays in curbing the trend of increasing atmospheric pollution will only add to the uncertainties and insecurities that natural climate variability causes. Developing countries also need to invest in disaster preparedness strategies in the short term, and to diversify their economies away from the heavy dependence on agriculture in the long term.
Ambient air pollution, particularly in urban centres, is emerging as an issue of concern for human health in many African countries. Increasing levels of toxic pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, and particulates are a result of industrial emissions and vehicle exhausts (particularly from older vehicles) as well as burning of coal, wood, or other fuels to meet domestic energy requirements. Population growth over the past 30 years has increased the demand for energy and industrialization, thus raising emissions of pollutants. Population growth and the pattern of human settlements have also put pressure on transport systems, increasing vehicle exhaust emissions. Radical changes in technology are required if economic development is to proceed without adding to the existing environmental challenges and if stringent emission controls are to be avoided. Removal of subsidies, expansion of electrification programmes, promotion of unleaded fuels, and conversion to cleaner fuels are measures that have been implemented successfully in parts of Africa recently. In particular the energy industry, manufacturing industries, and transport systems will have to undergo fundamental changes in order to supply sustainable energy, material and mobility to future generations.