May 30, 2019

What climate change means for Africa

Habitats and ecosystems in Africa are currently under threat from a variety of stresses such as deforestation, land degradation and heavy dependence on biomass for energy. In sub-Saharan Africa over 80 percent of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking (United Nations, 2007). Climate change is likely to be an additional stress factor (Figures 1 and 2).

The key vulnerable sectors identified by IPCC (2007b) include agriculture, food and water. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to suffer the most not only in terms of reduced agricultural productivity and increased water insecurity, but also in increased exposure to coastal flooding and extreme climatic events, and increased risks to human health.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by a number of non-climatic factors, including endemic poverty, hunger, high prevalence of disease, chronic conflicts, low levels of development and low adaptive capacity. The average income per capita in most African countries is lower now than it was 30 years ago. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that has had negative annual growth of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), –1 percent between 1975 and 1999, compared with 6 percent for East Asia and the Pacific and 2.3 percent for South Asia. One-third of the people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from chronic hunger (FAO, 2007). Four in ten people are infected with HIV/AIDS in some African countries (UNDP, 2007). The costs associated with health spending and losses in labour and productivity are greatest in some of the poorest countries; these losses amount to about 5 percent of GDP, or some US$28.4 billion annually, in sub-Saharan Africa (UNDP, 2006). Of the 25 countries in Africa that faced food emergencies in 2003, ten are currently experiencing civil strife and four are emerging from conflicts. Conflicts often divert scarce resources into military budgets and away from development needs, and result in high numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees.

Other non-climatic factors adding to Africa’s vulnerability include heavy dependence on primary products; fast-growing population, leading to pressure on already degraded landscapes; poor governance and weak institutions; low capital investment; lack of access to foreign markets; poor infrastructure; inadequate technology transfer; and continuing high levels of external debt despite debt forgiveness programmes of recent years.


  1. Abe
    8 October, 2021

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    • Mary Ndirangu
      9 October, 2021

      “Wow, thanks so much.”

    • Mary Ndirangu
      9 October, 2021

      “Thanks – that means a lot.”

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