HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsViewpoint: Why is Africa’s climate change burden greater?

Viewpoint: Why is Africa’s climate change burden greater?


Africa can easily be said to contribute the least of any continent to global warming! Each year the continent produces an average of just over 1 metric tonne of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per person, according to the International Energy Annual.

The most industrialised African countries, such as South Africa, generate 8,44 metric tonnes per person, and the least developed countries, such as Mali, generate less than a tenth of a metric tonne per person.

By comparison, each American generates almost 16 metric tonnes per year. That adds up to the US alone generating 5,7 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year (about 23% of the world total, making it the leading producer), while Africa as a whole contributes only 918,49 million metric tons (less than 4%).

It is cruel irony that, in many experts’ opinion, the people living on the continent that has contributed the least to global warming are in line to be the hardest hit by the resultant climate changes.

The critical challenge in terms of climate change in Africa is the way that multiple stressors — such as the spread of HIV and Aids, the effects of economic globalisation, the privatisation of resources, and conflict — converge with climate change.

A senior research fellow in sociology at the University of Oslo, Siri Eriksen, cited the example of the 2002 drought-triggered famine in southern Africa, which is affected millions due partly to populations’ coping capacity being weakened by HIV and Aids.

In light of this, the continent last week concluded a three-day Africa Carbon Forum, which demonstrated that Africa is an increasingly attractive destination for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, as investors seek new opportunities for growth in the voluntary market.

The annual event marked the 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh Accords — the adoption of the rules that govern the CDM.

It brought together project developers, buyers, service providers, national CDM representatives and various other private and public sector stakeholders, all hoping to tap the potential of carbon offset projects on the continent.

Africa accounts for only 2% of the 3 220-plus registered CDM projects in 71 countries worldwide. However, research suggests there is a great deal of untapped potential for clean development on the continent, which has seen a strong growth trend in the past few years, as well as increasing private sector interest.

Until recently the scientific community attributed that drought to the severe loss of vegetation accompanying such factors as overgrazing and overpopulation; according to this model, the reduction in vegetation meant greater reflectivity of the Earth’s surface and less moisture being returned to the atmosphere, with a net drying effect.

New climate models posit that precipitation changes are occurring because of alterations in the temperature gradient between the Southern and Northern hemispheres.

But it is a subject of debate, whether the changes in temperature gradient that caused the Sahel drought were due to natural variability of the oceans or were partly the result of man-made changes in the composition of the atmosphere.

There is as yet no consensus among climate modellers on the most likely future trend of Sahel rainfall. With changes in land use and climate, some areas in East Africa have become drier, and water sources are becoming intermittent or disappearing. Streams that used to run year-round are now seasonal.

The expansion of agriculture into savannas also blocks migration routes for large animals such as zebras, wildebeest, and elephants. With climate change there is less of this mixing, because the (temperature-mediated) density difference between the surface waters and the deep waters has gotten greater, and so it takes more energy to mix deep water up to the surface.

When this important food source fades, every aspect of the regional environment is affected.
But as much as financial aid is needed, the reality is that no amount of money is going to stop climate change from affecting Africa in profound and unpredictable ways.

What we are left to do now is to adapt to the buildup.


Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading