Climate change is one of the most challenging threats to sustainable development in Africa.  Although the continent contributes only about 3.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, its countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change in the world.  This vulnerability derives from multiple stresses coupled with low adaptive capacity.  First, the geographical location of many African countries is characterized by already warmer climate, marginal areas that are more exposed to climatic hazards such as rainfall variability, poor soils and flood plains.  Secondly, the economies of most African countries rely heavily on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, other natural resources and tourism.  Thirdly, the continent is unable to respond adequately to the direct and indirect effects of climate change because of widespread poverty, poor economic and social infrastructure, conflicts, limited human and institutional capacities, and inadequate technologies and financial resources. Vulnerability to climate change in Africa is particularly high for the poor, who tend to live in environments that are most susceptible to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other major reports such as the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change point to some of the current and projected impacts of climate change on Africa’s development.  Such major impacts that threaten the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and sustainable development in the region include:

  • Increasing water stress and water-related conflicts;

  • Constrained agricultural production and increasing food insecurity;

  • Increasing energy constraints, further compounding challenges for industrial development;

  • Rising sea level degrading livelihoods and environment in coastal areas;

  • Loss of biodiversity, forests and other natural habitats, threatening the well being of millions of people, whose livelihoods depend on biodiversity resources;

  • Expanding range and prevalence of vector-borne diseases, adding to the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, affecting mostly the poor who live in deplorable conditions and lack access to health care; and

  • Increased risks of conflicts, instability and security threats, associated with massive population migrations induced by extreme climate events.

Concerted efforts for adaptation to climate change must be undertaken at all levels to make African societies and economies resilient to such projected hardships.  Indeed,  taking immediate action will forestall the worst impacts of climate change. Effective response would thus entail stakeholders explicitly mainstreaming climate change concerns into development policies, strategies, programmes and practices, with special attention to priority climate-sensitive sectors. Such action should be conceived and implemented not only  in full cognizance of the evidence, impact and challenges of climate change, but also in full account of the opportunities associated with climate change.  Chief among these are opportunities for Africa to shift to low-carbon and greener development.  Africa must further benefit optimallyfrom the provisions of a post-2012 global agreement in terms of technology, financing and capacity building for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Africa has so far succeeded in articulating its concerns and interests in a common position and conveying them to the international community in the ongoing climate change negotiations.  Although these negotiations were not concluded with a legally-binding agreement at the Fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the resulting Copenhagen Accord did mark some progress in the right direction, especially in terms of developed countries’ willingness to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and provide financial support for adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries.  As negotiations continue towards a hopeful conclusion at COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010, it is important that Africa keep the course of a united front in further refining and administrating its common position.

The Seventh African Development Forum (ADF-VII) is aimed at providing a multi-stakeholder platform to discuss and build consensus on the above imperatives. The Forum will offer an opportunity to exchange information, knowledge and experience on how best Africa can and should cope with climate change through effective action on policies, strategies, programmes and practices.  In addition, ADF-VII will help strengthen the African common position in the ongoing international negotiations, by raising awareness and building consensus among all African stakeholders and with its development partners on concerns and expectations for a post-2012 global climate agreement.