By Fabíola Ortiz
That was the message that resonated at the international scientific conference “Our common future with climate change”, held this month in the French capital, which will host the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change.
The summit, which will take place from November 30 to December 11, must forge a universal and binding agreement to prevent the Earth's global temperature from exceeding two degrees Celsius.
Africa is already feeling the effects of global warming on a daily basis, according to South African Penny Urquhart, an independent specialist and one of the authors of the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Projections suggest that the temperature on that continent will exceed two degrees by 2100, and that at the land level there will be a faster increase than on a global scale. Scientific evaluations also agree that Africa will increasingly suffer the effects of this phenomenon suffering extreme weather events that will increase in frequency, intensity and duration.
"Most of the sub-Saharan African countries have a high degree of climate vulnerability," Urquhart told IPS. "Over the years, people have been good at adapting to these variations, but what we see is an increase in the risks linked to climate change, as they become more and more pressing," he said.
The systems to monitor the data are still not good and scarce, but "we do know that there is an increase in temperature," he added. If the average global temperature rises two degrees by the end of this century, the impact will feel as if they have risen by four in southern Africa, the IPCC member warned.
Vulnerability to climate variation depends a lot on the context and people's exposure to its consequences, according to the South African specialist, so it is difficult to estimate how many people will be affected by global warming on this continent.
But the IPCC notes that of the 800 million people estimated to live in Africa, more than 300 million suffer from water scarcity, and that by 2050, the number of those who will be at risk of greater water stress will be around 350 million and the 600 million people.
In some areas, Urquart said, it is not easy to predict what will happen to the rain. "In the Horn of Africa region, observations appear to show decreased rainfall, but models predict increased rainfall."
There were extreme weather events along the western coast of the continent, while in Mozambique there was an increase in cyclones, causing flooding. "That is the sum of trends that we see," he explained. "Droughts mainly in the west and increased rainfall in East Africa," he added.
For Edith Ofwana, a program specialist at the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC), one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate variation in Africa is agriculture, the backbone of most African economies, which may have a direct negative impact on food safety.
“The biggest challenge is how to work with communities not only to cope with short-term shocks, but to adapt and become resilient as time goes by. We must come up with practical solutions that are affordable and built on the knowledge of communities, ”he explained.
Specialists agree that any measure to address climate change must respond to social needs, especially when severe weather events could uproot entire communities, forcing families to emigrate in search of better opportunities.
"That phenomenon created what is already called‘ climate migrants, ’" said Ofwona.
Climate change could exacerbate social conflicts, which are exacerbated by other issues such as competition for resources and land degradation.
According to the IDRC expert, “it is necessary to consider the multi-causal nature of poverty on people's livelihoods; while the richest will be able to adapt, the poorest will have difficulties ”, he observed.
Ofwana noted that the key is to combine scientific evidence with what the affected communities themselves know, and make it affordable and sustainable.
"It is important to link science to society, and to be practical so that it can change lives and face the challenges that people face, especially in regard to food security," he said.
In Africa, awareness of climate change is "quite high," he said. Some countries have already defined their own climate policies and strategies, and others have strategies for low-carbon, green growth and sustainable development.
Ofwana underlined the fundamental role that African nations play in creating an adequate environmental policy, adding that they must be protagonists in the fight against climate change and not just passive recipients of international assistance.
African governments must contribute part of the funds necessary to implement adaptation and mitigation projects, and while “we can take some of the international funds, at a certain point we must contribute our own resources. Although there is great awareness about it, the commitment is not equally high, "he added.
Edited by Phil Harris /
Translated by Verónica Firme