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Africa: Up in Smoke?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 5, 2006 (061105)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is historically a result of rich world activity. Therefore to be fair, the rich world should bear the full costs of adapting to climate change, at least in the early years." - Working Group on Climate Change and Development

The Working Group on Climate Change and Development includes ITDGPractical Action, ActionAid, Christian Aid, Oxfam GB, Tearfund, WaterAid, World Vision, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Worldwide Fund for Nature and the RSPB. The Up in Smoke reports are published by New Economics Foundation.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a report by the Working Group on Climate Change and Development on Africa and global warming, as well as from an announcement of a new report released today in Nairobi by the UN Environment Programme. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from the conclusions on the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Africa - Up in Smoke 2

The second report on Africa and global warming from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development

October 2006

Oxfam GB

"Africa of course is ... seen by experts as particularly vulnerable to climate change. The size of its land mass means that in the middle of the continent, overall rises in temperature will be up to double the global rise, with increased risk of extreme droughts, floods and outbreaks of disease." - Tony Blair, January 2005

Summary and recommendations

[October 2006 update]

Too much or too little rain can be a matter of life or death in Africa. At different times and in different places across the continent, climate change threatens both. This briefing brings up to date the original report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, Africa - Up in Smoke?, released in 2005. Our overarching conclusion then, which is even more pressing now, was that: "A new model of development is called for, one in which strategies to increase human resilience in the face of climate change and the stability of ecosystems are central. It calls for a new test for every policy and project, in which the key question will be, "Are you increasing or decreasing people's vulnerability to the climate?". Above all, the challenge calls for a new flexibility and not a one-size-fits-all, neoliberal-driven approach to development. Just as an investment portfolio spreads risk by including a variety of stocks and shares, so an agricultural system geared to manage the risks of changing climate requires a rich diversity of approaches in terms of what is grown, and how it is grown".

Today, new scientific research and evidence from our coalition's work in the field find that the climate change threat to human development in Africa is even greater. To combat the threat, we make these urgent recommendations to the international community:

Cut rich country greenhouse gas emissions

The first priority must be to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, so that average temperatures do not rise more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels - a goal of the EU since 1996. Scientists say that the threat of major and irreversible climate changes, with potentially enormously damaging impacts, becomes far greater as temperatures increase. Africa's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is negligible so to address this injustice the onus falls fairly and squarely on the rich nations whose historical and continued profligate use of carbon is to blame for most of the current warming trends. ....

Build on Kyoto to toughen up international efforts post-2012

Above all, the growing global climate crisis, manifested not only in Africa but also by extraordinary events from droughts in the Amazon to catastrophic floods in the deserts of Rajastan, shows the absolute urgency for action on a global scale. To avoid possibly cataclysmic climate change global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must ultimately be cut by between 60 and 90 per cent. We have less than 10 years before global emissions must start to decline - instead they are rising remorselessly. This means there is not a moment to lose.

The negotiations under way in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol must deliver a fair, effective and equitable Protocol beyond 2012 that deepens the GHG reduction targets in the industrialized countries and allows greater mitigation contributions from some of the larger developing countries. These negotiations must be completed by 2008 to ensure that there is no gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, which ends in 2012, and the second commitment period. ...

Support essential adaptation

The legacy of higher historical emissions places the onus on industrialised countries to take the lead in significant cuts in greenhouse gases. It also reinforces the need to support adaptation in developing countries, particularly in the poorest countries that have contributed least to causing global warming.

Industrialised countries committed to providing financial and technical resources to developing countries under the UNFCCC, as well as through other political declarations. This support may come in a range of ways, including increased bilateral and multilateral funding related to adaptation, assistance with research and climate monitoring, contributions to the Global Environment Facility, as well as contributions to the various adaptation funds established under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. ...

Empower poor communities to be part of the climate change solution

Recently donor governments have emphasised the role of new technology - in particular, how to improve weather forecasting in Africa. Development groups, however, believe adaptation must be more than this: it has to be about strengthening communities from the bottom-up, building on their own coping strategies to live with climate change and empowering them to participate in the development of climate change policies. ...

