Africa’s Green Shoots

TUNIS – Typhoon Haiyan, which has so ravaged the Philippines, reminds us how vulnerable parts of the world are to the vagaries of weather. Although climate change is not believed to have caused the typhoon, similar levels of devastation will become commonplace if nothing is done to slow the warming of the planet.

Time is running out. In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that the warming of the global climate system is “unequivocal,” and that the influence of human activity is “clear.” At current rates of change, the world is unlikely to be able to prevent global temperatures rising by more than the IPCC’s target of 2°C by the end of this century.

Decision-makers at the United Nations Warsaw Climate Change Conference this month must therefore send a clear signal to governments around the world that future growth must be environmentally sustainable. They should also affirm that financing this transformation is best achieved by bringing together public- and private-sector investors. The changes the world needs will cost no more in the long run than if we carry on as usual – and may save our planet.

If a sign of things to come were needed, one would do well to look at Africa, which is already highly vulnerable to climate variability. Further volatility could be ruinous. Two-thirds of the continent is desert or drylands, and three-quarters of its agricultural drylands are significantly degraded. The Sahara Desert is expanding: Lake Chad, for example, is now one-tenth of its size a half-century ago. The worst conditions are in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, where drought and famine have left more than one million children at risk of severe malnutrition.