Climate Change: The ADB Perspective

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Climate change is emerging as the most important international development challenge of the 21st century and this was one of the issues that was examined during the African Development Bank Group’s Annual Meetings in Shanghai, China. Speaking during the Meetings, Bank Group President, Donald Kaberuka, indicated that "our ability to continue making progress will be at risk unless we address this challenge." "New research," he continued, "confirmed that Africa was one of the most vulnerable continents to climatic imbalances. There are already tangible signs that should compel us to act quickly: floods, prolonged and recurrent draught, drying lakes and rivers, mass migrations as resources are depleted and livelihood threatened. Its implications for disease call us to action," he stressed.

According to ADB Group experts, the economic and social welfare of our societies and indeed their long term sustainability is increasingly vulnerable to climate change risks. Developing countries, the experts continue, especially African countries, are the most vulnerable and they bear the highest risks on their natural resources as climate change and climate variability critically jeopardize their economic development and poverty reduction achievements. Direct and indirect effects of climate change can roll back decades of development efforts. According to the Stern Review, there is still time to avoid the worst climate change impact. The Review however indicates that, delaying for too long to respond to climate change might increase economic losses to up to 20% of global GDP. In contrast, the costs of removing most of the climate change risks are around 1% of global GDP per year if nations start acting now.

Africans like many people around the world are becoming more concerned about the effects of global warming. Climate change experts hold that poor countries will be the hardest hit and the first to face the unsettling consequences of this new phenomenon. Africa, they indicate, accounts for only a small fraction, 3.6%, of the total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year, but it is home to 14% of the world’s population. The African continent is steadily warming up and models predict further warming up and changes in rainfall patterns. The continent, as a whole, is warmer by 0.5°C than it was 100 years ago. The continent is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of widespread poverty, the unsustainable use of natural resources, over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture and weak governance structures.

In many parts of the continent, Bank Group experts point out, climate change is already having profound and irreversible effects. This could be seen in the increased frequency of natural disasters, droughts, floods and other weather extremes that lead to loss of lives, economic disruption, social unrest and forced migration, as well as major environmental problems. Global warming is also causing rising sea levels, flooding that is threatening agriculture, human health, infrastructure particularly in coastal cities and islands; prolonged drought periods that cause stress on water resources and reduced food security due to diminished agricultural productivity. The effects of climate change also manifest themselves through increase outbreaks of vector borne diseases and other health impacts; and various threats to forestry, water resources, biodiversity, and other natural resources. The effects of global warming will certainly make it difficult for many African countries to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), except some exceptional and urgent measures are taking in this regard. 

Besides these direct effects, climate change has cross-cuttings impacts that include social costs, increased conflict and obvious economic costs. Increased aridity and prolonged drought are accelerating the abandonment of the rural economy and migration to urban areas. Climate change is also increasing the risks of ‘resource wars’ as nations and communities fight for rights to key resources like water and land. Most key economic sectors that include agriculture, fisheries, forestry, industry, energy and transport are very sensitive to climate change. Natural disasters destroy strategic national investments like infrastructure while there is a lack of requisite insurance to cover the loss. It is estimated that the cost of disasters over the next 20 years will be from 6 to 10 trillion US$. That is ten times the predicted amount of aid flow.

Small Island developing countries on the continent are particularly vulnerable to global warming. Rising sea levels are causing enhanced soil erosion, loss of productive land, increased risks of storm surges, reduced resilience of coastal ecosystems and the attendant costs of responding to and adapting to these shocks.  Climate change will also adversely affect coral reefs and more generally key ecosystems.

Global warming could be tackled both at the community and national levels. Whole communities need to be sensitized to the dangers of human action and the impacts of greenhouse gases on global warming. But most of the work on the continent needs to be done by the governments. African governments need to respond decisively to the impact of climate change by diversifying supply, building a low-carbon energy mix, and opening up the market to private sector innovation and investment. Governments need to ensure a transparent and a level playing field to create a market for low-carbon energy. This is crucial to ensure the long-term security of energy systems, and continued growth of the overall economy in a world affected by climate change.

The African Development Bank Group, for its part, is committed to assisting African governments in their efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. As part of the international response to climate change, the Bank Group is developing its own action plan under the Clean Energy and Development Investment Framework, a joint G8-Multilateral Development Banks’ initiative. The Bank Group’s future action on climate change will focus on promoting a broader shift towards low-carbon economies by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy as well as supporting the dissemination of carbon reduction technologies and access to the clean development mechanism related to improved and modern biomass technologies. Its focus will also be on small hydropower; and solar and wind, methane capture from landfills and it be helping its regional member countries (RMCs) to develop appropriate policies to avoid deforestation and promote afforestation.

The effects of climate change are already being felt across Africa and will continue to be felt until the effects of mitigation efforts will materialize. It is vital for African governments to build-in climate resiliency in their development investments in infrastructure, agriculture, water resources, health and education sectors, in order to be able to address climate change and climate variability effects and better adapt to its impacts. The Bank will assist RMCs with climate resilience building by developing and mainstreaming climate risk assessment and climate information tools at macro- and micro- levels to influence development plans, policies and project designs.

In Africa, agriculture and natural resources are important to food security just as energy is critical to economic development and MDG attainment. Improving and, at least, maintaining agricultural production and expanding energy access, especially to the poor, are therefore development priorities for African countries.  At the same time, Africa cannot afford to miss the opportunity to follow a low-carbon path whenever this option is affordable and economically efficient. Striking the right balance between broadening energy access, managing natural resources in a sustainable manner and reducing GDP energy intensity is the way forward for the African continent. Increased use of flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, in particular the Clean Development Mechanism, is very crucial for the continent.