The Last Mile to COP21: What does climate change science say about Africa?
Scientific evidence has well established that the climate is indeed changing and it is human caused, despite any claims to the contrary. We can be confident that the basics of climate change are now well understood even though it must be acknowledged that some level of uncertainty remains.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been responsible for compiling the scientific evidence on climate change since its formation in 1988. It has produced five Assessment Reports as well as a number of special reports on particular topics. The latest report, the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) was published in November 2014, its main assertion was that "...beyond reasonable doubt, the Earth's climate is warming".
For Africa, the consequence of a warming planet are dire. Statements from AR5-Africa include:
"Evidence of warming over land regions across Africa, consistent with anthropogenic climate change, has increased (high confidence).
"African ecosystems are already being affected by climate change, and future impacts are expected to be substantial (high confidence).
"Climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability in Africa (high confidence).
"Progress has been achieved on managing risks to food production from current climate variability and near-term climate change but these will not be sufficient to address long-term impacts of climate change (high confidence)."
The implications for Africa have been articulated in summary form in a recent publication (The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report: what's in it for Africa) by the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN, 2014).
In summary, a warmer planet will intensify climate variability and extreme events; rainfall events will be more intense, increasing the likelihood of flooding; droughts will be more frequent, increasing scarcity of water resources; there will be negative impacts on health and wellbeing; and economic losses will be significant. Suffice to say, in many cases the impact will be devastation, tragic loss of life and years lost to recovery and rebuilding of economies and societies.
Why should we care? Climate change is already being felt in different ways across Africa and it is being felt in all parts of Africa. The tragedy is that many countries do not have the wherewithal to deal with this dilemma. For many there are more pressing needs requiring attention such as the eradication of poverty, provision of basic infrastructure and services...needed to build successful societies.
However, African governments do recognize the urgency of building economies and societies resilient to the climate change problem. For this purpose, they require support from the international community to transition to low carbon and climate resilient development pathways. In nearly all spheres of development the technical knowhow exists. What is lacking for most African countries is enabling measures, among them the means of implementation: financing, capacity-building and transfer of technologies.
Understanding the climate change science is the starting point to identifying the options required to be specified in a successful global agreement on climate change. In the words of Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute:
"The climate science has given us the warning... it is our responsibility to take heed and to take action before disaster ensues".