ON May 25, Africa Day was commemorated, reminding us of the continent’s challenges and opportunities. A few days later, on May 28, the world marked World Hunger Day. These two events bring to attention the critical role of Africa in the global discourse on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

With the population of Africa standing at 1,4 billion, however, increasing by 2,37% from the previous year, the question of food security becomes more urgent than ever. As the continent faces the threat of climate change, ignoring the impact of this phenomenon on food security and subsistence is not an option.

The impact of climate change on the African continent is severe and tangible. The continent is bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, with effects ranging from expanding desertification, salinisation of croplands due to floods. Desertification, for example, is now affecting one-third of the continent, translating to over three billion acres of land impacted, according to the United Nations Convention on Desertification.

Furthermore, unpredictable weather patterns and the impact on rainfall regimes have caused frequent floods on the continent’s rural and urban areas. Floods have resulted in loss of lives, livestock and the destruction of farmlands, which has impacted livelihoods and food security for many families. According to the African Development Bank, floods and droughts have cost the African continent US$10 billion in farming losses and damage to infrastructure over the past decade alone.

Climate change also significantly impacts biodiversity, which is essential for the livelihoods of millions of people on the continent. Biodiversity depletion, coupled with increasing habitat destruction, has led to loss of vital ecosystems, which has threatened the ability of many African communities to subsist and live off land.

Pests and diseases have risen in Africa, with climate change substantially increasing their proliferation. Warming temperatures and erratic rainfall create conditions for pests to thrive, leading to further crop destruction and food insecurity. The impact of climate change on the African continent is an existential threat. It affects many aspects of life on the continent, including issues related to agriculture, food security, biodiversity, and public health. Yet, despite this impact, policy rarely portrays the issue as an urgent crisis that must be resolved.

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The lack of effective governance structures that tie responsibility to address climate change in national constitutions and institutions has created a significant issue regarding environmental degradation and the difficulty of mobilising climate finance. This has allowed for environmental exploitation in many areas with impunity, making it harder to address the severe consequences of climate change.

The government oversees mobilising climate finance as it can create an enabling environment that fosters increased private investment and innovation and climate-resilient initiatives. Also, by working together and forming coalitions across the region, they can collectively build economies of scale and increase the efficiency of climate finance resource mobilisation.

Another barrier to mitigating climate change effects is policy structures focusing only on adaptation while overlooking mitigation. While adaptation is necessary, mitigation is equally important in addressing climate change. Adaptation efforts alone may not be sufficient to stop the deleterious effects of climate change on the planet. Without appropriate mitigation measures, the impact of climate change will continue to increase over time, making it more difficult to address and mitigate the issue.

African heads of State are not using international platforms to address climate change, despite its severe impact on citizens and the continent’s economy. Despite the United Nations’ interest in addressing the climate crisis, most speeches by African presidents at the United Nations General Assembly do not reflect African heads of State’s curiosity in tackling the climate crisis. Over the past few years, the world witnessed African leaders being snubbed by world leaders during their speeches at the United Nations. Most speeches by African presidents at the United Nations General Assembly do not reflect the current climate crisis. The rhetoric is often incompatible with the United Nations Agenda 2030. African leaders have mainly focused on subjects considered outdated by their continental counterparts.

Part of the reason is that they have mainly focused on clichés. Despite first-hand experience with the effects of climate change, they are yet to prioritise the phenomenon in their speeches and engagements.

However, the discourse can evolve if the leaders start highlighting issues that affect most people on the continent.

One of the ways in which African leaders can address climate change is by acknowledging that it is real and not an abstract issue but a justice matter that directly affects their citizens. They must incorporate the buzzwords of “just transition” when speaking about climate change to illustrate the urgency and the impact that addressing climate change can have on the lives of their citizens. They should also be vocal about the Loss and Damage Fund to hold the major polluters responsible for their actions.

Moreover, in the Paris Agreement, the Global South governments are responsible for engaging with international organisations, development banks, and other sources of climate finance to access additional resources. By forming strong relationships with development partners and multilateral organisations, they can access global funds and grant programmes dedicated to climate change, which can be a step forward in mitigating the impact of climate change on their economies and citizens.

African leaders must prioritise the climate change agenda and use international platforms to acknowledge and address the crisis. By embracing the “just transition” approval, they can emphasise the human impact of climate change. The intercontinental alliances and partnerships focused on addressing the climate crisis allow African leaders to access additional funding to scale up the continent’s long-term climate change resilience initiatives.

  • Takudzwanashe Mundenga is a Zimbabwean journalist based in Canada. He is an NSERC-CREATE climate smart soils fellow at the University of Guelph, reading for an MSc in Capacity Development and Extension. He writes here in his personal capacity.