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Last Updated: 08/06/2011
Climate Change and Socio-Economic Development in Africa
Oluwole AKIYODE and Adedeji DARAMOLA

The paper traces the predicament of climate change in Africa from the industrial era, through the 1950’s when African nations started regaining freedom from their colonial masters, to the present day of persistent socio-economic underdevelopment. It compares the greenhouse gases generated in Africa to the rest of the world and identifies through literatures the expected impacts of climate change in Africa.

Keywords: Climate change, Africa nations, impacts, poverty and socio-economic development.


Climate change is presently a dilemma that has put the policy makers, scientists, and governments in a state of anxiety. The climate change literatures have proposed various climate change impacts that are specific to different parts of Africa and suggested the consequences of climate change to include human insecurity, food insecurity, ecosystem destabilization, flood, erosion, economic impacts, the exacerbation of conflicts, etc. All of these possibilities would contribute negatively to the socio-economic development of Africa, which would in turn heighten the continent’s vulnerability to further climate change impacts.

Therefore, this paper outlines some of the literature to convey the consequences of climate change on Africa’s socio-economic development as a continent, taking into consideration the fact that climate change predicaments may not be the same for all the nations, and that each nation’s development and its antecedent differ.

Africa, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Recently, the African continent has been targeted by policy makers and researchers for the implementation of reforms and policies to ameliorate, mitigate, and adapt to climate change. Given the level of industrialization and development, however, Africa could be identified as the least responsible continent for the world greenhouse gases emissions, which is believed to be the main anthropogenic cause of climate change.

The industrial revolution increased the use of fossils fuels, which gave rise to the generation of carbon (IV) oxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. While industrialization has soared in developed countries, most Africa nations are still under developed and are struggling towards industrialization, except very few countries.

The prime time of industrialization was when most African countries regained their independence (around 1950 to 1970) from their colonial master but some of these countries plunged into conflict, poverty, irresponsible governance and instability which hinder their industrialization bids.

More recent figures show that the 25 countries with the largest GHGs emissions account for 83% of global emissions, of which USA, China, and India contribute 61%; the only Africa country in this group is South Africa with 1.2%, and other African countries are below 0.8% (Data for 2000 excluding international bunkers fuel and land use change and forestry, Baumark et. al., 2005).

The “Climate Change and Africa” report prepared by the African Partnership Forum and NEPAD secretariat extrapolated that the African continent accounts for less than 4% of the world total GHG emission (AFP/NEPAD, 2007). The emissions in Africa’s continent could be regarded as minima when compared to the emissions generated by the 25 countries with the largest GHGs emissions. It was also recorded that “[o]n average, each resident of sub-Saharan Africa produces less than a tonne of CO2 per year, as compared with an average European’s output of 8.2 tonnes of CO2 and the average North American’s of 19.9 tonnes” (World Bank, 2007 cited in Brown et al., 2007).

It is amusing that, even with the fact of their disproportionate GHGs emissions, the “[p]eople in rich world are increasingly concerned about emissions from developing countries. They tend to be less aware of their own place in global distribution of CO2 emissions” (UNDP, 2010).

Poverty is aggravated by insufficient energy generation in most African nations. Insufficient energy generation impedes industrial development, which is a key to socioeconomic development.

Poverty and Climate Change in Africa

Africa is enmeshed in poverty, a human tragedy which could be exacerbated by climate change impacts. Even though “[c]ountries have varying definitions of poverty, and comparisons can be difficult” (The World Bank, 2010), it is an important fact that, of the nearly three billion people living on the equivalent of US$ 2 a day or less, 500 million are in Africa, making up roughly three-quarters of the African population (ILO, undated).

The figures are even more startling for Sub-Saharan Africa. The poverty headcount ratio in 2005 at $1.25 a day (Purchasing Power Parity) for Sub-Saharan Africa was 50.9% while at $2 a day (Purchasing Power Parity) was 72.9% (The World Bank, 2010). This widespread poverty makes Africa disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of projected changes in climate because of limited adaptation capabilities (Watson et. al., 1997 cited in O’Brien and Leicheko 2002).

The extreme poverty and lack of access to other fuel makes 80% of the overall African population to rely on biomass to meet residential needs (Hall and Scarce, 2005 In Boko et. al., 2007). Nearly all rural households in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, for example, use woods for cooking, and over 90% of urban household use charcoal (IEA 2002, van Jarsveld et. al., 2005 cited Boko et al., 2007). Trees are felled down for fuel, exacerbating forest encroachments for other economic reasons in most African nations. This is counterproductive, since climate change reforms being advocated worldwide include sustainable forest management.

Most African countries appreciate sustainable environmental practices that will encourage economic development and environmental management, but many of them lack financial sustainability (UNEP, 2010). In this vein, since the 1990’s, developed nations continued to appreciate and embrace green technology and capacity enhancement leading to environmental sustainable practices as programmes with the intention of energy saving in every facets of their economy. In most African countries, green technology and capacity enhancement on sustainable practices are still inaccessible, mostly because of financial constraint.

Implications of Climate Change on the African Continent

Several writers have raised alarm at the potential implications of climate change on the African continent. These are discussed below in terms of agriculture and food security, health security, and state security.

Agriculture and Food Security

Scientific researches on climate change and its effect on agriculture or food security the world over have indicated a number of potential impacts of climate change on different parts of Africa. According to a recent key message from the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiators titled “Climate Change, Food Insecurities and Hunger”:

Climate change will act as a multiplier of existing threats to food security: By 2050, the risk of hunger is projected to increase by 10-20% and the child malnutrition is anticipated to be 20% higher compared to a no climate change scenario (WFP et. al., 2007, p. 2).

This is coupled with the understanding that two thirds of Africa is made up of dry lands considered highly vulnerable to climate variability, with droughts or floods recurring frequently (O’ Brien and Leichenko, 2000).

The projected impacts of climate change by 2100 in Africa include increases in temperature by 1.00C to 4.70C, reduced rainfall by -2 to -25%, increased evaporation up to 132% and reduced runoff up to 50% (Magadza 1996, Hulme, 1996 In Tumbo undated). This record shows that Africa agriculture may be worst hit in event of climate change since it is primarily rain-fed agriculture. It is noted that “[s]ubsistence rain-fed agriculture is the mainstay of most African economies contributing GDPs that range from 10% to 70% , while African agriculture has the slowest record of productivity increase in the world” (Mendelsohn et al, 2000 In UNDP, 2007, p. 5). Thus, if there is distortion by climate change and its variability, it will have corresponding effect on its socio-economic development.

Boko et al. (2007), in their contribution on the working group II to the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Africa, estimate that parts of the Sahara are likely to emerge as the most vulnerable with agricultural loses of between 2 and 7% GDP while West Africa 2 and 4% and the South 0.4 and 1.3% (Mendelsohn, Morrison, Schesinger and Andronova, 2000 cited in Boko et. al., 2007). The Sahel region is also expected to be vulnerable to climate change and its variability because of its location south of the Sahara desert where 60% of its population solely depends on agriculture, which contributes to 40% of the region’s GDP (Kadji, Verchot and Markensen 2006).

Effects on livestock are also envisioned in Africa. Seo and Mendelsohn (2006 a,b, cited in Boko et. al., 2007) shows that a warming of 2.50C would likely decrease income in livestock by 22% and warming of 50C would reduce income as much as 35%.

Health Security

The section analyzes the health security of African continent in line with the impending climate change implications because of its importance in the socio-economic development of every nation. Even though it is expedient not to generalize issues that are not duly proven, some writers on climate change have implicated it in the spread of diseases.

Health implication of climate change is essential in Africa where control of diseases has been awkward in some nations because of poverty prevalence, inadequate health facilities, availability of few health practitioners and maladministration. Health insecurity in these places may be exasperated by climate change impacts.

In the same vein the IPCC assessment on transmission of diseases concluded that in:

[…] areas with limited or deteriorating public health infrastructure, and where temperatures now or in the future are permissive of disease transmission, an increase in temperatures (along with adequate rainfall) will cause certain vector-borne diseases (including malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis) to extend to higher altitudes [medium/high confidence] and higher latitudes [medium/low confidence]. Higher temperatures, in combination with conducive patterns of rainfall and surface water, will prolong transmission seasons in some endemic locations [medium/high confidence]. In other locations, climate change will decrease transmission via reductions in rainfall or temperatures that are too high for transmission [medium/low confidence] (van Lieshout et. al. 2004, p. 87).

