Stop talking about climate action in Africa and start doing something

Storm clouds hover as a cyclist passes a field of maize after late rains near the capital Lilongwe, Malawi February 1, 2016.

Image: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Richard Munang
Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator, United Nations Environment (UNEP)
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Just a few weeks after the Paris Climate Change Agreement officially came into force, the latest analysis concluded that even if it is fully implemented, we are heading for a 2.9°C- 3.4°C increase in warming.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the topic of climate change. It also won’t come as a surprise to hear that Africa will bear the brunt of the negative consequences tied to these changes.

With a 2°C increase, agriculture yields of key food staples will decline by up to 40%, resulting in a 25%-90% increase in incidences of undernourishment and putting 50% of Africa’s population at risk of undernourishment.

Rising sea levels will also badly affect our beautiful coastal cities, putting millions at risk of flooding, and threatening to reverse economic and development gains with the ensuing damage to infrastructure, loss of touristic sites and disruption in food supply.

It won’t come as a surprise because we talk about it all the time. What we’re not doing is acting. The time now is to match our words with actions. But how do we do that?

Moving from words to action

Practical approaches do exist, and one sector in particular offers much hope: the clean energy industry, which is closely related to the issue of climate-proof agriculture. If we make progress in this area, we can not only tackle climate-related challenges, but socio-economic ones as well, such as food security, job creation and macro-economic growth.

One way to move from talk to action in this area is through something called ecosystem-based adaptation in mainstream farming techniques. This has already been done, for example, in Niger, where the technique has been used to rehabilitate up to 300,000 hectares of barren land. In other places, it has been shown to lead to a 128% yield increase, which would not only boost food security but would also enhance farmer income, thus helping to combat poverty.

All hands on deck

It’s often said that the only way we’ll achieve change is if everyone – government, business, civil society – is involved. But again, how do we move from words to action in this area?

The concept of ecosystem-based adaptation provides another look at how this could happen in practice. Through EBAFOSA, global, regional and national stakeholders are being brought together to create mutual partnerships for climate change action.

In Malawi, for example, EBAFOSA is building mutual partnerships between EBA-agriculture actors and the Malawi Bureau of Standards to establish quality standards for EBA products and enhance their marketability in local and export markets. By doing so, it encourages local actors to put in place these climate-friendly techniques. This is then reinforced at the national level, through a National Export Strategy that is prioritizing the export of high-value, climate-resilient food crops – such as sesame, a drought-tolerant crop that requires less water than more traditional crops such as maize.

These lessons from Malawi will be replicated across the 40 EBAFOSA member countries in Africa, therefore ensuring the transformation of adaptation commitment into actions across the continent.

Time for Africa to repair its roof

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” John F. Kennedy once said. This is certainly true when it comes to climate change in Africa. It is now time to convert opportunity into reality.

The irrefutable dire scientific warnings show very clearly how serious this challenge is. We have spent enough time talking about it, but now we must set about tackling it. We need to do so for the mother who cannot feed her new-born child with the proper food to live beyond the age of five. We must do so for the 240 million Africans who go to bed with a stomach aching from hunger. We must do so for the 620 million citizens who don’t have reliable access to energy. Doing so is the only way we can ensure the African continent never again experiences the fear of want or need.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which he is affiliated

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Related topics:
AfricaClimate CrisisFuture of the EnvironmentAgriculture, Food and Beverage
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