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Climatic change will reduce Africa’s per capital consumption, warns World Bank report

Even as it is becoming evident that Africa holds the potential to be a dynamic growth pole in the rapidly evolving world economy, the region needs to urgently tackle increased climate variability and temperature increases to maintain its performance and preserve recent gains, says a World Bank report  released this week reveals 

The World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, released in advance of the December meetings on climate change in Copenhagen, cites evidence that global warming of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures could result in permanent reductions in annual per capita consumption of 4 to 5% in Africa.

 The authors call for immediate action to ensure that Africa’s prospects are not compromised by climate variability and climate change.

At the global level, rich countries, which produced most of the greenhouse gas emissions of the past, must act now to ensure that the world is not locked into an unsafe climate, the report says. They need to adopt ambitious emission reduction targets at home—which would also boost demand for alternative energy sources—as well as provide financial support to developing countries for adaptation and to lay the foundations for low-carbon growth.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are disproportionately affected by climate change,” said Marianne Fay, co-director of the report and Chief Economist for Sustainable Development at the World Bank. “They need scaled-up financial and technological support to help vulnerable people adapt to climate change, while also meeting urgent energy needs.”

While climate variability is not a new factor in Africa’s history, the incidence and severity of extreme weather events, both floods and droughts, has increased sharply in recent years, and climate projections indicate that this trend will be intensified. The region’s natural vulnerability will thus be increased with climate change.

There could be serious impacts on people who depend on rainfed agriculture, which employs about 70% of Africa’s population. Without strong improvements in agricultural productivity, the region’s food security will be at risk.

Kenyans are experiencing the impact of climate change through serious food, water supply and electricity shortfalls that are also draining budgetary resources and dampening prospects for economic recovery from the global economic crisis.

“In Africa, adaptation and climate risk management are becoming core development objectives, as governments and citizens become more aware of the impact of climate change on their survival,” said Johannes Zutt, World Bank Country Director for Kenya.

“In Kenya, Bank support to initiatives like the Arid Lands Resource Management project and the Western Kenya Community Driven Development and Flood Mitigation project demonstrate our commitment to this integrated agenda,” said Zutt, who is also in charge of Comoros, Eritrea, Rwanda, Seychelles and Somalia.

Access to energy is critical for economic growth and poverty alleviation in the region; no country in the world has developed without adequate power supply.

In Africa, where wood, charcoal, and other biomass provide about 80% of the domestic primary energy supply, over 550 million people lack access to modern energy. The region has huge potential for untapped hydro, solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy; but tapping these resources will require both technology and finance.

It also has non-renewable resources, including coal, which some countries will need to draw on quickly to reduce energy poverty and increase energy equity.

Africa can reap considerable opportunities from climate change. Better land and water management, and attention to climate-related diseases like malaria would be good for economic growth. Also, mainstreaming climate-resilience into development costs less than coping with relief, rehabilitation and recovery associated with more frequent natural disasters.

The World Bank’s new climate strategy for the region, Making Development Climate Resilient, also focuses on knowledge and capacity development, scaling up financing, and on mitigation opportunities.

 While Africa contributes less than 4% of global CO2 emissions, most of its mitigation opportunities are linked to improvements such as sustainable land and forest management that bring solid development benefits. Over 60 World Bank-supported projects in Africa take into account the importance of combating climate change.

Innovation plays a big role in solving the climate dilemma, the report says. For example, early results from two pilot agricultural carbon finance projects in western Kenya show that smallholder agriculture can be integrated successfully into carbon finance. The World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund is purchasing the carbon credits from these projects.


  • The World Bank’s latest GDP growth projection for Sub-Saharan Africa for 2010 is 3.7 %, compared with 1.3% for rich countries as a group and 2.5% for developing countries as a group excluding India and China.
  • Climate experts estimate that global warming of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures could result in permanent reductions in annual per capita consumption of 4-5% in Africa (Nordhaus & Boyer, 2000; Stern, 2007). This could also likely destroy 10-15 % of species (Parry and others 2007). 
  • Rainfed agriculture contributes about 30% of the region’s GDP, but that source of income may start drying up. By 2080, as much as 9-20% of the region’s arable land will become much less suitable for agriculture. Even today, about 86% of the land in Sub-Saharan Africa is moisture-stressed.
  • Africa suffers from natural fragility (two-thirds of its surface area is desert or dry land) and high exposure to droughts and floods, which will likely increase with climate change. Devastating floods, once rare, have been reported across the region. In 2000, flooding in Mozambique cost the country an estimated $550 million, lowering national GDP by 1.5%.
  • Africa is rapidly urbanizing, with the urban population set to exceed the rural by 2030. About 300 million additional urban residents are expected over the next 25 years, making climate-resilient urban planning critical.
  • By 2030, 90 million more people in Africa will be exposed to malaria, a climate-related disease. This is a 14% increase (Hay and others, 2006).
  • More than 550 million Africans lack access to electricity and 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently in a state of power crisis. On average, only 24% of the population has access to modern energy. In Rwanda 93 in 100 people have no access; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 94 in 100 people have no access.
  • Biomass provides 80% of the primary domestic energy supply. Indoor air pollution from burning biomass contributes to the respiratory infections that cause 17% of deaths among children under age five.
  • The region has huge potential for renewable energy: it has only used 8% of its hydropower potential, compared, for example, to 30% in Latin America. However, exploiting these resources requires both technology and finance.
  • Several countries in Africa are beginning to participate in efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation (REDD). Big potential benefits could come from future REDD instruments for Africa.
  • As poor people are exposed to climate change, social protection systems become even more important. Ethiopia’s productive safety net project includes a strong focus on watershed protection, thus implementing adaptation strategies to mitigate the effect of droughts and floods on agricultural land.
  • Africa is in dire need of better monitoring and forecasting systems. According to the World Meteorological Organization, Africa has only one weather station per 26,000 sq km — one-eighth the recommended minimum.