African Opportunities, Global Benefits

NEW YORK – The global economic recession has translated into a development crisis for Africa, which is revealing the continent’s vulnerability not only to economic contraction but also to climate change. Changing weather patterns are already affecting the lives of millions of Africans by reducing food security, facilitating the spread of diseases like malaria, and prompting mass migration. The livelihoods and lives of millions of people are at risk.

Paradoxically, this crisis also presents a unique opportunity for Africa. The urgency of efforts to address climate change is revealing interesting prospects on the mitigation side, particularly in the areas of renewable energy and low-carbon growth. There is a real possibility to steer countries toward a new development model that will benefit not only Africa, but also the world.

In the meantime, adaptation to climate change is critical. For Africa this means “weather proofing” development by increasing food yields, investing in climate-resilient crops and infrastructure, promoting rainwater harvesting, and expanding medical control measures in anticipation of an increase in vector-borne diseases. Africa needs additional resources, over and above existing aid commitments, to adapt to climate change.

Financing adaptation to climate will be a formidable challenge, particularly as it involves additional costs above traditional development assistance – at a time when foreign-aid budgets are under pressure. Estimates of the amounts needed by developing countries to help them adapt to these challenges vary between $50 and $100 billion per year. This is why British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s proposal to create a fund for climate change is so welcome.