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Climate Change II

Africa’s climate and development future

Can a common African position on using climate investments to build resilience improve the continent’s outlook?

By Dhesigen Naidoo and Manisha Gulati

Climate change-related scarcity, poverty and weak rule of law could exacerbate socio-economic and political instability in Africa. Climate investments can help meet some of the continent’s socio-economic needs. Still, a just transition is needed to ensure that redistribution of wealth and social well-being are at the forefront of development. This policy brief recommends a common African position on using climate investments to build resilience and encourages multi-faceted and multi-actor engagement.


Africa faces considerable challenges regarding both development and climate change. At the same time, the continent is massively wealthy when it comes to the resources needed for a just transformation to renewable energy, both for itself and for the world. And its potential for economic development to benefit all its people is substantial. Stakeholders need to ensure the two work hand in hand in order for Africa to capitalise on its inherent power.

Building resilience in a changing climate

The African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 has established an ambitious strategy for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive and sustainable development. Agenda 2063 is aimed at being Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming the continent into a global powerhouse of the future.

A recent review notes that despite challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, implementation of Agenda 2063 continued, with significant achievements over 2019. The review also notes that there is a positive upward trend for most of Agenda 2063’s 20 goals for the continent as a whole, with an overall score of 51% against the 2021 targets compared to the 32% score registered in 2019. The report highlights the need to bridge infrastructure gaps, accelerate industrialisation, increase agricultural productivity, and create climate-resilient economies.

Climate resilience underpins the sustainable realisation of Agenda 2063. The African Development Bank (AfDB) calls climate change an existential challenge to Africa’s development. The International Monetary Fund notes that one-third of the world’s droughts occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and the frequency of storms and floods is growing fastest in this region relative to other regions of the world.

Africa is incurring disproportionately higher negative impacts from climate change. This is partly because of the increased intensity and frequency of climate change-induced hazards, high dependency on natural resources, and low levels of readiness to adapt to climatic shocks resulting from insufficient and inadequate infrastructure, basic services, and governance systems.

In addition, the manner in which climate change-related stressors interact with economic, social, environmental and political factors plays a big role. The impacts interact and sometimes reinforce each other, magnifying the cumulative effect.

Climate change intensifies many of Africa’s existing challenges. Chief among these is the degradation of natural resources in the context of population growth and mobility through internal displacement, voluntary movement, food insecurity, humanitarian disasters, water stress and livelihoods. Most sectors that livelihoods and development efforts focus on are climate-sensitive, including agriculture, tourism, energy and water resources.

Where climate change-driven scarcity interacts with non-climate-related drivers such as inequitable distribution and poor management of resources, poverty, resource scarcity, and weak rule of law, it can fuel socio-economic and political instability and lead to more conflict.

Besides affecting the prospects of human capital development, it has adverse impacts on inclusive growth in the long term. The limited resilience and low adaptive capacity of African countries to the negative impacts of climate change are already resulting in lower growth and development. AfDB, United Nations (UN) Environment Programme and UN Economic Commission analysis for Africa shows lower GDP per capita growth ranging, on average, from 10% to 13%, with Africa’s poorest countries displaying the highest climate adaptation deficit.

Not only is climate change itself derailing Africa’s development, but there is also a danger that responses, African and global, to climate change put the realisation of Agenda 2063 at risk. The Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) own work under its African Futures and Innovation (AFI) programme shows that just as development elsewhere in the world has increased carbon emissions, Africa will be similar. With its burgeoning population and huge demands for improved livelihoods, and better prospects especially through Agenda 2063, the continent will increase its carbon contribution.

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About the authors

Dhesigen Naidoo is a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies, and World Bank senior adviser and climate adaptation lead to the South African Presidential Climate Commission.

Manisha Gulati is a senior research consultant at the Institute for Security Studies, and also works as an independent adviser on a portfolio of themes around climate change and sustainable development.


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