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Driving adaptation with effective communication tools in Africa

Joachim Ezeji's picture

Part 1 of 2

Does it bother you that most discussions of how to address climate change in Africa have focused much more on adaptation(e.g. coping with the storms, floods, drought, sea- floor rise and other impacts that climate change will bring) than mitigation (e.g. reducing green house emission etc)?

Not to worry, both adaptation and mitigation are very crucial in addressing the challenges of climate change. However, the onus of addressing mitigation is common with countries like China, USA, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Canada, UK, South Korea, Iran, Italy, South Africa, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, France, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Ukraine and Poland etc whose expanding economy has a huge feed demand for fuel. For these countries, mitigation is a central concern they constitute the top 20 CO2 emitters per capita (measured at metric tonnes per person). Apart from South Africa, no other African country made this list.

However, it is germane to note that in Marrakech in Morocco in November 2001, at the Seventh Conference of the Parties, delegates focused their minds on both adaptations to climate change and mitigation measures and, for the first time, formally recognized the dilemmas of adaptation for the developing nations. This recognition took the form of funding mechanisms to assist countries to adapt. The Delhi Declaration from the Eight Conference of the Parties in November 2002 reinforced the importance of adaptation. The Delhi Declaration, in effect, has linked the participation of the developing world in mitigation of emissions to actions and funding on adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

While developing countries with lean economies and who no doubt suffer the negative impacts of a changing climate are still struggling to define and adopt an adaptation pathway peculiar to its milieu, those in the  top 20 CO2 emitting bracket have long been setting emission reduction targets. (See Footnote)

The IPCC proclaims that there is now little doubt that human induced climate change is happening. All societies consequently need to learn to cope with the changes that are predicted such as warmer temperatures, drier soils, changes in weather extremes and rising sea levels. The vulnerability of a system to climate change is determined by its exposure, by its physical settings and sensitivity, and by its ability and opportunity to adapt to change or otherwise. To illustrate these categories, sensitivity will be high where the system in question includes, for example, settlements built on flood plains, hill slopes or low-lying coastal areas.

What this means is that some sectors will be more sensitive and some groups more vulnerable to risks posed by climate change than others hence underscoring the urgency to build resilience through adaptive capacity required to face the evolving challenges in the years ahead. Peoples vulnerability to the risks associated with climate change is feared to likely evolve many other tight challenges such as poverty, especially in places like Africa where dependence on resources that are vulnerable to changing climate such as farming, fishery, water supplies etc is very high.

In terms of action, adaptation may take the form of reducing dependence on vulnerable systems such as diversifying food production away from a limited number of drought-prone crops, of decreasing sensitivity by avoiding building settlements and infrastructure in high-risk locations, or by strengthening existing systems so that they are less likely to be damaged by unusual events.

It also includes the need to mainstream into adaptation projects the recognition that people of developing countries are not just passive victims. Indeed, in the past they have had the greatest resilience to droughts, floods and other catastrophes etc. Pastoralists in West African Sahel have been known to adapt to cope with rainfall decreases of 25-33% in the twentieth century. 

Footnote –
In August 2008 Brazil launched the Amazon Fund, aimed at protecting the rainforest so vital to the world’s climate and combating climate change. In December 2008 Brazil also launched a national climate change plan which proposed to cut the country’s deforestation rate in half by 2018. For South Africa, an emission reduction strategy was drawn in July 2008. A final domestic policy is likely to be adopted by the end of 2010, likely to involve mandatory targets for reducing transport emissions and plans for increasing the carbon price.

Countries in the EU such as Germany and the UK are part of the European Union’s Climate Action Programme. The EU is committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and is ready to scale up this reduction to as much as 30 per cent under a new global climate change agreement when other developed countries make comparable efforts. Barack Obama has set out initial overall ambitions on climate change to return US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce them by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. A key tool will be a cap-and-trade system like the EU’s Emission Trading System. 

In April 2007 Canada released an action plan to reduce green house gases. The Canadian government committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (relative to 2006 levels) by 20 per cent by 2020 and by 60 per cent to 70 per cent by 2050. In June 2007 China released a three-pronged national climate change programme, the first by any developing country. Its aims are to control greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate research and development, and raise public awareness. It has a renewable energy target (15 percent of total energy by 2020), and a plan to increase forest coverage rate to 20 per cent by 2010. 

Part 2 coming soon!

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