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The Cost Of Climate Change

The Cost Of Climate Change

Catch up on the previous post: ‘The reality Of Climate Change

Many would expect that the impact climate change has on a region should be proportional to the amount of GHGs produced by that particular region, but this is not always the case.  Although Africa is the least contributor to GHGs, it is the most vulnerable to climate change and weather variability. The effects of climate change cuts across many sectors with huge implications:



About three-quarters of Africa’s population depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood, and in many countries of Africa, agriculture is very sensitive to weather conditions. Majority of farmers on the continent depend solely on rainfall as source of irrigation water, and whenever the rains fail, agricultural activities are severely affected. On the other hand, when the amount and intensity of rainfall far exceeds what is expected, farmers usually end up losing crops and livestock. One country that has had a taste of both extreme weather conditions is Ghana. The three Northern regions of Ghana have suffered from severe droughts in the past. One major drought event occurred in 1982-83; this led to shortage of food, famine and a decline in human livelihood (WRC, 2010). Conversely, in 2007 the Northern region was hit by serious floods which affected more than 325,000 people and about 100,000 of them needed help in order to restore their livelihoods. The floods were followed by a period of drought, which aggravated the problems of the inhabitants of the region. In 2009, six districts in the Upper East region experienced catastrophic floods which resulted in the loss of 105 cattle, 2,074 small ruminants and 11,911 fowls. A total of 7,117.4 hectares of farm land was destroyed by the flood (WRC, 2010).

Similarly, The Horn of Africa’s rural areas (Ethiopia-Kenya-Somalia border) have been severely hit by recurrent droughts; livestock losses have plunged about 11 million people dependent on livestock for their livelihoods into a crisis and triggered mass migration of pastoralists out of drought-affected areas. Climate change is also contributing to oceanic acidification, and an increase in surface water temperatures across the African continent, negatively affecting fish stocks and threatening the livelihood of coastal and small-scale fishing communities. The impacts of climate change on agriculture and other key economic sectors in the food production and supply chain, threaten food security across sub-Saharan Africa.



Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability. Water scarcity has been known to bring about serious disagreements between communities and nations as they struggle to access the limited water available.

One of the most severe consequences has been the Darfur conflict in the Sudan, which originated from clashes between pastoralists and sedentary farmers over depleted water and other resources. Also, forced migration may put previously separate groups into conflict over the same resources. Given the history of ethnic, resource and political conflicts in Africa, climate change could exacerbate territorial and border disputes. Highly volatile regions in Africa, such as Darfur, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the DRC and northern Kenya, all have populations living in fragile and unstable conditions making them vulnerable to effects of climate change and the risk of violent conflict. Declining water resources and shrinking agricultural land are already intensifying competition for those resources, and creating tensions for displaced populations. Conflicts and political instability would definitely reduce the capacity of African countries to cope with climate change.


Climate change is also a major cause of the spread of infectious and water-borne communicable diseases in Africa. Many a people in Africa are being exposed to malaria (already a leading cause of death in the region) due to temperature increases and intensifying rains which affect previously malaria-free areas such as the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands. A joint UNEP-UNAIDS study established complex links between climate change and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Climate change also has indirect effects on health in the region through ecosystems degradation and poor sanitation, which contribute to malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal diseases and increase in child mortality. Poor water and sanitation is linked to climate-induced droughts and floods, and according to WHO and UNICEF (Joint News Release, March 2008), accounts for more than 20 percent of the burden of disease in Africa.


It’s been projected that by 2040, climate change will lead to about 2-4% loss in GDP in Africa (including market and non-market sectors, without adaptation), and by 2100, regions of arid and semi-arid land are expected to expand by 5-8%, or 60-90 million hectares, resulting in agricultural losses of between 0.4-7% of GDP in northern, western, central and southern Africa (IPCC, 2007). Adaptation could (but not entirely) reduce the economic costs of climate change in Africa significantly from 2% to 1% of GDP by 2040 (that is, from $ 230 billion to $ 148 billion), and from 10% to 7% of GDP by 2100 ($ 530 billion to $ 349 billion with a business as usual (BAU) scenario).

Unlike Africa’s developing countries, developed nations are less vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is because developed countries are able to adapt faster to changes in weather conditions due to having structures in place which make them more resilient to the stresses and shocks posed by climate change. In addition, developing countries can follow suit by investing in building their resilience to climate change. Countermeasures contributing to greater resilience can take many different forms, including social, economic and technological:

  • Institutional: land-use zoning, integrated warning systems
  • Economic: weather insurance, micro-credit schemes
  • Physical: cyclone shelters, embankments
  • Medical: vaccines
  • Environmental: mangrove shelterbelts
  • Agricultural: drought- and flood-resistant crop varieties, increased nutrients
  • Livelihood: income diversity, rural-urban linkages, ability to migrate
  • Education: information and development of skills


Resilience is important at national, regional and local levels, and involves not only technologies, but also appropriate economic policies and institutional arrangements. In addition, improved forecasts and early warning systems are increasingly being recognized among the basic requirements for adaptation, particularly to prevent the damaging effects of floods and droughts. Other requirements for adaptation include the creation of awareness on climate change at different levels and scales, from policy makers to communities. Moreover, education and research are crucial to building adaptive capacity, particularly when linked to practice through extension.

The importance of linking research to policy-making is particularly being emphasized along with the need to incorporate the local knowledge on coping strategies and practices. Improving communication between researchers and vulnerable communities is a prerequisite for an effective adaptation strategy. Furthermore, it is important to identify mechanisms for ensuring the adoption and incorporation of climate information including forecasts into the livelihood strategies of different stakeholder groups. In line with this, a number of research studies have suggested the need for improvement of the format and content of the rainfall forecast messages and to communicate them in a way that ensures their timely use by people particularly living in the disaster prone areas.

In recent times, many stakeholders have called for the involvement of women in climate change issues. A most recent call was made at a workshop organized by ABANTU for Development with support from IBIS Ghana. The workshop, which was held in Accra, sought to strengthen civil society organizations to come up with programs that address the interrelationship between gender, climate change and sustainable development. It is believed that women are likely to suffer more from the effects of climate change because of existing gender inequalities. It is therefore imperative to empower women and get them involved in all activities aimed at climate change mitigation.

Climate change in Africa is a reality, and it is adding to the numerous problems that most African countries already face. There is an urgent need for governments, NGOs, universities (which house the majority of climate change researchers in Africa), and the private sector to work together to build up the resilience of Africa and its people.

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