There is general agreement that Africa, moving forward, will warm at a rate greater than the global annual mean; projections for the continent show a median temperature increase of between 3°C and 4°C by the end of the century (Christensen et al., 2007). The impacts of this temperature increase for West Africa are unclear, a result of the limited understanding experts have for the natural processes that drive the region’s climate, including the movement of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, the occurrence of the West African monsoon, and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (Conway, 2009). Gaps in regional climate observations (due to an underdeveloped meteorological system in Africa), limited regional modeling of West Africa’s climate, and a limited capacity to provide accurate, high resolution projections for the region compound these challenges (Boko et al., 2007; ECOWAS-SWAC/OECD, 2008; SWAC, 2009).
The impact of climate change on regional precipitation patterns is unclear; however, there is broad expectation that the African continent will become drier (Conway, 2009) and of the potential for a greater number of extremely dry and wet years in the Sahel region throughout this century, and for more severe droughts (Boko et al., 2007). The impact climate change will have on other extreme weather events (tropical cyclones, storm surges) is unclear. Sea levels along the coast of West Africa could also rise by between 0.13 to 0.56 meters over the course of the century (Meehl et al., 2007: 813; McSweeney, New & Lizcano, 2008).
West Africa’s vulnerability to climate change stems from: a high regional reliance on climate-sensitive economic activities such as rain-fed agriculture, livestock rearing, fisheries and forestry; the presence of large population clusters (approximately 40 percent of the regional population) in coastal urban areas (Boko et al., 2007); the low capacity of region’s social and ecological systems to cope with climatic extremes; and existing strains on ecosystem services due to processes such as loss of productivity and deforestation. As such, climate change is broadly expected to adversely affect West Africa’s future development.
On a sectoral basis, the impacts of climate change in West Africa could include:
- Freshwater – Projections of how climate change will affect fresh water resources in West Africa are still highly uncertain, and future availability will be strongly influenced by a number of factors including population growth, migration and agricultural development (deWit and Stankiewicz, 2006). As less than half of the population of West African countries has access to a clean drinking water (Afouda et al., 2007), many communities in the region have a low capacity to cope with the additional water stress that may arise due to climate change.
- Agriculture – Agriculture generates 25 to 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in most West African countries, and employs between 50 to 90 percent of the population. Changes in seasonality, intensity and amount of rainfall could compromise agricultural production in the region, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projecting a reduction in the cropping season of more than 20 percent could occur in the Sahel and Sudano-Sahelian ecological zones by 2050 (SWAC, 2009).
- Pastoralism – Pastoralism plays an important role in the economies of many West African countries. Altered temperature, precipitation and extreme event patterns could to lead to the outbreak of climate-related animal diseases (Garba, 2010). Pastoralists may also need to change their migratory patterns, as they have done in the past in response to climatic extremes (SWAC, 2009).
- Fisheries – Fisheries are central to food security and an important source of revenue and employment for coastal West African countries. Changes in sea temperatures and currents could impact the productivity and position of key fisheries (Boko et al, 2007).
- Coastal zones – the coastal areas of West Africa support rich fisheries, agriculture, coastal tourism, oil and gas industries, and transportation corridors. Rising sea levels could damage coastal infrastructure, lead to flooding and the intrusion of saltwater into low-lying areas, and the loss of coastal agriculture due to soil salinization and inundation (Boko et al., 2007).
- Human health – the health systems of many West African countries are weak, and could face additional pressures due to changes in the distribution of water- and vector-borne diseases resulting from climate change. Conversely, a large part of the region is expected to become unsuitable for malaria transmission (Boko et al., 2007).
Identified adaptation needs and priorities
West African countries have identified a number of different actions that could be undertaken in key sectors to reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. These actions include:
- Freshwater – construction of infrastructure to collect, supply and store water; promotion of integrated water resources management; improvement and stabilization of watershed management; protection of aquifers and reservoir sites; dissemination of drip irrigation technologies; and capacity building to understand surface water cycles (CVMEA, 2007; GMEST, 2000; MMRDE, 2008; NNECSD, 2006; NMEFRN, 2003).
- Agriculture – diversification and intensification of agricultural production; diversification of cultivars; improvement of pest and disease forecasting and control; promotion of small-scale irrigation schemes; changes to the timing of cultivation in response to changing patterns of rainfall; and improvement of food alert systems (CMEEF, 2010; EPAL, 2008; GMEST, 2000; GMRN, 2006; GOTG, 2007; MMET, 2007).
- Pastoralism and Livestock Production – improvement of livestock and rangeland management; introduction of fodder crop species in pastoral areas; re-organization of livestock breeding; and creation of Livestock Food Banks (GOTG, 2007; NNECSD, 2006; SMEPN, 2006; SMEPN, 2010).
- Fisheries – modernization of artisanal fishing; expansion of aquaculture; conservation of post-harvest fishery products; regulation of fishing practices to prevent overexploitation; development of fishery-related database; protection of riversides and restoration of silted-up ponds; promotion of sustainable fish farming; and formulation of a national fishing policy (CVMEA, 2007; GOTG, 2007; EPAL, 2008; NNECSD, 2006; SMEPN, 2006; SMEPN, 2010).
- Forestry – expansion of community participation in the management of forests and protected areas; implementation of management plans for community forests; improvement of fire management and prevention; reforestation for energy production; and promotion of agroforestry (GMAEEEF, 2007; GOTG, 2007; MMRDE, 2008; SMEPN, 2006; SMEPN, 2010).
- Coastal zones – Rehabilitation and construction of infrastructures for protection of coastal zones; introduction of mangrove oyster farming; protection of spawning grounds in estuaries; improvement of coastal-areas erosion monitoring; protection and restoration of mangroves; construction of flooding infrastructure; and improvement of land planning in coastal towns (CVMEA, 2007; GMAEEEF, 2007; GMRN, 2006; MMRDE, 2008; SMEPN, 2006; SMEPN, 2010).
- Human health – expansion of capacity building for health workers; promotion of hygiene and sanitation; implementation of community health education programs; improvement of alert systems for extreme weather conditions; and improvement of public sanitation and water supply (CMEEF, 2010; EPAL, 2008; MMET, 2007; NNECSD, 2006; NMEFRN, 2003)
- Meteorological Services and Climate Forecasting – need to strengthen national and regional information systems to improve agro-meteorological services, early warning systems and long term forecasts, and build capacity to anticipate, prevent and manage natural disasters (Sarr, 2010b).
Source: Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action: West Africa. Contributing Authors: Caroline De Vit (ÉcoRessources Consultants), Jo-Ellen Parry (International Institute for Sustainable Development), 2011.