Interview with Anthony Nyong, Division Manager, Environment and Social Protection, AfDB - Climate Change is a Global Development Threat

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Climate change has become a core development issue for Africa. On the sideline of the Annual Meetings, African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Anthony Nyong talks about how Africa and the AfDB are tackling the challenge.

Question: How did the Bank become conscious of the challenges of climate change to the extent of having an entire Department dealing with the issue?  

Answer: The African Development Bank (AfDB) is not a new-comer to the business of tackling the challenges of climate change in Africa. Before climate change became such a buzz word today, the African Development had financed several initiatives that have contributed to addressing the climate change challenges in the continent, even if these were not specifically labeled climate change initiatives. For instance, the AfDBs huge investment in preserving Africas forests and ecosystems is in recognition of the huge environmental and economic benefits of the sector. The Bank has also financed several emergency relief efforts in the continent after major climatic disasters.  

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in December 2007 was a wake-up call to the entire world. The report presented clear and undisputable evidence on the reality of climate change and that it is caused largely by human activities. It concluded that Africa, though contributing the least to the problem, would bear the brunt of its adverse negative impacts.

The report drew attention to the need for urgent action within the continent to address the problem. Africas limited adaptive capacity, largely resulting from the lack of relevant information and data on climate change, was seen as a major impediment to addressing climate change risks in the continent. The World Meteorological Organization had noted that Africa has less than 1/8th of the minimum number of meteorological stations required to support developmental efforts. It is obvious that one cannot begin to address a problem that one does not have a clear grasp of.

In response to this problem, the AfDB, in partnership with the African Union Commission and the Economic Commission for Africa set out to design and implement the ClimDev-Africa program, which aimed at strengthening the capacities of African climate Centres to be able to generate and disseminate reliable climate information as well as enhance the capacities of Africas policy makers to be able to integrate the information into development planning.  

Several scientific reports also revealed that the modest gains that the continent has made towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals could be reversed by climate change. This shows that climate change is not just a long-term environmental threat as was widely believed, but an economic and developmental disaster that was unfolding; a disaster that would make it impossible to achieve the Banks mandate in the continent.

Concerned by this and the need to draw up a plan to comprehensively tackle the change challenge in the continent, the Bank Group President, Donald Kaberuka, set up a Presidential Task Force to articulate a coherent strategy on how to improve the Banks effectiveness in assisting Regional Member Countries to address climate change risks as well as take advantage of whatever benefits it may bring.

The Task Force made several recommendations on how to reposition the Bank, one of which was to create a new Unit Gender, Climate Change and Sustainable Development, which became operational in 2008. The main task of the Unit was to build internal Bank capacity and those of RMCs to mainstream cross-cutting issues gender, climate change, environment and participatory processes into all Bank programs and projects.

The Bank has recently fine-tuned its organizational structure in fulfillment of the pledge by the Bank Group President, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, to continually improve the Banks capacity to support RMCs to comprehensively address their climate change challenges, and other cross cutting issues.

This fine-tuning has resulted in the recent creation of the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate change to further enhance the Banks capacity to deliver on projects and operational issues on climate change adaptation and mitigation. It will particularly address the twin challenge of climate change and increasing energy access to the 75% of Africas population without access to clean energy.

Greater attention will be focused on developing Africas abundant but untapped renewable energy sources and helping the continent to grow a low-carbon economy. The Results and Quality Assurance Department has also been strengthened, expanding the mandate of the Environmental and Social Safeguards Division to address upstream issues of climate change in the Bank policies, strategies, knowledge support and advocacy. A new Division has also been created to give greater visibility and attention to mainstreaming gender equality and Civil Society participation into all Bank policies, programs and projects to ensure greater developmental effectiveness.

Question: The Banks Medium Term Strategy (MTS) 2008-2012 has identified climate change as one of the main crosscutting issues in Africas development. Can you enlighten us a bit more on this issue?   

Answer: Climate change is no longer seen as just an environmental threat. It is a threat to global development, particularly in Africa. Addressing climate change has become central to the development and poverty reduction agenda of the Bank. Poorer countries and communities in Africa will suffer hardest because of weaker resilience and greater reliance on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture.

