An African perspective on the latest UNEP Adaptation Gap Report

Gathering Storm: An African perspective

This article provides an African perspective on the latest UNEP Adaptation Gap Report, aptly called ‘the Gathering Storm’, 2021.

The findings of the 2021 UNEP Adaptation Gap report are another reminder of the wisdom in the African proverb that says: “there are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree”.  In short, climate deterioration far outpaces global efforts to adapt.

The science is clear and leaves no space to doubt: the cumulative effect of all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments will likely result in a 2.7°C global warming. Even if we manage to achieve the best-case scenario and stay within 1.5°C, some impacts of climate change are already irreversible and will be with us for many decades to come. This requires much more elevated global action and concrete support to the developing world to adapt to the devastating consequences of climate change.

Especially for Africa, a region with a low socioeconomic base and has contributed least to climate change but is already disproportionately vulnerable to the changing climate. The report findings bring more bad news at many vital levels for the continent’s development, including social,  economic and political stability. 

The report paints a gloomy horizon and calls for urgent action to avoid a worse scenario. More actions are needed to overcome the already existing challenges that continue to be exacerbated by climate change.  From food security, where already 257 million people still go to bed hungry every day, to nutritional security, over 60 million children are malnourished. To this painful situation, we add the 12 million young people joining a weak labour market every year looking for a decent and stable job.

This current situation calls for an appreciation of two fundamental realities. First, we must appreciate that Africa is not a single statistic data point. Each of the 54 countries has diverse socio-cultural realities with common threads of adaptation opportunities. In addition, the informal sector dominates economies across the continent, with up to 80% of economic players operating outside structured economic sectors. Second, tying any adaptation opportunity requires a realization that the primary driver of Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability is a low socioeconomic base. Therefore, enhancing the majority's economic participation stands out as a formidable strategy to actualizing meaningful adaptation in the continent.

Doing so calls for the prioritization of some critical levers, which would move the talk to action and make climate adaptation work for communities and economies bearing the brunt of climate change.

This would begin with complementing Adaptation with Mitigation. Article 7.1 of the Paris Climate Change Agreement is a stark reminder that to be adequate, the level of adaptation efforts must be at pace with the damage caused by emissions. Adaptation actions need a firm focus on enhancing ecological resilience and unlocking tangible income opportunities for communities. And for this to occur, mitigation needs to be a complementary activity undertaken simultaneously.

While over 90% of African countries have ratified their NDCs, an estimated 70% have not translated these NDCs into concrete plans that are attractive for implementation investments. It is a missed opportunity because it will be hard for African countries to attract investment for climate change without robust investment plans. So far, Africa and other developing regions need more than $70 billion to adapt to the changing climate.

In our work, we consider this step critical, and we work closely with African countries to support them transform their NDCs into investment plans to attract partners and financial resources.

Africa needs to build on its strengths, including its youth, who form 60% of the population. Another is the informal sector that engages up to 80% of the population. This will entail a symbiotic approach that guides young people to retool their skills and deliver mitigation solutions that enable agricultural informal sector actors to adapt to the changing climate.

In addition, African governments need to leverage their local governance structures and use them used effectively. Across the continent, local governance structures trusted by communities offer an effective conduit for upscaling adaptation. For example, in the Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, EBA and clean energy solutions have been taken up within the local governance structures.

Another lever is data for policy. Africa does not lack in pro- Adaptation policies. The more significant gap is in a lack of implementation of policy provisions already in place. African countries need to prioritise feedback mechanisms to uptake data on adaptation approaches that have proven workable with ground implementers.

This year's UNEP Adaptation Gap Report is an urgent reminder that Africa cannot afford to mortgage its future based on promises alone. Africa needs to intensify its implementation ambition by engaging all economic and social actors and building on its available assets.
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Dr Richard Munang is a Climate Action and Development Policy Expert, Renowned Inspirational Public Speaker, Award-Winning Innovator, Author of #InnovativeVolunteerism


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