By Hilary Mare
WHILE the entire world is struggling with the challenges presented by the changing global climate, Southern Africa is uniquely susceptible to the impacts of climate change. In coming decades, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region is expected to experience higher land and ocean surface temperatures than in the past, which will affect rainfall, winds, and the timing and intensity of weather events.
Climate change poses a number of risks to SADC goals for regional economic development and for Namibia, the risks extend to increased frequency of droughts which may damage infrastructure, destroy agricultural crops, disrupt livelihoods, and cause loss of life.
Essentially, climate change in Africa is least-researched and poorly understood, but a new report could help decision-makers inclusive of Namibia get reliable scientific information about it to aid planning.
The report, from Future Climate for Africa (FCFA), has new information that could be used in decision-making, leading to great potential benefits for millions of Africans affected by climate change.
A statement released by the FCFA on the report last month says: “Climate modelling indicates that East Africa is expected to warm in the next five to 40 years, although changes in rainfall are much less certain,” adding that extreme events such floods and droughts could increase in the future.
However, lack of scientific data makes the region to be severely understudied.
According to the report, southern African economies are exposed to weather and climate vulnerabilities, and sectors such as agriculture, energy, and water management are most affected.
Essential resources, therefore, are at great risk but most governments such as Namibia still depend on planning based on a three-to five-year time horizons, ignoring that climate projections are based on decades-longer timeframes.
The report explains that past data being applied by ministries could be inaccurate because of wrong assumptions, noting that climate change could negatively impact African economies, especially in the future if it is not addressed.
“In order to effectively influence relevant policies in a country or region, you will need to engage with the relevant decision-makers at that scale. Working with decision-makers to produce appropriate information that is usable will lead towards positive changes in the policies and investments, which will in turn benefit the smallholder farmers who are adversely impacted by climate change,” the report said.
Daniel Olago, an environmental geoscientist at the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, Kenya who was quoted in the report concurs and attributes low research on Africa’s climate change to challenges such as widely spaced weather stations and missing data, few meteorological scientists in research and a more “chaotic” climate system.
According to Olago, there is a need for reliable scientific information about the continent’s changing climate because sectors such as agriculture and pastoral livestock depend largely on rainfall and support the livelihoods of many people.
“The changing climate is… resulting in changes in the timing, distribution, intensity, and amounts of rainfall during the seasons relied upon for planting or natural replenishment of pasture,” he says.
To support the assertions made in this report, researchers behind a study published in the journal Nature recently say temperature change due to unmitigated global warming will leave global GDP per capita 23 percent lower in 2100 than it would be without any warming.
In essence, climate change does not just imply a gradual change in climate – although the changes may indeed be gradual and subtle – the long term effects are far more drastic. These effects have the power to negatively affect the health and wealth of a nation considerably.
Locally, agriculture and fisheries both play an important role in food security. They also provide employment opportunities for a large percentage of the population. Both agriculture and fisheries face climate change related threats. Should the agriculture and/or fisheries potential be reduced, the socio-economic impacts would be severe.
Many agricultural sectors are sensitive to the changes projected, and while some areas may benefit from raised temperatures, in other areas this may spell doom to the local agricultural industry. Small scale farmers and subsistence farmers are most vulnerable to the effects of water shortages and droughts, and while larger commercial farmers have better infrastructure, such as boreholes, windmills, pumps and irrigation systems that may help them to cope with water shortages, they may also be effected by water restrictions. In summer rainfall areas, maize production (a staple food source) could be adversely affected, while fruit and cereal crops grown in regions that receive winter rainfall are expected to be negatively affected.
Tourism may be affected due to a loss of habitats and biodiversity, and due to changes in temperature, humidity and malaria risk, and represents the biggest potential economic loss since tourism contributes as much as 10 percent of GDP.
The marine environment has also shown changes in physical characteristics, with a rise in sea level. Studies on seabirds have shown a steady decrease in ocean productivity, which is related to climate change. The African penguin, an iconic marine bird that is endemic to South Africa and Namibia, is at risk of extinction due to a number of factors, including climate change related factors: increased temperatures force breeding penguins to abandon their nests; decrease in ocean productivity due to warmer sea surface temperatures results in chick mortality as there is insufficient food for the parents to feed their chicks. Decreased ocean productivity lends itself to overfishing, as fishermen scramble for dwindling marine resources, further exacerbating the problem.
Faced by these wide ranging challenges to mitigate climate change woes it is urgently required that Government taps into the findings of the report which provide room for numerous interventions such as climate finance readiness; climate change and green growth mainstreaming; the preparation and financing of adaptation and mitigation projects; knowledge management and information sharing related to climate change; capacity building; the preparation of climate resilient and low carbon strategies and policies; analytical work related to green growth; and advocacy and outreach, among others.
The recommendations of the report include (but are not limited to): recruitment of national and international consultants, trainings, consultation workshops, regional and international meetings, communication, advocacy, translation services, and the provision of technical assistance in the preparation of studies and analytical pieces, office equipment and transportation fees.
Namibia’s implementation of climate change reforms must come quicker than anticipated and this is because Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. This vulnerability and the limitations of poor countries to adapt to climate change challenges were also highlighted in Climate Change 2001, the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This report established how human activity (burning fossil fuels and changes in land-use) is modifying the global climate, with temperature rises projected for the next 100 years that could affect human welfare and the environment. The historical climate record for Africa shows warming of approximately 0.7°C over most of the continent during the 20th century; a decrease in rainfall over large portions of the Sahel (the semi-arid region south of the Sahara); and an increase in rainfall in east central Africa. Over the next century, this warming trend, and changes in precipitation patterns, is expected to continue and be accompanied by a rise in sea level and increased frequency of extreme weather events.
It is also vital to acknowledge that multiple stressors interact with climate change to generate vulnerability, which is highly differentiated among places and groups. Although a rich set of indigenous responses exist for coping with climate variability, these strategies are not sufficient in the face of societal transformations and climatic changes. Consequently, there may be some unexpected outcomes of climate change, which generate new vulnerable groups. Interventions may also create unplanned outcomes, and may even increase vulnerability for some, if the broader vulnerability context is not taken into account. There is currently a gap between local needs and on-going and planned adaptation interventions. The most vulnerable groups of Namibia are generally not included in these projects, nor are the sources of their vulnerability being adequately addressed.
Conclusively, the backlash effects of climate change are real and as efforts to adapt to climate change are underway, it is also essential to prepare for the looming economic turmoil that climate change will undoubtedly cause and adaptation of policies contained in the future climate for Africa report may provide a possible way out for local policymakers.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015