World leaders and conservation stakeholders are meeting this week in Bonn, Germany, for the annual climate change conference.
This year’s meeting, known as the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), seeks to negotiate and outline how to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change now signed by all countries except USA. The agreement (adopted in 2015) is an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.
You don’t have to go far to see the predicted changing world. I was in Cape Town last week and the city is experiencing its worst water crisis in recent history.
Kenya is smarting from drought and related cattle and wildlife conflicts. Lake Chad is shrinking, the Sahara Desert is expanding south.
The continent has just emerged from the worst drought in 60 years in regions like the Horn of Africa.
Perhaps more than for any other continent, climate change is a big security and existential threat for Africa. In the Sahel, the collapse of agriculture in some areas in the face of extreme dry weather has been blamed for sending young people into the hands of terror groups.
The adverse climate changes that have decimated livestock in West Africa and the Horn have driven thousands of Africans who are no longer able to make a living on the land on dangerous journeys to cross the oceans and seas to Europe.
This scenario is likely to worsen if we look at Africa’s huge population increase. Statistics show that 3.5 million people are born in Africa monthly – or 80 people every minute, meaning that Africa’s new-borns are enough to fill the whole of London every three months.
By 2050, Africans will constitute 54 per cent of the global human population, and 82 per cent by 2100. Many of these are likely to emigrate to European and American metropolises, pushed there by inclement climate in Africa.
A recent joint publication of the United Nations Executive Office of the Secretary-General and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change notes that climate change threatens to reverse the gains in global fight against poverty, hunger, and disease, besides ruining lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the Global South, especially in Africa.
As a continent that has suffered from, and continues to grapple with some of the worst global warming impacts, Africa will be keenly awaiting the outcome of the conference whilst hoping that it yields effective solutions.
Agriculture, which is the backbone of the continent’s economy and a source of employment for over 70 per cent of the population in countries like Kenya, has over the years borne the brunt of extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change.
As viable land for growing crops and grazing animals continue to decrease rapidly as a result of global warming, affected communities — driven by desperation to survive at whatever cost — are forcefully invading neighbouring lands or newer territories considered fertile thus driving inter-communal land conflicts.
Similarly, there has been an increase in the number of people encroaching on forests and destroying this ecosystem that is significant for the sustainability of water reserves.
Encroachment into game reserves has also increased human-wildlife conflict which is a threat to game animals that enhance the performance of the tourism sector — a major foreign exchange earner for many countries.
As the population increases and global warming effects bite, people will continue to put pressure on an environment that is already reeling from the adverse effects of climate change.
This will stretch it to the limits hence leading to grave food insecurity challenges.
Youth unemployment rate is now at a high of over 40 per cent in Kenya and Ethiopia, 45 per cent in Nigeria, as the number of job seekers on the continent outstrips job creation.
Previously, the agricultural sector would provide self-employment opportunities for a majority of these jobless young people. But this is becoming increasingly difficult with erratic weather and decreasing land sizes fuelled by population growth.
If solutions to these problems remain elusive, experts predict that African countries will suffer from a bulging unemployed youthful population that will be a burden to economies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Instead of contributing valuable human resource to boost economic growth, they are likely to turn to crime and other social vices to enable them earn their livelihoods.
It is for this reason that African governments are hoping that the conference will yield practical strategies, especially financial assistance, to enable them to effectively implement climate change adaptation solutions.
Some of the proposed solutions include a shift from rain-fed agriculture, which will require African governments to invest in irrigation schemes that offer sustainable water supply to farmers and boost crop yields.
Kaddu Sebunya is President of the African Wildlife Foundation; [email protected]