Strengthen Disaster Risk Reduction

When dealing with the uncertainties of climate change, reducing vulnerability to today's climate through disaster risk reduction (DRR) is an excellent method of building adaptive capacity for the future. Communities can be protected from disasters relatively cheaply and simply - tools and methodologies are well developed and can be employed immediately in communities. Thousands of lives could be saved and economic losses prevented each year if more emphasis was placed on this. The climate change community therefore needs to recognise that DRR is a vital component of climate change adaptation. It should work with the disaster management community to advance both fields and avoid duplicating activities. Governments must also fulfill their previous commitments on DRR.

Reform emergency responses

While conditions vary greatly, across Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole thirty-three per cent of people are under-nourished, compared with 17 per cent of people in all developing countries. The proportion rises to 55 per cent in Central Africa. The average number of food emergencies in Africa per year almost tripled since the mid 1980s Climate change is a new and unprecedented threat to food security.

These failures stem in part from the fact that for over 40 years emergency aid, and food aid in particular, has remained the chief instrument to address food crises. Food aid does save lives, but it does not offer long-term solutions, and at worst it may exacerbate food insecurity.

The emergency, or 'humanitarian', system must be overhauled, so that it is truly able to deliver prompt, effective assistance on the basis of need. ...

Tackle poverty - rural livelihoods for the most vulnerable and boosting small-scale agriculture

More fundamentally, if food crises are to be averted, much more must be done to tackle the root causes of hunger. That means tackling poverty and the power imbalances that underpin it. The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa who subsist on less than a dollar a day has almost doubled since 1981, to 313 million people in 2001, representing 46 per cent of the population. Even allowing for the extraordinary pace of urbanisation in Africa, the majority of the continent's poorest and most undernourished people live in rural areas - especially smallholders, nomadic pastoralists and women. The joint effort promised by African governments and donor governments to eradicate poverty must therefore deliver rural policies that involve and prioritise these vulnerable groups. Even small improvements in what they produce and earn, in access to health, education and clean water, will have major impacts in reducing hunger, as well as driving equitable growth. ...

Up in smoke? - the first report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development - joined the environment and development communities in a united view on the minimum action necessary to deal with the threat of global warming to human development. The proposals it called for in October 2005 are now more pressing than ever before.

Three overarching challenges include:

  1. How to stop and reverse further global warming.
  2. How to live with the degree of global warming that cannot be stopped.
  3. How to design a new model for human progress and development that is climate proof and climate friendly and gives everyone a fair share of the natural resources on which we all depend.

In that light, our urgent priorities include:

  • A global risk assessment of the likely costs of adaptation to climate change in poor countries.
  • Commensurate new funds and other resources made available by industrialized countries for poor country adaptation, bearing in mind that rich-country subsidies to their domestic, fossil-fuel industries stood at US$7 billion per year in the late 1990s.
  • Effective and efficient arrangements to respond to the increasing burden of climate-related disaster relief.
  • Development models based on risk reduction, incorporating community-driven coping strategies in adaptation and disaster preparedness.
  • Disaster awareness campaigns with materials produced at community level and made available in local languages.
  • Co-ordinated plans, from local to international levels, for relocating threatened communities with appropriate political, legal and financial resources.

In addition to these, as organisations striving to improve human well-being in the face of enormous challenges, we will:

  • Work towards a collective understanding of the threat.
  • Share the best of our knowledge about how to build human and ecosystem resilience and live with the degree of global warming that is now unstoppable.
  • Do everything in our power to stop dangerous climate change and help bring about a global solution that is fair and rooted in human equality.

New Report Underlines Africa's Vulnerability to Climate Change.

