24 October 2012

Africa: Integrating Climate Change With Development - Africa's Daunting Task

Climate change, though it is affecting all, is not affecting all of us equally. People in different parts of the world also do not have similar capacity to respond to its challenges.

As is often the case, the least developed countries of Africa find themselves most vulnerable to challenges from climate change to whose cause they contributed almost nothing. In Africa, many years have passed since climate change and related shocks began to affect food security, health, agricultural productivity, political security, and many other aspects of human life. With the passage of time the ecosystem in the continent seems to get more and more fragile. Especially, low- lying coastal areas of the continent are likely to face climate change driven flooding, increased water scarcity and decline in agricultural outputs and fisheries, according to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) report.

A strategy to mitigate the causes of climate change and adapt with its inevitable impacts is obligatory if the positive economic progress and over all development the continent has witnessed during last decade have to be sustained. As most countries in Africa still have weak institutions, rampant poverty, very low technological capacity and social infrastructure and limited human and financial capacity, their high vulnerability to climate change is likely to be further exacerbated. It is in due emphasis to these and other worrying scenarios in the continent that the African Union Commission, in collaboration with other stakeholders has embarked on conducting a conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa(CCDA) annually. The first conference(CCDA-I) held here last year highlighted the importance of creating a clear connection between research, policy and practice to explore and implement the opportunities provided by adaptation and mitigation strategies. Science based climate information on variability and rainfall patterns could be taken as one of the many instances of this approach. Various stakeholders at the conference stressed on the importance of changing the existing institutional and policy frameworks in such a way that accommodates global, regional and national strategies to respond to and integrate climate change in to the development agenda. This conference is also hoped to provide a forum for dialogue and engagement with various stakeholders involved in climate change and development in Africa.

Similarly, the second annual conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA-II), held here last week for three days under the theme: "Advancing Knowledge, Policy and Practice on Climate Change and Development," emphasized on the urgency and need to pursue climate resilient and climate proof development in the continent through better informed policies and practices. This conference focused on many dire predictions and issues of international climate change negotiations as the Doha draws close.

Opening the conference, Prime Minister Haile-Mariam Desalegn said Africa will be able to invest in renewable energy potentials like hydro-power, wind and geothermal power in the future and this requires political will and social mobilization to be turned in to concrete results. Ethiopia's progress in these sectors so far has been encouraging and there are some practical lessons for other Africans, he noted. Even with the presence of rich resource base and political will, the continent could face serious challenges mainly from the reluctance of major players in the world to agree on even the simplest and least controversial points that could help bring about a win-win solution for all humanity, the Prime Minister added. Haile-Mariam also said, coupled with some dedicated national efforts, efforts made by various bodies in Africa have enabled the continent achieve some significant results.

Africa must push and push hard for the scaling up of national and international efforts, particularly in relation to adaptation, mitigation, finance and technology transfer and development. The performance of the developed countries in activating the short-term financial commitments at the Copenhagen Climate Conference can only be described as "extremely disappointing". However, it is defined, their actions have failed the 'new additionality' test.

Speaking on the occasion, UN Under- Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes, said Africa's vulnerability to climate change despite contributing least to the problem is a naked fact. Climate change will impact on African agriculture either where it is primarily rain-fed or in its arid and semi-arid areas. Other sectors including health, energy, water and sanitation will similarly be impacted by climate change and all of them will require appropriate policy responses, he noted. Lopes stressed on the need for knowledge which is informed by practice to design policies that will promote development in the face of climate change.

Climate science and climate services are essential for improving the knowledge base about climate change in Africa both in terms of short-term variability and long-term trends, he said. Climate science is a critical source of information for vulnerable groups including farmers and local communities. "The time-scale for action is urgent and the requirements for mitigation and adaptation are daunting. We will remain to this course of action including reinforcing existing strong links to the African Group of Negotiations at the climate change negotiations," Lopes said.

In a nutshell, knowledge-based policy and practice to create climate-resilient economic development both in the short-term and long run seems to have been given due emphasis by various participants of the conference. There need also to be a concerted effort from all governmental and non-governmental stakeholders and work in an integrated and knowledge, information and science based action against challenges. Mitigation and adaptation efforts should help the vulnerable sections of communities tangibly withstand daunting challenges.

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