Women farmers carrying bundles of harvested rice over a bridge to a threshing machine in Sierra Leone.

Africa’s Ability to Adapt to Climate Change “being Pushed to the limit”

ADDIS ABABA – A new report says Africa’s ability to adapt to climate chance is being pushed to the limit, creating urgency to reverse course.

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued the second part of its 6th Assessment Report, focusing on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, late last week.

The report warns of multiple climate change-induced disasters in the next two decades even if strong action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adding the ability of human beings and natural systems to cope with the changing climate is reaching its limits.

Further rise in global warming would make it even more difficult to adapt, warns the report by the IPCC – a UN agency responsible for advancing knowledge on human-induced climate change.

The report has, for the first time, made an assessment of regional and sectoral impacts of climate change.

Its findings show that the most vulnerable people and systems are disproportionately affected across sectors and regions.

– Most vulnerable are in Africa –

The report notes that over 3.5 billion people (over 45% of the global population) live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change.

Africa is identified as one of the vulnerable hotspots in the report, with several regions, towns and cities facing very high risk of climate disasters such as flooding, sea-level rise, heat-waves, and water stress.

Also for the first time, the IPCC report assesses the health impacts of climate change, and projects that climate-sensitive food-borne, water-borne, and vector-borne disease risks will increase under all levels of warming.

“Sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly affected, with increased incidence of vector-borne and water-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever,” the report reads.

Climate change is contributing to humanitarian crises where climate hazards interact with high vulnerability.

“Flood and drought-related acute food insecurity and malnutrition have increased in Africa,” says the report.

Between 2010-2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability.

According to the report, vulnerability at different spatial levels is exacerbated by inequity and marginalization.

On urbanization, the report notes that human vulnerability will be highest in informal settlements and rapidly growing smaller settlements.

“Present development challenges causing high vulnerability are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many Indigenous peoples and local communities,” it says.

In rural areas, vulnerability will be heightened by compounding factors such as high emigration, reduced habitability and high reliance on climate-sensitive livelihoods.

Key infrastructure systems including sanitation, water, health, transport, communications and energy will be increasingly vulnerable if design standards do not account for changing climate conditions, according to the report.

– Cost of Adaptation –

Adaptation to climate change remains feasible but has its limits, according to the IPCC.

Its impacts, says the report,are already outstripping efforts to adapt, resulting in significant loss and damage to property and livelihoods.

“We are already reaching the limits of what is possible to adapt to at the currently observed 1.1°C warming,” the report continues. “At 1.5°C, the options for adaptation will be considerably reduced, particularly for Africa.”

There can be no climate resilient development for vulnerable countries above 1.5°C, the report warns.

Strengthening health systems, early warning systems and improved access to potable water are among the options the report identified for adaptation.

It also recommends harnessing the adaptive strengths of nature through agro-forestry, conservation, protection and restoration of natural forests and planting of diverse tree species.

The required investment, however, is huge. Africa alone requires $1.3 trillion/year by 2025 to finance its mitigation and adaptation actions, according to the African Group of negotiators on the global talks on climate change.

“The gap between available and required finance is huge,” says the report.

Some African economies are already losing up to 5% of their GDP annually due to climate change impacts, despite emitting just 4% of global pollution, while its population is 17 percent of the world’s population.

COP27 will be hosted in Africa later this year.

“We will redouble our efforts to ensure that the event addresses African priorities and creates the policy conditions for successful adaptation to climate impacts as recommended by the IPCC report,” said the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).