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Is Climate Change Africa's New Development Threat?

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Member since March 6, 2017
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  • Age 26

Opinion Piece

Opinion Piece

The UN Climate Conference in Bonn, 2013 called on global leaders to discuss the options for reaching the overarching objective of international climate policing, specifically that of limiting global temperature increase to 2 C (3.6 degree Fahrenheit). All delegates at the conference were unanimous in their position that any temperature increase beyond 2 C could be potentially dangerous and disastrous, for both the planet and all its inhabitants. As we already understand, key research findings from climate researchers and evidence from scientific policy advice indicate that emissions will have to come down by 15 % by 2020 to stay below the 2 C threshold limit. Of course, this has generated a lot of debate and discussion at the national and international policy making level. But this is not the focus here.

This article attempts to demonstrate the complex and manifold challenges that Climate Change already poses in Africa including threatening to reverse all developmental gains made on the continent this far.

As we write and research about climate change, there is a strong need to ‘set free’ the discourse from the narrow confines of scientific laboratories and place it in the public domain where it matters the most. In my life time, for example, I have seen rivers shrink, deserts encroach, once fertile farm lands turn desolate and wetlands disappear. This is a cause for concern whose only opportunity for redress hinges on collaboration and cooperation across disciplines and geographic boundaries.

Research shows that the climate of southern Africa for example, is highly variable, with varying conditions and characteristics across the region. The same research informs us that the past century alone has seen temperatures increase by about 5 C in southern Africa while rainfall patterns continue on a downward trend. For Zimbabwe, predictions are that the northern parts of the country will experience a 5-10 % decrease in rainfall and temperature increase of about 3 C for the period 2040 – 2070. To add salt to injury, a report released by IPCC in 1998 predicted that if unabated, climate change will have negative impacts on food security, particularly for largely agro-based countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. An increase in drought events over the last 30 years is a loud and clear warning to governments, donor agencies and the private sector to redouble their efforts and commitment to tackling climate change. A case in point is Sub Saharan Africa where the intensity and severity of El Nino induced droughts have become too common, with southern Africa alone experiencing not less than 10 severe droughts in 35 years. A World Bank report in 1989 suggested that about a quarter of Africa’s population by then were not consuming enough and adequate food to allow for an active working life. This figure will obviously double if no action is taken to mitigate against climate change induced shocks.

Researchers have noted that climate change will likely alter or widen both the food production and revenue gaps. This will negatively affect poor families’ ability to purchase food surplus on global markets. Today, climate change is already preventing poor people from escaping poverty and in the absence of rapid, inclusive and climate smart development, an additional 100 million people could be thrown into poverty by 2030 according to World Bank estimates. In Zimbabwe, a significant number of rural and peri-urban households are already at high risk from climate change induced shocks which has resulted in massive crop failures, spikes in food prices and increased incidences of plant and animal disease as well as the emergence of new pests that could potentially affect the food chain. It is common knowledge that when crop yields are reduced, they have a tendency to push food prices up, usually to the detriment of the poor who have to change their production and consumption habits.

The resultant effect of these changes is low-calorie intake and high incidence of malnutrition and undernourishment, particularly among the 0-5 year age group. The World Bank projects that food prices in Africa could be as high as 12% by 2030 and 70% by 2080. Recent medical research shows that climate change’s effect on the food chain could affect people’s physiological capacity to obtain necessary nutrients from food consumed. This begs the question, ‘How fast should we move to swiftly contain the negative impacts of climate change?’

Whether we agree with scientific research or not, climate change is an ideal whose time for action has come. In our small and unique ways, let’s write and tweet about it, but more importantly, let’s disseminate our findings and information in a language understandable to our kith and kin in our rural spaces. We all have a significant role to play as we fight and tackle climate change head on.

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