The ugly face of climate change

Climate change will result in water shortages, which will affect agriculture and industry, as well as raise conflict potential between riparian states. Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van S chalkwyk spoke at the recent Climate Change Summit.

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It’s widely accepted now that climate change will exacerbate environmental degradation, desertification, loss of biodiversity and resource scarcity in Africa. This could lead to more instability and conflict on the continent. River channels and basin watersheds demarcate almost 40% of Africa’s international borders, and most major rivers traverse national boundaries. Climate change will have a huge impact on these resources, which are already highly sensitive to even moderate reductions in rainfall. Some 75 million to 250 million people will be subject to water shortages.

In some African countries rain-fed agriculture could drop by up to 50% by 2020. Increased water scarcity will threaten the sustainability of hydro-electric power generation, irrigation, agricultural production, fish stocks, food security, transport and industry. It would also contribute to an increase in inter-communal and inter-state migrations and tensions.

Trans-boundary water resource management is therefore both a major challenge and a key opportunity in Africa. It is a vital element in reducing conflict potential, promoting regional integration, and enhancing peace-making by opening new avenues for dialogue. Lake Tanganyika provides up to 40% of animal protein for surrounding populations. Climate change is projected to reduce catches in the lake by 30%. Lake Victoria, which joins Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, supports a common economy for some 30 million people who depend on its water and fish.

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Previously, sinking water levels in the lake led to tensions with Uganda, which draws water into the Nile through hydro-electric turbines. This also concerns Egypt downstream, which has even placed inspectors along Uganda’s stretch of the Nile. Generally, post-colonial arrangements exacerbate the potential for conflict, and are not conducive to mitigating competition for water resources. Following the declaration of the Egyptian Republic in 1953, the 1959 Nile Basin Agreement preserved British colonial interests in Sudan, and neglected the roles of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda in governing trans-boundary Nile resources. As a result, Egypt and Sudan still dominate decision-making regarding the allocation of these resources.

Today, the bulk of the Nile’s flow goes to these two countries. Mitigating future conflict between riparian states will be complex. To understand the situation, we only have to think of the Jordan system, shared by Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan; the Tigres-Euphrates system, shared by Syria, Turkey and Iraq; or the Indus-Ganges- Brahmaputra systems, shared by India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. Though the impact of climate change on water resources may not be the sole cause of future conflict, it could ignite or exacerbate political, ethnic or military tensions.

It is therefore critical to design strong regional water regimes to manage the challenges of increased water scarcity, and, more specifically, to administer international rivers, watersheds and underground water resources. Fortunately, addressing the water policy challenges associated with climate change is high on the agenda of the Southern African Development Community (SADC ) and the African Ministers Council on Water.

These bodies play a key role in facilitating regional and international cooperation and in the coordination of trans-boundary water policies, including river and water basin governance, co-management of resources, adaptation strategies, strategic water infrastructure support, water security and the maintenance of African ecosystems.

Climate change was one of the issues addressed at a meeting of African Water Ministers in Brazzaville recently. Various approaches were considered to enhance African countries’ resilience and adaptability to the impacts of climate change. The results were a feather in the cap for our region: the SADC Protocol, a legally binding framework for the management of shared waters in the region; the SADC Water Policy; the SADC Water Strategy; and the establishment of seven river-basin organisations in the SADC .

Climate change and carbon trading
Climate change , however, also offers new opportunities. Africa needs to position itself to take advantage of these. For instance, the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CD M) makes it possible to trade emission reductions in international carbon markets. A huge carbon market is developing, but various barriers are preventing Africa from taking full advantage. In 2006 this market’s value was in the range of US billion, a three-fold increase from 2005.

Projectbased activities conducted through the CD M totalled nearly US billion in 2006. The voluntary market for reductions by corporations and individuals has grown to an estimated US0 million per year. However, while Asia continues to dominate the CD M market, Africa is hardly on the radar screen. China has supplied over 60% of emission reductions purchased by industrialised countries since 2002.

In contrast, Africa’s share is only 3%, with nearly half of that coming from South Africa. As for current projects in the CD M executive board’s pipeline, India leads with 600 projects, China follows with 400 and Brazil is next with 200. South Africa only has nine registered projects, with another 39 in the pipeline of South Africa’s Designated National Authority for the Clean Development Mechanism.

This market’s potential may keep growing beyond 2012. If developed countries took on higher emissions reduction targets, peaking by 2050 with required cuts of 60% to 80%, and if they purchased half their reductions in the developing world, at a price of at least US per ton, then the financial flow could grow to about US0 billion per year by mid-century.

Africa must start to position itself for this new low-carbon economy. It must raise awareness in both public and private stakeholders. It must identify and remove barriers, develop institutional capacities and technical expertise, and source projects to exploit this huge opportunity. Africa, and specifically SA , must be flexible and proactive in planning. We must continually integrate the latest scientific findings and practical experience into our long-term strategies. We must learn to expect the unexpected, asking how climate change will impact on our daily lives and how we can contribute to reducing emissions. Globally and locally, we must all act with a greater sense of urgency, and commit to doing more. – Glenneis Erasmus