The International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is the highest scientific body on climate change that provides perhaps the best scientific insight and overview on climate change, variability and vulnerability in the world. The IPCC reviews a considerable body of studies and draws on some of the best experts in the world to help understand trends and project future implications of these trends.
The IPCC’s challenge has never been the science but convincing politicians that we must all do something about climate change.
Following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the IPCC was requested to conduct a special review of a world under a 1.5 ºC temperature increase scenario. This report was released last year. Some findings are very clear: global warming in the past two decades saw 18 years as having the warmest temperatures since temperature records were first kept in 1850. Europe is experiencing another extreme heat wave.
Greenhouse-gas emissions have increased unabated, contributing to the global temperature increasing by 1 ºC and there is likely going to be a greater temperature increase of up to 1.5 ºC between 2030 and 2050 if the emissions trajectory does not come down substantially.
The truth is that radical reductions in emissions are unlikely in the medium term and a further increase in temperature will exacerbate the extreme weather patterns that are already being experienced across the globe.
Ordinary citizens experience the effects of global warming in anecdotal ways and scientific measures of long-run trends confirm the lived experiences of climate change.
I travel to Scandinavia each year for personal reasons and have noticed an increase in heat waves in that part of the world. Denmark has had a decrease in rainfall in the past few years, and this has impacted on groundwater sources. The Scandinavians love a warmer summer but changes to agroecological production systems will have to be thought through, requiring both technological and institutional adaptation.
Denmark is a rich country, with generous public and private resources to speed up the process of climate adaptation, and has better institutional and social foundations to deal with these challenges, given its homogeneity and greater political awareness of climate change. In Africa, the effects of extreme weather are already being felt, including droughts, flash floods and devastating cyclones like Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi recently.
The countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are the least-developed countries (LDCs) in Africa. These economies are highly dependent on natural resources for food production and the harvesting of food from nature. Many of these countries already have weak agricultural support systems, owing to years of neglect and the effects of structural adjustments. These weaknesses will deepen vulnerability as the foundations for good adaptation are predetermined by having robust agricultural systems that are functional. Food production and access in Africa will increasingly have to be better coordinated, and predictive methods will have to improve.
According to the African Development Bank, Africa imports about $35-billion worth of food a year, yet it has one of the world’s most uncultivated lands, which can make the continent both food secure and self-sufficient. Many of the areas where food production can be increased – such as the central belt – require peace, political stability, infrastructure and modernisation of the existing agricultural systems to attract increased agricultural investment.
At national level, States will have to plan five years ahead, rather than wait for the promise of a good harvest each year, only to have a lean harvest. Subsistence farmers who are caught in the underdevelopment trap of continued low production but hope to be more self-reliant cannot do so without the support of new knowledge, technology and diversification of their food production systems.
The new investments will take place in the context of greater climate uncertainty.
Climate change is also inducing conflicts and economic disenchantment in a variety of ways. In northern Nigeria, pastoralists are moving down south, coming into conflict with subsistence crop farmers. In places where there are no other economic alternatives or where States have poor governance and are effectively failed States, climate change will cause displacement and migration to other areas or to cities.
The abandonment of agriculture also means that, in the long term, countries lose tacit knowledge and experience in the agriculture sector.
Some studies show that climate change effects are causing the abandonment of farms or farming as a livelihood. Climate change is shifting the economics of farming, as farmers have to spend more to deal with vulnerability or, if they cannot adapt, be subjected to decision-making and farming choices under deep uncertainty. Climate change variability can cause African farmers to become the new precariat, given how vital agriculture is for livelihoods, jobs and the future vitality of African economies.
To address these problems several things need to be done, including:•
Better coordination between national and regional governments is needed to support demand- and supply-side measures in the agriculture sector.
• International experience, combined with increased investments in the agriculture sector, needs to extend beyond large-scale agricultural production to include small-scale farming, given the importance of small-scale farming to many LDCs in Africa.•
Far more attention will have to be given to the adaptation of farming practices, including the introduction of genetically enhanced crops, research into more climate-resilient alternative food crops and improved use of information and communication technologies to improve farm crop monitoring and access to knowledge.•
Small-scale farmers cannot solely rely on farming for cash and will have to look into other forms of income diversification to improve farming and livelihood resilience.