The average economic costs of climate change in Africa could be equivalent to 1.5 - 3% of GDP each year by 2030, and rising, in the absence of an international agreement on emissions.  This is a huge cost, translating to about US$ 40 billion a year. This is money that could have been used more constructively to foster development in the continent, particularly in the achievement of the MDGs.

Besides diverting money away from development, climate change impedes Africas ability to achieve each the MDG targets. For instance, the livelihoods of more than 60% of Africas population depend on agriculture.

Climate change is already resulting in declining agricultural yields, and a corresponding decline in household incomes. This makes the goal of halving poverty by 2015 an impossible task, as well as eradicating hunger. The decline in agricultural productivity would also lead to famine and other health problems, coupled with the spread of communicable diseases through the expansion of favourable habitats for disease vectors. This in turn would affect the goal of achieving the health goal and reducing maternal mortality, considering that malaria is currently the highest cause of maternal mortality in Africa. The list is endless.

Through the Medium Term Strategy, the Bank has made a clear statement that climate change is not just an environmental threat or a threat that will affect only one economic sector.

The effects are cross cutting, affecting all of Africas key economic sectors. Addressing climate change through stand-alone projects would not achieve the desired outcomes because of the cross-cutting nature of climate change. The Strategy therefore calls for a mainstreaming approach where climate change concerns are integrated into the Banks programs and projects, as well as into developmental planning processes in RMCs.

Question: In the medium term what has the Bank done to enhance the adaptability of African countries to new climatic changes (conditions)?   

Answer: The Bank has done a lot to enhance the adaptive capacities of African countries. First, it is leading in the development of the ClimDev-Africa program in partnership with ECA and AUC to strengthen the capacities of African climate centres to be able to generate and disseminate relevant climate information that is appropriate for developmental planning. It has already committed about US$30 million of its resources to support institutional capacity building of Africas regional climate centres.

The Bank is supporting the mainstreaming of climate change into national planning processes in 3 African countries. This will be expanded to other countries, targeting the most vulnerable countries. The Bank is also supporting regional operations such as the regeneration of the Lake Chad Ecosystem to continue to support the livelihoods of the huge population that depend on the ecosystem. It is also supporting several projects in the Congo Basin Forests to create alternative livelihoods for the population as well as reverse the rate of deforestation in the forests.

The Bank realizes that Africas vulnerability to climate change is not only caused by the continents exposure to climatic events. It is exacerbated by the interaction of this exposure with basic underlying developmental challenges. These developmental challenges weaken the continents adaptive capacity. The Banks interventions in addressing these developmental challenges directly contribute to building adaptive capacities within the continent.

The Bank is investing heavily in infrastructure to support adaptation in the continent. It is well-known that Africas agriculture is very vulnerable to climate change because of its dependence on rainfall. Reducing this vulnerability requires that Africa is weaned from rain-fed farming.

In this regard, the Bank is investing heavily in new irrigation schemes and in water storage facilities in the continent to reduce the vulnerability of African countries to droughts. It is estimated that climate change would expose some additional 300 million people to water stress by mid century. The Banks investments in the water sector seek to substantially build adaptive capacities and significantly reduce these numbers. The Bank is investing in education as knowledge is critical to reducing vulnerability.

We are the leading financiers of infrastructure in the continent. The Bank is building roads to help transport farm products to markets where farmers can earn better incomes for their produces, the roads are essential to evacuate vulnerable citizens in times of climate disasters, shorten travel times and increase productivity. The energy infrastructure provides electricity to hospitals to save lives and grow national economies, thereby helping African countries to be able to withstand the adverse impacts of climate change. The more robust the continents economy is, the more it can adapt to climate change.

However, climate change adds a greater urgency to delivering on Africas development. This requires a substantial amount of resources than is currently available to the Bank.

Question: What will AfDB key message be during the 2010 Annual Board of Governors Meetings?  