United Nations Environment Programme

[For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 762 3084; Mobile: +254 733 632 755, E-mail:

Or John Hay, UNFCCC Secretariat Spokesperson, on Tel: + 254 727 534 419, E-mail:

Or Mark Oliver, Press Officer, Communications and Public Affairs Office, World Meteorological Organization. Tel: +41 (0)22 730 84 17, E-mail:

Carine Richard-Van Maele, Chief, Communications and Public Affairs, WMO.Tel: +41 (0)22 730 83 15. E-mail:]

Nairobi, 5 November 2006 - Assisting developing countries to adapt to the impacts of global warming, especially those in Africa must be a key focus of the latest round of climate change talks which open tomorrow in Nairobi.

A new report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation in Africa, released by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and based on data from bodies including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) indicates that the continent's vulnerability to climate change is even more acute than had previously been supposed.

It is estimated, for example, that 30 per cent of Africa's coastal infrastructure could be inundated including coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, the Gambia and Egypt.

Between 25 per cent and over 40 per cent of species' habitats in Africa could be lost by 2085.

Cereal crop yields will decline by up to five per cent by the 2080s with subsistence crops - like sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan and groundnuts in the Gambia - also suffering climate-linked falls.

Meanwhile part of Africa's current and future adaptation needs must include improvements in climate and weather monitoring capabilities and better links between climate research and policy-making. ...

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said: "Africa is the largest of all tropical landmasses and, at 30 million square km, is about a fifth of the world's total land area. Yet the climate observing system in Africa is in a far worse and deteriorating state than that of any other Continent".

Latest estimates indicate that about 25 per cent out of the Global Climate Observing System surface stations in east and southern Africa are not working and most of the remaining stations are functioning in a less than desirable manner. Around a fifth of the 10 upper air network stations are in a similar state.

"Meanwhile there are also major impacts in highly elevated areas like Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro whose glaciers, ice caps and run off are important for water supplies. Overall it is estimated that Africa needs 200 automatic weather stations, a major effort to rescue historical data and improved training and capacity building on climate and weather reporting," he said. ...

Fighting climate change must be a two-tier attack. Adaptation is important-- but it is also critical that greenhouse gas emissions are cut by an eventual 80 per cent in order to stabilize the atmosphere for current and future generations.

The new report has been prepared with the help of a team led by Dr. Baglis Osman Elasha, Senior Researcher in the Climate Change Unit of the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources in the Sudanese Ministry of the Environment.

"We are already seeing climate related changes in my country. The Gum Arabic belt, an economically important crop, has shifted southwards below latitude 14 degrees north and the rains which used to occur from mid June to the end of August now start in mid July until the end of September with important ramifications for agriculture and livelihoods," she said.

The report was designed to inform participants at the African regional workshop on adaptation, which was held from September 21 to 23, 2006 in Accra, Ghana.

At the workshop, 33 African country Parties exchanged information on observing climatic changes and assessing their impacts and countries' vulnerability to these changes. Countries also shared their experiences in planning and implementing concrete adaptation measures in the areas of agriculture and food security, water resources, health and coastal zones. ...

Key Findings from the Report

Sea Levels

Sea levels could rise by 15 to 95 cm by 2100, according to some estimates. The number of people at risk in Africa from coastal flooding will rise from one million in 1990 to 70 million by 2080.

An estimated 30 per cent of Africa's coastal infrastructure could be at risk including coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, the Gambia, and Egypt.

Along the East-Southern African coast cities at risk include Cape Town, Maputo and Dar Es-Salaam.

A one metre rise in the Atlantic will lead to part of the economic capital of Lagos, Nigeria, disappearing. Alexandria in Egypt could also be severely impacted costing that country over $30 billion a year in lost land, infrastructure and tourist revenues.

A sea level rise of 50 cm would inundate 2,000 square km of land in Tanzania costing around $50 million.

Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Habitats and ecosystems in Africa are currently under threat from a variety of impacts and climate change is likely to be an additional stress.

One study, examining over 5,000 plant species in Africa, has concluded that around 80 to well over 90 per cent of species' suitable habitats will decrease in size or shift due to climate change.

By 2085, between 25 per cent and over 40 per cent of species' habitats could be lost altogether.

Shifts in rainfall patterns could affect the fynbos and karoo in southern Africa by altering the fire regime critical for their regeneration.

