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Climate Change and its Impact on Africa

Climate change has become an important current issue all over the world, due in part to a growing understanding of its devastating impact, which is progressively worsening. To effectively address this looming crisis, the world needs not only adequate information, but also a greater understanding of climate systems, which will inform the development of proper systems necessary to adapt to the rapidly changing climate patterns.

Understanding the climate systems and the possible impact of climate change will also allow for mitigation and the development of possible means of alleviating the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Furthermore, changes in the condition of natural resources, and their long-term, usually negative, impacts on society and on the economy have been clearly and alarmingly pointed out by several comprehensive studies, such as those done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC.) Yet, these pessimistic assessments have not been able to orchestrate either a policy breakthrough or the development of economic and institutional tools to promote efficient and sustainable management of natural resources. The persistent issue of poverty is a major contributing factor to this canker that bedevils our continent. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) alone, the proportion of people living below $1.25 a day has remained the same, at 50%, through the years of 1981 to 2005. In absolute terms, however, the number of poor people in SSA nearly doubled, from 200 million in 1981 to 390 million in 2005. Consequently, the pressure on Africa’s natural resources will continue to increase due to the expansion and intensification of agriculture, as well as commercialisation and the increase of global trade.

The current and anticipated effects of climate change, as assessed by different experts, reveal the consequences of population growth and predict more frequent occurrences of extreme events, increasing intrusion of invasive plant species, decreasing soil fertility and loss of vast forestlands. All experts are of the opinion that the adaptation of people and their agricultural systems to climate change requires competence and mechanisms similar to those necessary for adaptation to other degradation processes. The discovery of new oil farms along the shores of many African countries raises security concerns, not to mention the adverse effects on marine ecosystems, thus making it imperative to constantly monitor activities on coastlines with respect to issues of piracy and environmental impact assessment to guarantee safety on our seas.

Furthermore, Africa is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change because many countries’ economies are heavily dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, forestry, health and hydropower. Unfortunately, there is paucity of information, dearth of expertise and therefore less capacity for research in climate related fields in most African countries. It must be noted that there have been a few interventions by some institutions and organizations towards increasing the knowledge base of African countries on climate change and its effect on the entire African population. However, while the understanding of climate systems and the possible effects of climate change is increasing, it is doing so at a relatively slow rate in comparison to the climate change phenomenon itself, which is growing and impacting faster than expected. The planned 2013 OWSD Africa Regional Conference will make a necessary contribution to the increasing understanding of Africa’s climate systems, awareness of the climate change problem, its current and potential impact as well as possible ways of arresting its effects.

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