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Africa: Climate Change Impact Report

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 2, 2007 (071202)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Climate disasters are heavily concentrated in poor countries. Some 262 million people were affected by climate disasters annually from 2000 to 2004, over 98 percent of them in the developing world. ... In [rich] countries one in 1,500 people was affected by climate disaster. The comparable figure for developing countries was one in 19." - UNDP Human Development Report

This global inequality cited by the UNDP report (excerpted in another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today). is echoed in the extensively documented Africa chapter of latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), excerpted below, and available in full at

Both reports were released last month in time for the UN Climate Change Conference, scheduled for Bali, Indonesia, 3-14 December 2007. The climate change crisis, both reports stress, is not just an issue for the future. The changes are already adding to the impact of other stresses to increase risks to survival in areas and population groups that are already vulnerable.

The changes include dramatically visible ones, such as the rapid drop in the snow and ice cover on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as others with effects that show up in statistical studies. See for photos of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the extensive documentation in the IPCC chapter on a wide range of effects.

Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate change issues include:

Africa: Neglecting Agriculture, 2

Sahel: Beyond Any Drought?

Africa: Up in Smoke?

Africa: Economics of Climate Change

Africa: Environmental Threats/Opportunities

Africa: Africa's Lakes

East Africa: Dams and Lake Victoria


"No Easy Victories" Conversation and Celebration
Washington, DC, Busboys & Poets, December 8, 2007, 5:30 - 7 p.m.

Sponsored by Busboys & Poets, TransAfrica Forum, AFSC Africa Program, Africa World Press, and the editors of No Easy Victories. .
For more details:

To read excerpts or to order book:

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

Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

9 Africa

This chapter should be cited as:

Boko, M., I. Niang, A. Nyong, C. Vogel, A. Githeko, M. Medany, B. Osman-Elasha, R. Tabo and P. Yanda, 2007: Africa. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 433-467.

Executive summary

* Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability, a situation aggravated by the interaction of 'multiple stresses', occurring at various levels, and low adaptive capacity (high confidence).

Africa's major economic sectors are vulnerable to current climate sensitivity, with huge economic impacts, and this vulnerability is exacerbated by existing developmental challenges such as endemic poverty, complex governance and institutional dimensions; limited access to capital, including markets, infrastructure and technology; ecosystem degradation; and complex disasters and conflicts. These in turn have contributed to Africa's weak adaptive capacity, increasing the continent's vulnerability to projected climate change.

* African farmers have developed several adaptation options to cope with current climate variability, but such adaptations may not be sufficient for future changes of climate (high confidence).

Human or societal adaptive capacity, identified as being low for Africa in the Third Assessment Report, is now better understood and this understanding is supported by several case studies of both current and future adaptation options. However, such advances in the science of adaptation to climate change and variability, including both contextual and outcome vulnerabilities to climate variability and climate change, show that these adaptations may be insufficient to cope with future changes of climate.

* Agricultural production and food security (including access to food) in many African countries and regions are likely to be severely compromised by climate change and climate variability (high confidence).

A number of countries in Africa already face semi-arid conditions that make agriculture challenging, and climate change will be likely to reduce the length of growing season as well as force large regions of marginal agriculture out of production. Projected reductions in yield in some countries could be as much as 50% by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90% by 2100, with small-scale farmers being the most affected. This would adversely affect food security in the continent.

* Climate change will aggravate the water stress currently faced by some countries, while some countries that currently do not experience water stress will become at risk of water stress (very high confidence).

Climate change and variability are likely to impose additional pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa. Even without climate change, several countries in Africa, particularly in northern Africa, will exceed the limits of their economically usable land-based water resources before 2025. About 25% of Africa's population (about 200 million people) currently experience high water stress. The population at risk of increased water stress in Africa is projected to be between 75-250 million and 350-600 million people by the 2020s and 2050s, respectively.

* Changes in a variety of ecosystems are already being detected, particularly in southern African ecosystems, at a faster rate than anticipated (very high confidence).

Climate change, interacting with human drivers such as deforestation and forest fires, are a threat to Africa's forest ecosystems. Changes in grasslands and marine ecosystems are also noticeable. It is estimated that, by the 2080s, the proportion of arid and semi-arid lands in Africa is likely to increase by 5-8%. Climate change impacts on Africa's ecosystems will probably have a negative effect on tourism as, according to one study, between 25 and 40% of mammal species in national parks in sub-Saharan Africa will become endangered.

