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Africa: Battle with climate change should start with getting data

It’s well-known that its contribution to the world’s emissions is low, and that despite this Africa will be disproportionately and severely affected by climate change. One reason – the region has the least data concerning its effects on its physical surroundings.

Historically, Africa’s contribution to anthropogenic emissions that exacerbate global warming is minor – about 3 percent – due to the low level of industrial activity on the continent.

Yet despite its small contribution to climate change, experts say Africa will be severely affected by climate change because it has the least capacity – in terms of adequate information, awareness, preparedness, technology, financial resources and freedom from other stresses – to adapt to its effects.

And in Africa, these issues gain new complexity.

The climatic effects of climate change in Africa become more complicated with both warming effects and rainfall variations differing depending on the sub-region. This is partly due to the geographic variability of Africa’s land mass – including sub-tropical and tropical climactic areas.

Along with careful agriculture, creating forests through afforestation and reforestation create carbon sinks which mitigate climate change. The abundant land mass and large areas of past deforestation plus the availability of cheap labor, low land rents and a faster growth rate for trees will allow for a shorter rotation time for achieving maximum accumulation of carbon.

But while agriculture in Africa may help mitigate carbon emissions, this same sector will be negatively impacted by the effect of climate change. Agriculture is strongly weather and climate dependent and Africa’s agriculture sector is dominated by small-scale subsistence farmers – the sector is extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events or even just changes in seasonal weather patterns.

This in turn will have devastating effects on the many – often marginal or low-income – families involved in agriculture.

Of concern as well is what climate change could do to African health sector. The African populations will be hard pressed to cope with the spread of climate-related vector and water-borne infections, possible food shortages and increased frequency and intensity if storms, floods and droughts.

African scientific community called upon to work together

In a joint statement in Lagos, Nigeria, fifteen science academies in Africa called on the African scientific community to intensify studies of the impact of climate change, noting that Africa’s contribution to the body of knowledge on this phenomenon has been meager to date.

Their statement was presented at the eighth annual conference of the African Science Academies in cooperation with the African Science Academy Development Initiative.

Planning to respond effectively to climate change requires that present and future climate conditions be described as accurately as possible. But there is currently a disturbing lack of climate data at both the local and regional scale.

According to the statement, one result of this is that Africa has not effectively been able to participate in setting the agenda in the global debate, nor benefitted adequately from available global opportunities for addressing climate change.

Because of its vulnerability to climate change impacts, Africa has much to gain if its scientists could agree to work to improve on activities that yield both mitigation and adaption benefits. This would require a filling in of the gaps in knowledge about the effects of climate change so that future scenarios can be effectively modeled.

Extensive, systematic observation and monitoring of climate events is needed to fill these knowledge gaps. Effective reporting of these observations will also serve to elevate the African voice internationally in climate change debates and negotiation.

The statement calls for science academies to lead in the development of climate change mitigation efforts and play a role in convincing their countries in the need for these efforts. Scientists should also work with their national and local governments in these efforts. – EcoSeed Staff

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