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IPCC’s AR5 and Africa: Adaptation will bring benefits

The fourth in the series sheds light on the IPCC findings that, in the light of the fact that climate change has the tendency to amplify existing stress on agricultural systems particularly in semi-arid environments, adaptation will bring immediate benefits and reduce the impacts of the phenomenon.


Rajendra Pachauri, head of IPCC
Rajendra Pachauri, head of IPCC

In a world that is 4°C warmer, the current cropping areas of crops such as maize, millet and sorghum across Africa could become unviable.The adaptation challenges of a world that is 4°C warmer are not limited to agriculture, but extend to other critical sectors such as livestock, fisheries, tourism, health, water and energy.

Health is an area of particular risk in Africa’s changing climate. Already, people over much of the continent have insufficient access to safe water, good sanitation and adequate healthcare. The IPCC finds that because of this, climate change will exacerbate vulnerability to vector and water-borne diseases.For example, more floods in areas with poor sanitation and inadequate waste management will spread disease. Warmer nights and days will allow disease-carrying insects to spread to new latitudes.

The considerable threats could undermine the progress that African countries have made in tackling disease, malnutrition and early deaths in past decades, together with gains in improving agricultural productivity. Adaptation can reduce these risks and bring immediate benefits.

It is important to recognise that, even if global society ceased to emit greenhouse gases today, further warming is inevitable in the next few decades. Adaptation is the only effective option to manage the inevitable impacts of climate change that mitigation cannot reduce. The IPCC describes adaptation as “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects”.Through adaptation, societies and communities can seek to moderate the harm of current and future climate risks or to take advantage of new opportunities.

Adaptation brings benefits both today and in the future. For example, Africa has much to gain from adaptation actions like disaster risk reduction and social protection that reduce the impacts of warming that are already being felt, and from building resilience around critical sectors such as water, energy and agriculture. The IPCC emphasises that integrating adaptation into planning and decision-making can create many synergies with development.

Effective adaptation strategies can, and should, strengthen livelihoods, enhance wellbeing and human security, and reduce poverty today. ‘No regrets’ or ‘low regrets’ measures such as increasing access to information and resources, improving health services, diversifying cropping systems, strengthening access to land, credit and other resources for poor and marginalised groups and making water and land management and governance more effective are good for development, irrespective of changes in climate.

Even with significant resource and institutional investment on adaptation, for the most vulnerable there may be residual risks to food security, access to water, health and human security. In the long term, there may be limits to adaptation and the only way to reduce these risks is through global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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