Innovation drives human society, but brings with it both benefits and costs. Science and technology can be a double-edged sword, sometimes pushing forward economic opportunities through new applications and products, and sometimes causing adverse environment effects, such as pollution. However, improved knowledge, especially in the context of a strong sciencepolicy link, based on African priorities and inclusive of public, private and civil actors, can lead to important initiatives that support sustainable development by addressing key challenges.

Many policy initiatives, including the WSSD Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and NEPAD, address this urgent need for investment in science and technology. Nevertheless, it is important not to see science and technological development as a silver bullet. Chapters 9 and 11 look at the challenges and opportunities of science in relation to genetically modified crops and chemicals, respectively.

Box 7: Climate change-related interlinkages in the Sahel

In the Sahel, there has been on average a 25 per cent decrease in rainfall over three decades. Climate variability and the frequency and intensity of severe weather events are projected to increase. Africa is likely to get drier in northern and southern latitudes and wetter in the tropics. Projections further indicate that there will be variation within regions and countries: Southern Africa may be drier as a whole, but some countries may be wetter than average.

Rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding are projected to adversely impact coastal communities and economies. Climate-induced changes to crop yields, ecosystem boundaries and species ranges will all dramatically affect the distribution and productivity of agriculture. Climate-related threats to food security, water and energy security and the increased incidence of vector- and water-borne diseases will further undermine Africa’s ability to develop. Globally, an additional 80 million to 125 million people will be at risk of hunger by 2080 – up to 80 per cent of whom will be in Africa because of its dependence on ecosystems that will be the first to disappear.

Source: Commission for Africa 2005

One of the many benefits of science has been the improvement in society’s ability to respond more effectively to environmental change and shocks. However, the opportunities available to Africa remain constrained due to low levels of technological and overall development and this has far-reaching adverse consequences for both ecosystems and human wellbeing. Disaster preparedness and response are closely linked to levels of investment in science and technology, and to governance systems. In much of Africa, the capacity for resilience is further undermined by a variety of socioeconomic factors including poverty and the lack of public access to information and knowledge in vulnerable areas. The high level of vulnerability to environmental changes has consequences at multiple levels – and many African countries’ economies are particularly susceptible, as shown in Boxes 7 and 8. These Boxes demonstrate the importance of an interlinkages approach in both problem analysis and in finding solutions: scientific and technology interventions that take into account the social and economic realities should be prioritized over the importation of technologies developed elsewhere, and closely linked to economic, environment and development strategies. Investment in education as well as in public institutions is essential.

Responding appropriately to the challenge of climate change, declining rainfall and desertification is one area where the need for increased understanding is necessary for developing appropriate early warning and mitigation strategies. The web of intertwined negative impacts of climate change is depicted in Box 7. The multiple impacts, across sectors and at different levels, indicate the need for an interlinkages approach to both research and response.