* Climate variability and change could result in low-lying lands being inundated, with resultant impacts on coastal settlements (high confidence).

Climate variability and change, coupled with human-induced changes, may also affect ecosystems e.g., mangroves and coral reefs, with additional consequences for fisheries and tourism. The projection that sea-level rise could increase flooding, particularly on the coasts of eastern Africa, will have implications for health. Sea-level rise will probably increase the high socio-economic and physical vulnerability of coastal cities. The cost of adaptation to sea-level rise could amount to at least 5-10% of gross domestic product.

* Human health, already compromised by a range of factors, could be further negatively impacted by climate change and climate variability, e.g., malaria in southern Africa and the East African highlands (high confidence).

It is likely that climate change will alter the ecology of some disease vectors in Africa, and consequently the spatial and temporal transmission of such diseases. Most assessments of health have concentrated on malaria and there are still debates on the attribution of malaria resurgence in someAfrican areas. The need exists to examine the vulnerabilities and impacts of future climate change on other infectious diseases such as dengue fever, meningitis and cholera, among others.

9.2.1 Current sensitivity to climate and weather

The climate of the continent is controlled by complex maritime and terrestrial interactions that produce a variety of climates across a range of regions, e.g., from the humid tropics to the hyper-arid Sahara (see Christensen et al., 2007). Climate exerts a significant control on the day-to-day economic development of Africa, particularly for the agricultural and water-resources sectors, at regional, local and household scales. Since the TAR, observed temperatures have indicated a greater warming trend since the 1960s.Although these trends seem to be consistent over the continent, the changes are not always uniform. For instance, decadal warming rates of 0.29 C in the African tropical forests (Malhi and Wright, 2004) and 0.1 to 0.3 C in South Africa (Kruger and Shongwe, 2004) have been observed. In South Africa and Ethiopia, minimum temperatures have increased slightly faster than maximum or mean temperatures (Conway et al., 2004; Kruger and Shongwe, 2004). Between 1961 and 2000, there was an increase in the number of warm spells over southern and westernAfrica, and a decrease in the number of extremely cold days (New et al., 2006). In eastern Africa, decreasing trends in temperature from weather stations located close to the coast or to major inland lakes have been observed (King'uyu et al., 2000).

For precipitation, the situation is more complicated. Rainfall exhibits notable spatial and temporal variability (e.g., Hulme et al., 2005). Interannual rainfall variability is large over most of Africa and, for some regions, multi-decadal variability is also substantial. In West Africa (4 -20 N; 20 W-40 E), a decline in annual rainfall has been observed since the end of the 1960s, with a decrease of 20 to 40% noted between the periods 1931- 1960 and 1968-1990 (Nicholson et al., 2000; Chappell and Agnew, 2004; Dai et al., 2004). In the tropical rain-forest zone, declines in mean annual precipitation of around 4% in West Africa, 3% in North Congo and 2% in South Congo for the period 1960 to 1998 have been noted (e.g., Malhi and Wright, 2004).A10%increase in annual rainfall along the Guinean coast during the last 30 years has, however, also been observed (Nicholson et al., 2000). In other regions, such as southern Africa, no long-term trend has been noted. Increased interannual variability has, however, been observed in the post-1970 period, with higher rainfall anomalies and more intense and widespread droughts reported (e.g., Richard et al., 2001; Fauchereau et al., 2003). In different parts of southern Africa (e.g., Angola, Namibia,Mozambique,Malawi, Zambia), a significant increase in heavy rainfall events has also been observed (Usman and Reason, 2004), including evidence for changes in seasonality and weather extremes (Tadross et al., 2005a; New et al., 2006). During recent decades, eastern Africa has been experiencing an intensifying dipole rainfall pattern on the decadal time-scale. The dipole is characterised by increasing rainfall over the northern sector and declining amounts over the southern sector (Schreck and Semazzi, 2004).