The IPCC further states that in the above situations, the actual health impacts of changes in potential disease transmission will be strongly determined by the effectiveness of the public health system (van Lieshout et. al. 2004).

Jonathan et. al. (2005), in their review on impacts of climate change on human health, posit that there is growing evidence to attribute expansion or resurgence of diseases to climate change because of growing contributory evidence.

Malaria is endemic in Africa continent as it is tagged the disease of the tropical and poor countries. Malaria has been shown to slow economic growth in low-income African countries creating an ever-widening gap in prosperity between malaria-endemic and malaria-free countries (Sachs and Malaney 2002 cited in UNDP, 2007), and has been blamed for approximately 85% of all occurring deaths in the continent (van Lieshout et. al. 2004). With the high economic costs of malaria in Africa, it is expected that an increase in malaria incidence and prevalence could lead to an increase in poverty (UNDP, 2007).

The World Health Organisation has estimated that warming and precipitation as a result of anthropogenic climate change over the past 30 years may have led to the death of 150,000 annually and that “[m]any prevalent human diseases are linked to climate fluctuations, from cardiovascular mortality and respiratory illness due to heat waves, to altered transmission or of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failure” (Jonathan et. al., 2005). In the same vein Kadji et. al. (2006) posited that climate change may lead to malnutrition, infectious diseases and diarrhea.

State Stability and Security

The stability and security of each nation contributes to the socio-economic development of the region where the state is located and invariably the continent. The functioning of each state depends on its people and resources. Therefore, unfavourable impacts on the people and resources will affect state functioning.

When food insecurity, drought, diseases, and poverty are exasperated by climate change or climate variability, state and regional stability must also be affected. Internal instability in a nation or region will have impact on its socioeconomic development of the nation.

Climate change has also been suggested to have a contributory effect on natural disasters being witnessed around the world in this new age. This idea of environmental change or resource leading to conflicts has been an object of debate by scholars for some time now. This is because it has not been empirically proved. Scholars that are against the theory linking climate change to insecurity of the States argue that most of the case studies are selected on dependent variable and are unspecified (Buckland, 2007).

This paper agrees with Buckland (2007, p. 4) in the paper “A Climate of War? Stopping the Securitisation of Global Climate” that “[e]venthough the expectation are unsubstantiated, it does not, of course, immediate follow that climate change will not lead to any conflict at all”. Buckland (2007, p.4) cites Raleigh and Urdah, (2007) further who posit that “some dire climate change scenarios could result in some instances of conflict” This paper hangs on Raleigh and Urdah statement above to support the idea that the linkage between climate change and insecurity should be given proper consideration.

In the Sudan-Dafur conflict, a United Nations Environment Programme report (UNEP, 2007 cited in Brown et. al., 2007) suggests that the conflict has been driven in part by climate change and environmental degradation. This is because desertification increases the pressure on land and water resources (resource scarcity), exacerbating historical enmity on religious or racial grounds, and forcing people to migrate into areas historically settled by others (Fukuda-Parr et. al., 2008). Thus, even though climate change may not be the direct cause of conflict, its contributory role must be understood and avoided.


As a recommendation, this paper supports the poverty alleviation procedures initiated by state and non-state actors in different parts of Africa. It is important, however, that all amelioration, mitigation, and adaptation processes be fashioned in line with the needs and realities of locals, as well as the norms of international policy and promise of sustainable technology. This will allow for the designing of a workable indigenous climate change policy and ensure that reforms that will be acceptable to the people and in harmony with international policy.


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Oluwole Akiyode holds a Bachelor degree in Biochemistry from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, Master in Environmental Management from the University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria and Master of Arts (MA) in Environmental Security from the University of Peace, San Jose, Costa Rica. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute for Environment Research & Development (IERD), Ota, Nigeria.

Adedeji Daramola is a professional Architect with a multi-disciplinary doctoral degree specializing in Housing. He is an Associate Professor of Architecture and the Head of the Department of Architecture, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Nigeria.