Mountain biodiversity could be affected in east Africa where there is little opportunity to move to higher elevations.

Wetland ecosystems such as the Okavanga Delta and the Sudd area could be impacted by decreased run off.

The coastal zones are also likely to be impacted by climate change with reduced fish productivity, coral bleaching, salt water intrusion, loss of beach facilities and tourism revenues.

Agriculture, Water Supplies and Land

Many of Africa's regions are coming to be recognised as having climates that are the most variable in the world on intra-seasonal and decadal timescales.

Just over 50 per cent of Africa's 812 million people have access to safe drinking water. Three quarters of the population utilize groundwater supplies to a greater or lesser extent.

Around half of Africa's cultivable land is arid and semi-arid. About 65 per cent of the croplands and 30 per cent of pastureland is affected by degradation with resultant declines in crop yields and food insecurity.

Just under 15 per cent of degraded soils are as a result of vegetation removal including forests; 13 per cent from over-exploitation, almost half from overgrazing and around a quarter from agricultural activities.

Africa accounts for nearly 30 per cent of land degradation globally with 500 million hectares moderately to severely degraded.


70 per cent of people in Africa and nearly 90 per cent of the poor primarily work in agriculture.

Agriculture accounts for 20 to 30 per cent of the GDP in sub-Saharan Africa and represents 55 per cent of total African exports.

Over 95 per cent of Africa's agriculture depends on rainfall. Models indicate that 80,000 square km of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa currently deemed constrained will improve as a result of climate change.

However, 600,000 square km currently classed as moderately constrained will become severely limited.

Experts estimate that cereal crop yields will decline by up to five per cent by the 2080s. There will be a general decline also in most subsistence crops such as sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan and groundnuts in the Gambia.

Africa has warmed by 0.7 degrees C during the 20th century with very high temperature records occurring towards the end of the century. 1995 and 1998 were the two warmest years.

An average 25 per cent decrease in rainfall has occurred over the Sahel during the past 30 years. Precipitation has fallen by up to 2.4 per cent per decade in tropical rainforests regions of Africa since the mid-1970s. The rate of decline has been fastest in West Africa and north Congo. (which Congo)

Droughts have particularly affected the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa since the end of the 1960s. ...

Future Rainfall

Future rainfall patterns are not clear cut but it is likely that over the next 50 years there will be a decrease in rainfall of 10 to 25 per cent over northern parts of Africa in the months of June, July and August and a 10 to 60 per cent decline in March, April and May.

In contrast, western Africa may see an increase in rainfall of 10 to 35 per cent in the December, January and February period which is normally a dry time with an increase also during September, October and November of between seven and 28 per cent.

By 2025 approximately 480 million people in Africa could be living in water scarce or water stressed areas.


Overall experts expect extreme events including droughts and floods to increase.

Weather and Climate Monitoring Gaps

Even Africa's conventional weather forecasting stations, also import for climate modelling and adaptation strategies, are thin on the ground.

There are just over 1,150 World Weather Watch stations in Africa giving a density of one per 26,000 square km - eight times lower than the World Meteorological Organisation's minimum recommended level.

Meanwhile little of Africa's historical climate and weather data is being used to further refine climate forecasting and assist in better adaptation and coping strategies.

This is because much of the historical information remains paper-based and is inaccessible to scientists who need digital information to feed super computer models.

Other areas of concern include a lack of good monitoring of the El Nino Southern Oscillation as it relates to Africa; the onset of the Sahel precipitation and the interaction of Saharan dust with climate.

Up to one billion tonnes of dust is exported from the Sahel-Sahara region annually crossing north Africa and travelling as far as Europe, western Asia and the Americas.

The frequency of dust storms has increased in some parts of the Sahel from the wet 1950s-1960s to the dry periods of the 1970s-1980s.


Notes to Editors

For the full report, please see

Details of the second meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 2), taking place in Nairobi from 6 to 17 November 2006, can be found at

UNEP climate change resources are at

WMO climate change resources are at The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

The World Climate Programme:

The World Climate Research Programme:

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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