Extract: Africa First! Igniting a Growth Revolution

News24 News. Breaking News. First – 2020-03-17 -Jakkie Cilliers – https://www.news24.com/Books/extract-africa-first-igniting-a-growth-revolution-20200317

Africa’s forests could actually be a game-changer in terms of tackling climate change. Approximately 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, one third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests each year.  


Agricultural yields in Africa are low by comparative regional standards, but that production can be improved considerably by increasing the amount of land under irrigation, using more fertilisers and genetically modified seeds, and improving farming practices.

However, climate change poses a major threat and will constrain such improvements, particularly in North and West Africa, as the impact of higher temperatures and shifting rainfall takes its toll. 

In 2006, three major flood events (normally occurring every 10-20 years) occurred within the space of two months in East Africa, displacing almost 200 000 people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya and destroying thousands of hectares of cropland. 

Maize and wheat production have already been affected in many countries, including fisheries in the Great Lakes region and fruit trees in the Sahel. 

Droughts and floods are likely to become more frequent and more difficult to predict and could exacerbate food security issues and migratory push factors.

In 2017 in Sierra Leone, weeks of heavy rain led to catastrophic mudslides that killed more than 600 people outside Freetown.

In 2018, extreme flooding in Niger killed more than 80 people, displaced 50 000 more, and wiped out 400 hectares of farmland and 26 000 head of livestock.

Meanwhile, these countries have some of the fastest-growing populations in the world.  

Africa has already experienced some of the most severe effects of climate change to date.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified the Sahel and West Africa as climate change “hot spots” that are projected to experience unprecedented effects of climate change, owing to their existing hot and dry climate, high rates of poverty and profound dependence on rain-fed agriculture, before anywhere else in the world. 

In responding to this environmental challenge, we can either adapt our way of life or resort to mitigating actions.

Such efforts focus on reducing emissions and stabilising the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In this way, mitigation is a long-term climate change response as its benefits will only emerge during the second half of the century.  

The Paris Agreement represents a global effort to mitigate the future impacts of climate change by trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now.

And under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol (the 1987 agreement to protect the stratospheric ozone layer), which came into force in January 2019, all countries will gradually phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons and replace these with more environmentally friendly alternatives.

A second possible reaction is to adapt to life in a changing climate, that is, to the change that is already locked into the climate system.  

For example, in June 2018 Tanzania completed 2.4 kilometres of seawalls at a cost of US$8.34 million in an effort to protect Dar es Salaam and surrounding areas from rising sea levels.

According to USAID, the country is estimated to suffer about US$200 million per year in lost land and infrastructure damage due to sea level rise. 

On the other side of the continent, Lagos is one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the world, but much of the city is less than one metre above sea level.

Lagos is, and has always been, a city oriented towards the sea.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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