The bank for a changing world

Climate change: stimulating effective adaptation programs in Africa

  • 01.12.2017

Today it is no longer a question of whether or not anthropogenic global warming is a reality, but rather a question of how we adapt. As part of its Climate Initiative program, the BNP Paribas Foundation supports the project "Africa less vulnerable". Its goal ? Modelling extreme climate change events in Africa and their effects to help populations reduce their exposure to these phenomena.

Global warming: how can Africa adapt?

What adaptation strategies will make us less vulnerable to the warming of the planet? What are the most effective responses and solutions? The cross-disciplinary team of researchers led by Friederike Otto of Oxford University (UK) and Mark New of the University of Cape Town (South Africa) seeks to answer these questions in the case of countries in Africa.

Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to global warming”, explains Mark New, Director of the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI). More than other regions, arid and semi-arid regions are increasingly susceptible to extreme climate and weather events, such as droughts and floods. But Africa’s vulnerability is further exacerbated by what is known as the “adaptation deficit”: people and their assets are often not well-adapted to climate risks. This deficit can be large in Africa, due to range of factors, including rapid socioeconomic changes, poor development planning, and frail management systems.

“ Vulnerability to climate change is contingent on the risk of extreme weather events occurring, but also on the sensitivity of the exposed area, ie: whether or not human activities are adapted to the local context. We want to understand the influence of these two components and, more importantly, come up with tangible solutions to reduce the vulnerability of African countries in the future. ”

Mark New

University of Cape Town

Risk and sensitivity

The study first sets out to distinguish the influence of climate change from the influence of humans on the local environment. Drawing on new methodologies from the emerging science of extreme event attribution, the goal is to determine the extent to which climate change influences the frequency and severity of droughts and flooding. “Droughts are becoming increasingly frequent in South Africa, with the methodologies developed in Oxford and building on climate modelling expertise from Oxford and UCT, we can now attribute the impact of increasing greenhouse gases on this kind of event”, explains Fredi Otto.

In addition to modelling climate risks, the team will research the impact of various human activities on the vulnerability of this region, and how these activities influence the severity of the impacts of droughts and floods. “To do this we are drawing on the 20 years of research we’ve been doing on South African rivers. We want to see how ground-level responses can diminish the propensity to be affected by extreme climate events”, adds Mark New. 

We want to see how ground-level responses can diminish the propensity to be affected by extreme climate events.

The human activities in question include farming methods, water management systems and flood mitigation infrastructure. These are factors that condition what is known as the sensitivity or the susceptibility of a region to climate events.

Real-world models

The team will ultimately quantify the impact of the two components of vulnerability: increasing greenhouse gases and human responses. “We can now run our models to explore different types of risk factors, covering both greenhouse gas emissions and local societal activities”, explains the South African geographer. 

While it is difficult to influence greenhouse gas emissions, it is possible to choose how we adapt on the ground. The project therefore seeks to assess the effectiveness of different kinds of responses with a view to reduce the sensitivity of African countries to climate change. Thanks to partners including departments of agricultures, national water agencies and development agencies and banks, these results should prompt tangible and effective adaptation programs for the future.

Photos ©Synergos Institute/Flickr - NASA Johnson/Flickr - Mariusz Kluzniak/Flickr - UNICEF Ethiopia/Flickr - World Bank

Read more

Give us your feedback Complete our survey