Advances in our understanding of the complex mechanisms responsible for rainfall variability have been made (see Reason et al., 2005;Warren et al., 2006;Washington and Preston, 2006; Christensen et al., 2007). Understanding how possible climateregime changes (e.g., in El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events) may influence future climate variability is critical in Africa and requires further research. The drying of the Sahel region since the 1970s has, for example, been linked to a positive trend in equatorial Indian Ocean sea-surface temperature (SST), while ENSO is a significant influence on rainfall at interannual scales (Giannini et al., 2003; Christensen et al., 2007). In the same region, the intensity and localisation of the African Easterly Jet (AEJ) and the Tropical Easterly Jet (TEJ) also influence rainfall variability (Nicholson and Grist, 2003), as well as SSTs in the Gulf of Guinea (Vizy and Cook, 2001), and a relationship has also been identified between the warm Mediterranean Sea and abundant rainfall (Rowell, 2003). The influence of ENSO decadal variations has also been recognised in south-west Africa, influenced in part by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) (Nicholson and Selato, 2000). Changes in the ways these mechanisms influence regional weather patterns have been identified in southern Africa, where severe droughts have been linked to regional atmospheric-oceanic anomalies before the 1970s but to ENSO in more recent decades (Fauchereau et al., 2003).

Several studies also have highlighted the importance of terrestrial vegetation cover and the associated dynamic feedbacks on the physical climate (see Christensen et al., 2007). An increase in vegetation density, for example, has been suggested to result in a year-round cooling of 0.8 C in the tropics, including tropical areas ofAfrica (Bounoua et al., 2000). Complex feedback mechanisms, mainly due to deforestation/land-cover change and changes in atmospheric dust loadings, also play a role in climate variability, particularly for drought persistence in the Sahel and its surrounding areas (Wang and Eltahir, 2000, 2002; Nicholson, 2001; Semazzi and Song, 2001; Prospero and Lamb, 2003; Zeng, 2003). The complexity of the interactions precludes 'simple interpretations'; for instance, the role of human-induced factors (e.g., migration), together with climate, can contribute to changes in vegetation in the Sahel that feed back into the overall physical system in complex ways (see, e.g., Eklundh and Olsson, 2003; Held et al., 2005; Herrmann et al., 2005; Olsson et al., 2005). Mineral dust is the largest cause of uncertainty in the radiative forcing of the planet and the key role of the Sahara has long been known. Better quantitative estimates of Saharan dust loadings and controls on emissions have now emerged from both satellite and field campaigns (e.g.,Washington and Todd, 2005;Washington et al., 2006).

Finally, changes in extreme events, such as droughts and floods, have major implications for numerous Africans and require further attention. Droughts, notwithstanding current limitations in modelling capabilities and understanding of atmospheric system complexity, have attracted much interest over the past 30 years (AMCEN/UNEP, 2002), particularly with reference to impacts on both ecological systems and on society. Droughts have long contributed to human migration, cultural separation, population dislocation and the collapse of prehistoric and early historic societies (Pandey et al., 2003). One-third of the people in Africa live in drought-prone areas and are vulnerable to the impacts of droughts (World Water Forum, 2000). In Africa, for example, several million people regularly suffer impacts from droughts and floods. These impacts are often further exacerbated by health problems, particularly diarrhoea, cholera and malaria (Few et al., 2004). During the mid-1980s the economic losses from droughts totalled several hundred million U.S. dollars (Tarhule and Lamb, 2003). Droughts have mainly affected the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and southern Africa, particularly since the end of the 1960s (see Section 9.6.2; Richard et al., 2001; L'H te et al., 2002; Brooks, 2004; Christensen et al., 2007; Trenberth et al., 2007). Floods are also critical and impact onAfrican development. Recurrent floods in some countries are linked, in some cases, with ENSO events. When such events occur, important economic and human losses result (e.g., in Mozambique see Mirza, 2003; Obasi, 2005). Even countries located in dry areas (Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia) have not been flood-free (Kabat et al., 2002).

Box 9.1. Environmental changes on Mt. Kilimanjaro

There is evidence that climate is modifying natural mountain ecosystems via complex interactions and feedbacks including, for example, solar radiation micro-scale processes on Mt. Kilimanjaro (M”lg and Hardy, 2004; Lemke et al., 2007). Other drivers of change are also modifying environments on the mountain, including fire, vegetation changes and human modifications (Hemp, 2005). During the 20th century, the areal extent of Mt. Kilimanjaro's ice fields decreased by about 80%(Figure 9.2). It has been suggested that if current climatological conditions persist, the remaining ice fields are likely to disappear between 2015 and 2020 (Thompson et al., 2002).

