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Africa ‘not ready’ for climate stress, scientists say

Food production growth is slowing faster than in any other region of the world as droughts, floods, heat and pests from climate change take their toll

  • Africa ‘not on track’ to deal with climate change impacts
  • Lack of finance for adaptation and clean energy is a problem
  • Food security threats particularly high, warn scientists

By Laurie Goring

LONDON, March 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Africa’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050 – but growth in food production is slowing faster than in any other region of the world, as droughts, floods, Heat and pests from climate change are taking a toll, African scientists said this week.

As rains become more erratic, the hydropower that many African countries depend on to run their economies becomes unreliable, while coastal communities face worsening erosion, heat, flooding and the migration of the fish stocks on which they depend.

But the money African nations need to deal with these threats is either largely lacking or coming only in the form of loans, while poor governance and siled thinking about how to solve problems hampers effective action, noted the scientists.

“We are not on track to achieve climate resilience,” said Youba Sokona, Malian vice-president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as the United Nations science body published a report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to global warming this week.

He warned that, around the world, efforts to adapt to growing pressures – from more extreme heat and drought to increasingly severe flooding and sea level rise – are insufficient and threaten billions of people as the use of fossil fuels continues to increase.

And this despite a range of smart measures to adapt to the impacts – from early warning systems to enhanced social well-being and the increasing use of natural flood barriers like coastal mangroves – which are showing promise in many parts of the world.

The new report from 270 leading climate scientists “is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said IPCC chair Hoesung Lee.


In Africa, already grappling with challenges ranging from widespread poverty to lack of access to electricity, pursuing development and a better life for people remains a top priority, the scientists said.

This has led some African officials to question the priority given to climate action, arguing that the continent should use its oil reserves to stimulate growth as have many wealthier countries – especially since enough money to embrace cleaner energy is not being provided.

Yet climate change threatens to fundamentally undermine development, IPCC scientists have warned, even as adaptation efforts – from irrigating crops to protecting urban slums from flooding – could both save lives and lifting people out of poverty.

“We have to address climate change as part of the biggest development challenge we face,” said Debra Roberts, co-chair of the report’s task force and lead on city resilience efforts for the eThekwini Municipality of Durban in South Africa.

Christopher Trisos, director of the Climate Risk Laboratory in Cape Town, spoke of a project there to improve water supplies by hiring locals to cut down thirsty invasive trees, after the city nearly ran out of water in 2018.

Such projects boost employment and help protect people against climate shocks, he said – and could help educate more Africans about climate-related risks and opportunities.

“Education is absolutely necessary to accelerate adaptation to climate change in Africa,” noted Trisos, saying studies have shown that less than half of Africans are aware of global warming and that it is man-made. .


Daniel Olago, director of the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation at the University of Nairobi, said African nations should use natural systems – from wetlands to mangroves – to fight floods, rather than rely mainly on the construction of concrete barriers.

The risks “demand that we act very, very quickly,” said Olago, author of the IPCC report.

Scientists said they were particularly concerned about ‘cascading’ threats, with rising heat, for example, driving fish away, making working outdoors more difficult and drying out crops, leading to food shortages that could be both global and local.

Africa already faces ‘high’ risks climate impacts – particularly on food systems – even if warming remains below a globally agreed limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, Trisos said.

Beyond that, the continent’s economies, health, ecosystems and food production would see “very high” threats – and “we are not ready for that”, he added.

Africans could significantly reduce their risk through adaptation measures, from diversifying crops and rural income sources to targeting flood protection funds to the most vulnerable urban slum communities, the scientists say. .

“We have this mismatch between where the money is spent and where the vulnerability and exposure is,” Roberts said.

Scientists also insisted that, for faster and better coordinated action, climate change should not be treated as an issue reserved for environment ministries alone, but also on the agenda of those responsible for finance, security and agriculture.

To succeed in African adaptation, get more funding because it is crucial, they added.

“The amount of finance for adaptation is billions of dollars below the lowest estimate” of what is needed for Africa, Trisos noted.

Roberts warned that the continent, like other parts of the world, could see “irreversible” changes to its food and water supplies and natural ecosystems, if the global use of fossil fuels and the changing climate it causes were not brought under control during this decade.

“That window of opportunity will close and then there will be some very significant challenges,” she said.

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(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit

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