Answer: We have received several messages from our Regional Member Countries (RMCs) in the course of our working with them to address their climate change risks and helping them take advantage of opportunities that climate change offers. Let me relay four of these key messages:

Key Message 1: Climate change poses a disproportionately large threat to development in Africa but the continent has an opportunity to embark upon and accelerate a low carbon-intensive economy.

  • Climate change is affecting all economic sectors of Africa and will therefore present unprecedented challenges for the continent, particularly in terms of meeting its sustainable development imperatives, including the MDGs. Although climate change imposes new burdens on Africas development, it also provides new incentives and opportunities which the continent should take advantage of, where financial resources are made available.
  • While Africa contributes minimally to climate change, it has opportunities to chart a low carbon-intensive development path. Although low carbon-intensive options are typically more expensive, they offer opportunities for Africa to sustainably develop its abundant hydro, solar, wind and forest resources to promote access to cleaner energy and improve land use practices.
  • Additional financial resources would offer the scope to incentivize best practices, introduce new technology, develop institutional capability, and undertake the long term investment in cross-border clean energy projects. Energy is obviously the engine that would drive the growth of Africas economy and help achieve the MDGs.

Key Message 2: The costs of addressing climate change threats and growing a low-carbon intensive economy is substantial, but the benefits of acting now outweigh the costs.

  • Adaptation and mitigation come at additional costs. It is estimated that Africa needs about USD 2231 billion per year by 2015 to adapt as well as tow a low carbon intensive development pathway. This cost is low in comparison with the economic benefits of adaptation and mitigation.
  • Africa is already bearing the cost of addressing the huge impacts of climate variability in the continent. For example, in East Africa, major periodic drought and flood events have been found to have economic costs of 5% to 8% GDP per event, and because of their regular frequency, have a direct long-term fiscal liability of over 2% GDP per annum which is largely absorbed by the national governments.
  • Compared to the large requirements, total existing commitments to Funds are grossly inadequate. The large shortfall of funding and the difficulties that Africa faces in accessing these existing funds have made financing an important issue in the fight against climate change.
  • Our RMCs are calling for a modification of exiting rules to remove all obstacles that impede Africas ability to access existing funds and expand its participation in the global carbon market.

Key Message 3: Considerations of a future financial mechanism should reflect Africas development priorities and ensure Africas participation.

  • Our RMCs are calling for the creation of a credible financial mechanism that recognizes and rewards Africas carbon sinks provided by our rich agro-ecosystems. There is need for expansions of eligibility of resources provided under the convention to include a full range of bio-carbon solutions beyond the current REDD+ initiative.
  • The mechanism for delivering new resources to address climate change should ensure alignment with country and regional priorities, recipient participation in identification, and development and approval process, private sector support, and avoidance of the proliferation of vertical initiatives which don't match African countries own priorities.
  • Such a mechanism should be transparent, flexible and simple to ensure that Africa has enhanced access, while maintaining a very high level of prudence. It is imperative that the Fund should build on already existing mechanisms thereby promoting efficiency and accelerated results.
  • A lack of credible framework for delivering financing on the needed scale and terms could delay Africas response to climate change, thereby endangering sustainable growth and increasing the costs of climate action.

Key Message 4: The African Development Bank is well-suited to administer Africas Allocation of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

  • RMCs have called on the African Development Bank to host and administer Africas allocation of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund and lead the efforts of other development partners in Africa.  
  • The Bank has significantly enhanced its capacity to address climate change issues in the continent and has been at the forefront of efforts in supporting African countries during periods of crises, especially the recent food, fuel and financial crises. It has therefore built strong confidence among its Regional Member Countries as a trusted development partner.
  • The African Development Bank, through both its public and private sector Departments, has been developing over the years, a strong pipeline of projects in the renewable energy, energy efficiency, forestry, sustainable transportation and climate change adaptation. These projects are designed to build resilience and place Africa on a low carbon-intensive growth trajectory.
  • The implementation of the Banks rich pipeline of climate-friendly projects would be accelerated with substantial inflow of resources, ensuring the delivery of sustained development outcomes.

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