9.6.2 Indigenous knowledge systems

The term 'indigenous knowledge' is used to describe the knowledge systems developed by a community as opposed to the scientific knowledge that is generally referred to as 'modern' knowledge (Ajibade, 2003). Indigenous knowledge is the basis for local-level decision-making in many rural communities. It has value not only for the culture in which it evolves, but also for scientists and planners striving to improve conditions in rural localities. Incorporating indigenous knowledge into climatechange policies can lead to the development of effective adaptation strategies that are cost-effective, participatory and sustainable (Robinson and Herbert, 2001). Indigenous knowledge in weather forecasting

Local communities and farmers in Africa have developed intricate systems of gathering, predicting, interpreting and decision-making in relation to weather. A study in Nigeria, for example, shows that farmers are able to use knowledge of weather systems such as rainfall, thunderstorms, windstorms, harmattan (a dry dusty wind that blows along the north-west coast of Africa) and sunshine to prepare for future weather (Ajibade and Shokemi, 2003). Indigenous methods of weather forecasting are known to complement farmers' planning activities in Nigeria. A similar study in Burkina Faso showed that farmers' forecasting knowledge encompasses shared and selective experiences. Elderly male farmers formulate hypotheses about seasonal rainfall by observing natural phenomena, while cultural and ritual specialists draw predictions from divination, visions or dreams (Roncoli et al., 2001). The most widely reliedupon indicators are the timing, intensity and duration of cold temperatures during the early part of the dry season (November to January). Other forecasting indicators include the timing of fruiting by certain local trees, the water level in streams and ponds, the nesting behaviour of small quaillike birds, and insect behaviour in rubbish heaps outside compound walls (Roncoli et al., 2001). Indigenous knowledge in mitigation and adaptation

African communities and farmers have always coped with changing environments. They have the knowledge and practices to cope with adverse environments and shocks. The enhancement of indigenous capacity is a key to the empowerment of local communities and their effective participation in the development process (Leautier, 2004). People are better able to adopt new ideas when these can be seen in the context of existing practices. A study in Zimbabwe observed that farmers' willingness to use seasonal climate forecasts increased when the forecasts were presented in conjunction with and compared with the local indigenous climate forecasts (Patt and Gwata, 2002).

Local farmers in several parts of Africa have been known to conserve carbon in soils through the use of zero-tilling practices in cultivation, mulching, and other soil-management techniques (Dea and Scoones, 2003). Natural mulches moderate soil temperatures and extremes, suppress diseases and harmful pests, and conserve soil moisture. The widespread use of indigenous plant materials, such as agrochemicals to combat pests that normally attack food crops, has also been reported among small-scale farmers (Gana, 2003). It is likely that climate change will alter the ecology of disease vectors, and such indigenous practices of pest management would be useful adaptation strategies. Other indigenous strategies that are adopted by local farmers include: controlled bush clearing; using tall grasses such as Andropogon gayanus for fixing soil surface nutrients washed away by runoff; erosion-control bunding to reduce significantly the effects of runoff; restoring lands by using green manure; constructing stone dykes; managing low-lying lands and protecting river banks (AGRHYMET, 2004).

Adaptation strategies that are applied by pastoralists in times of drought include the use of emergency fodder, culling of weak livestock for food, and multi-species composition of herds to survive climate extremes. During drought periods, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists change from cattle to sheep and goat husbandry, as the feed requirements of the latter are lower (Seo and Mendelsohn, 2006b). The pastoralists' nomadic mobility reduces the pressure on low-capacity grazing areas through their cyclic movements from the dry northern areas to the wetter southern areas of the Sahel.

African women are particularly known to possess indigenous knowledge which helps to maintain household food security, particularly in times of drought and famine. They often rely on indigenous plants that are more tolerant to droughts and pests, providing a reserve for extended periods of economic hardship (Ramphele, 2004; Eriksen, 2005). In southern Sudan, for example, women are directly responsible for the selection of all sorghum seeds saved for planting each year. They preserve a spread of varieties of seeds that will ensure resistance to the range of conditions that may arise in any given growing season (Easton and Roland, 2000).

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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