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UNDP: ‘Climate change is pushing Africa to a tipping point, threatening economic and development gains’


UNDP launches report at Poland climate talks calling on nations and world leaders to accelerate and mainstream climate actions across Africa to meet Paris Agreement targets

13 December 2018, Poland – Climate change threatens a decade of strong economic growth and social gains across Africa, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The report was launched in coordination with the Africa Adaptation Initiative at this year’s climate talks in Poland, which have brought leaders from across the globe to build momentum to reach the goals outlined in the historic Paris Agreement.

“Africa is at a tipping point. Nations across the continent have achieved impressive economic, political and social growth in recent decades. Yet, there are still high disparities between the rich and poor. Poverty, while reduced, remains a serious issue in many countries. And climate change, droughts, floods, changing rainfall patterns and conflict have the potential to unravel efforts to reduce hunger and achieve the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary-General and Director, UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa.

The report looks at case studies from national climate change adaptation efforts supported by UNDP across Africa for the last 15 years with the financial backing of donor bodies such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“Least developed countries in Africa are among the most vulnerable to climate change, yet the least able to adapt. In many cases, they lack the technical, financial and institutional capacity to identify the best ways to build resilience,” said Gustavo Fonseca, Director of Programs, Global Environment Facility.  "With around US$1.3 billion of voluntary contributions from donors, the Global Environment Facility Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF-LDCF) holds the largest portfolio of adaptation projects in the Least Developed Countries.  The majority of that funding goes to Africa, where most LDCs are located."

While initial climate change adaptation initiatives show good potential for economic viability, livelihood enhancement and vulnerability reduction in Africa, the report finds long-term sustainability will depend on the prevailing levels of poverty, the wider context of policies and regulations, access to markets and financial services, as well as government capacity to provide continuous technical support to communities.

"Make no doubt about it, climate change is one of the largest risk multipliers for the people, environment and stability of the continent," Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Secretary-General and Director, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. "In our global economy, these risks need to be addressed urgently with transformative climate investments that will mainstream and accelerate pilot climate actions to create real, lasting impact for the millions of people across the continent whose lives and livelihoods are at risk."

Tipping points

If the world is not able to reach global targets to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees, the nations of Africa could reach a "tipping point," according to the report authors, where exponentially increased challenges and threats would arise from higher temperatures.

These tipping points have the potential to create new famines and undermine global efforts to end poverty and hunger by 2030. In turn, high levels of poverty and low levels of human development limit the capacity of poor people to manage climate risks, according to the report, placing further stress on already overstretched coping mechanisms that will perpetuate poverty traps.

Taken together, this raises the potential for an increase in eco-migrants, more catastrophic disease outbreaks (such as the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which took over 10,000 lives), and increased instability.

For the first time in over a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting 11 percent of the global population, according to recent estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In 2017, crop destruction from the Fall Armyworm, strong droughts induced by an abnormally strong El Niño cycle, and a rise in conflict in places such as Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan, were the chief culprits in a serious rise in food insecurity. At the peak of the El Niño crisis from 2014 to 2016, some 40 million people in Africa required emergency assistance. This number dropped to around 26 million in 2017, according to the report.

“Taking reactive approaches to food security and disaster recovery costs the people of Africa billions of dollars in lost GDP, and syphons off government resources that should be dedicated to education, social programmes, healthcare, business development and employment," said Eziakonwa.

The true costs of adaptation

According to the report, recent studies indicate it is likely the true costs of adaptation will be substantially higher than originally projected, and will require creative financial mechanisms and substantial engagement with the private sector to meet.

"Taken from a global level, this means that leaders need to make good on the US$100 billion promise for climate finance, but will also need to engage the private sector, and think about creative financial modalities like blended finance and green bonds to fill this gap," said Eziakonwa.

"Building resilience for vulnerable communities cannot be an afterthought. For Africa to succeed in reaching the bold commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement and other international accords, its leaders will need to step up efforts to protect its forests, scale up the renewable energy revolution, transform agricultural production, and build climate-smart cities and infrastructure," said Eziakonwa.

Smart investments

According to the report’s case studies, there have been a number of noteworthy successes in climate change adaptation in Africa over the past decade, and recent adaptation programming has increasingly focused on larger and more programmatic initiatives that address multiple sectoral entry points and makes better use of partnerships.

The case studies indicate progress across a number of signature deliverables outlined in UNDP’s new four-year Strategic Plan.

  • UNDP-supported projects improved food security in places like Benin, Mali, Niger and Sudan.
  • Farmers across the continent acquired climate resilient seeds and farming techniques to improve productivity and protect against changing climate conditions.
  • National governments improved climate information and early warning systems to save lives from fast-acting storms and improve evidence-based decision making
  • Communities built new protections from natural disasters such as wildfires and sea-level rise
  •  Projects empowered women to be more effective agents of climate action
  • Salaries increased, productivity jumped and new jobs were created on and off the farm.
  • Local and national governments created unique measures to set the enabling environments needed to achieve Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement with specialized support to build medium- and long-term plans for climate change through joint programmes with FAO and UN Environment.

Accelerating toward Paris

Building on the lessons learned from over a decade pioneering adaptation in Africa, a new generation of climate change adaptation initiatives are coming on board with support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the chief global fund established to service the Paris Agreement, as well as other vertical funds, multilateral development banks and bilateral donors.

GCF-financed climate change adaptation projects supported through the UNDP are now underway in the sub-Saharan African region in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia. To support UNDP’s signature solution for effective, inclusive and accountable governance, GCF-financed National Adaptation Plans projects were recently approved for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Niger.

“Under this vision for mainstreamed and accelerated climate actions across the continent, UNDP is working as a broker to connect the United Nations Development System to improve baseline resilience to climate variability,” said Eziakonwa. “This will require transformational system-wide changes across the UN system, governments, the private sector and society as a whole. It’s a monumental task that requires people from across the globe to come together to rise to the monumental challenges presented by climate change.”

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UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in nearly 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.