ACCOUNT FOR THE CONTEMPORARY CLIMATE CHANGE PROBLEMS IN AFRICA
Climate change is a significant time variation in weather patterns occurring over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have also been identified as significant causes of recent climate change, often referred to as “global warming”.
Climate change in Africa pertains to aspects of climate change within the continent of Africa. According to Schneider et al. (2007), Africa is likely to be the continent most vulnerable to climate change. With high confidence, Boko et al. (2007) also projected that in many African countries and regions, agricultural production, food security and water stress would likely be severely compromised by climate change and climate variability.
Scientists actively work to understand past and future climate by using observations and theoretical models. A climate record — extending deep into the Earth’s past — has been assembled, and continues to be built up, based on geological evidence from borehole temperature profiles, cores removed from deep accumulations of ice, floral and faunal records, glacial and periglacial processes, stable-isotope and other analyses of sediment layers, and records of past sea levels. More recent data are provided by the instrumental record. General circulation models, based on the physical sciences, are often used in theoretical approaches to match past climate data, make future projections, and link causes and effects in climate change.
On the broadest scale, the rate at which energy is received from the sun and the rate at which it is lost to space determine the equilibrium temperature and climate of Earth. This energy is distributed around the globe by winds, ocean currents, and other mechanisms to affect the climates of different regions.
Factors that can shape climate are called climate forcings or “forcing mechanisms”. These include processes such as variations in solar radiation, variations in the Earth’s orbit, variations in the albedo or reflectivity of the continents and oceans, mountain-building and continental drift and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. There are a variety of climate change feedbacks that can either amplify or diminish the initial forcing. Some parts of the climate system, such as the oceans and ice caps, respond more slowly in reaction to climate forcings, while others respond more quickly. There are also key threshold factors which when exceeded can produce rapid change.
Forcing mechanisms can be either “internal” or “external”. Internal forcing mechanisms are natural processes within the climate system itself (e.g., the thermohaline circulation). External forcing mechanisms can be either natural (e.g., changes in solar output) or anthropogenic (e.g., increased emissions of greenhouse gases).
Whether the initial forcing mechanism is internal or external, the response of the climate system might be fast (e.g., a sudden cooling due to airborne volcanic ash reflecting sunlight), slow (e.g. thermal expansion of warming ocean water), or a combination (e.g., sudden loss of albedo in the arctic ocean as sea ice melts, followed by more gradual thermal expansion of the water). Therefore, the climate system can respond abruptly, but the full response to forcing mechanisms might not be fully developed for centuries or even longer.
CLIMATE CHANGE PROBLEMS IN AFRICA
Africa has been dealing with the impacts of climate change since the 1970s. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described the African continent as the one that will be most affected.
Some of the problems Africa is set to experience may include:
• Significant increases in temperature by 2010, particularly in the Sahel and part of southern Africa;
• Dramatic decreases in precipitation, declining by more than 20% compared to levels 20 years ago; and
• More frequent and intense tropical storms—parts of the continent will see a 20% increase in cyclone activity.
The projected impacts for human security include:
• Between 75-250 million people exposed to water stress in the next 10 years, and as many as 1.8 billion by the end of this century.
• Agriculture fed by rain could drop 50% in some African countries by 2020. The IPCC report predicts that wheat may disappear from Africa by 2080, and that maize—a staple—will fall significantly in southern Africa.
• Arid and semi-arid lands are likely to increase by up to 8%, with severe ramifications for livelihoods, poverty eradication and meeting and maintaining the Millennium Development Goals.
These facts and figures underline the direct ramifications climate change is set to have on the social fabric of Africa.
Climate change will have serious and adverse consequences for many development sectors in Africa, and threatens the economies and livelihoods of many African countries. Whether the issue is climate change or development at large, the challenge is the same—human capacity is critical. One prequisite for this is good, solid internet connectivity. It not possible to be part of frontier science if you are cut off from the knowledge economy. And for the depth and breadth of challenges that Africa faces with climate change, the country desperately needs frontier/leap-frog science and entrepreneurship.
With debt burdens down, foreign direct investment up and many countries in Africa boasting economic growth rates pushing 6%, there is growing international recognition of the potential for high tech development, science and innovation in Africa. This is supported by the Japanese Government, which announced plans for 4 billion dollars in soft loans for Africa.
This positive message for Africa should be carried forward by measures introduced in the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit on 7-9 July 2008, in Hokkaido, Japan.
1. Schneider, S.H., et al. (2007). “19.3.3 Regional vulnerabilities”. In Parry, M.L., et al. (eds.). Chapter 19: Assessing Key Vulnerabilities and the Risk from Climate Change. Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability: contribution of Working Group II to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Cambridge University Press (CUP): Cambridge, UK: Print version: CUP. This version: IPCC website. ISBN 0-521-88010-6. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
2. Boko, M., et al. (2007). “Executive summary”. In Parry, M.L., et al. (eds.). Chapter 9: Africa. Climate change 2007: impacts,. Cambridge University Press (CUP): Cambridge, UK: Print version: CUP. This version: IPCC website. ISBN 0-521-88010-6. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
3. “The worst drought in 60 years in Horn Africa”. Africa and Europe in Partnership. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
4. “Eastern Africa: Humanitarian Snapshot”. 24 June 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
5. Nakweya, Gilbert. “Africa: Study Links Drought to Pacific Sea Temperature”. AllAfrica. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
6. Livelihood Security Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel 2011
7. Fominyen, George. “Coming weeks critical to tackle Sahel hunger – U.N. humanitarian chief”. Thomson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved 10 June 2012.