The pandemic has created the opportunity for a “great reset” of Africa’s economies. As Foresight Africa 2021 highlights, Africa needs bold action for an economic revival from the COVID-induced estimated 3 to 5.4 percent contraction in GDP and the devastating increase in the number of extreme poor by about 40 million.

Experts predict climate change-induced disasters will get even worse

Climate change continues its calamitous trend; the destruction facing Africa has not stopped during the pandemic. The 2020 floods in East Africa affected well over a million people, and the Nile River hit its highest levels in half a century. The worst locust outbreak in 25 years, caused by unusual weather conditions, left about one million people food insecure in the Horn of Africa. In the long term, Africa could see its GDP decrease by up to 30 percent by 2050 due to climate change.

A recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) report analyzed the updated climate action plans from 75 nations and found that the policies stated will not come close to the Paris Agreement goals. In fact, the combined impact would  achieve less than a 1 percent reduction of emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated that to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature goal, this drop should be around 45 percent.

In addition to high levels of return, well-designed adaptation and resilience programs can rapidly generate the jobs needed for post-pandemic recovery.

Furthermore, the consequences for Africa facing a 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase scenario and a 4 degrees Celsius one are quite different, as demonstrated by the World Bank’s report Turn Down the Heat. For example, under a 2 degrees Celsius warming, about 15 percent of the land will see unprecedented heat extremes by 2040. Under a 4 degrees Celsius warming, the percentage increases to 55 percent of the land by that time, making large swaths of Africa uninhabitable. Experts predict that the likely risk of severe drought in southern and central Africa under 2 degrees Celsius warming will become extreme in the 4 degrees Celsius scenario. Between these two scenarios, the growth of hyper-arid and arid regions changes from 3 percent to 10 percent. Preventing these outcomes requires decisive global action: Even at 1.5-2 degrees Celsius warming, adaptation and resilience are indispensable for responding to climate impacts felt today and what is yet to come.

Economic consequences of climate change in Africa

African countries with challenging fiscal positions and high debt levels can ill afford the costs of climate shocks. For example, the recent Cyclone Idai of March 2019 affected more than 1.5 million people in Mozambique. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in the affected areas rose to 79 percent, up from 64 percent, and real GDP growth decreased from an estimated 4.7 percent to 2.4 percent. Moreover, a catastrophe risk modeling study estimated that the country faces average annual losses of about $440 million due to floods alone. Mozambique is not alone in Africa. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will be slower and more expensive if African societies do not mainstream adaptation and resilience in all economic activities. Given the rapid pace of urbanization on the continent and the specific climate risks of urban areas, the need to combat these effects is more urgent than ever.

Adaptation and resilience are not only about avoiding future losses

At the recent Dialogue on the Africa Covid-Climate Emergency, close to 30 heads of state from Africa and G-7 countries called for decisive action for a resilient recovery. They emphasized that this crisis can be an opportunity to create jobs and support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for climate adaptation action, recover lost time toward achievement of the SDGs, and reduce negative impacts on livelihoods. The Global Center on Adaptation indicates in its 2020 State and Trends in Adaptation report that an investment of $800 million in developing countries in climate adaptation programs would result in benefits of $3 billion to $16 billion per year.

Policy recommendations

In addition to high levels of return, well-designed adaptation and resilience programs can rapidly generate the jobs needed for post-pandemic recovery. Some practical policy and program actions that policymakers in Africa can take to strengthen climate resilience as part of economic recovery plans include:

  1. Given the current fiscal constraints, implementing modular replicable projects that are labor-intensive and support ’ establishment and growth should be a top priority. There are many climate resilience projects of this kind—from mangrove plantation and landscape restoration to water storage and drainage rehabilitation. Digital agriculture and weather services, climate information platforms, and related digital services are also ideal opportunities for SMEs equipped with high-level skills.
  2. Water security must be at the core of an Africa that is better adapted and resilient to climate change. Right now, only 27 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa uses a safely managed drinking water service. Irrigation covers only 7 percent of the total cultivated area. The land-based weather observation network is in disarray with only 22 percent of stations meeting reporting requirements, down from 57 percent in 2011. Action on adaptation and resilience in the water sector is another prime candidate for job and SME creation.
  3. Emerging technologies are critical for accelerated adaptation. For example, the region needs to leverage entrepreneurs willing to test and apply new technologies at scale and traditional technologies used in a disruptive manner. Climate data and information systems, digital agriculture, and mobile money for climate-adapted social protection systems are examples of disruptive technologies ready for replication across the region.
  4. As Foresight Africa 2021 emphasizes, the region needs new ways of encouraging government-citizen engagement for effective climate adaptation and resilience. Open, effective, and transparent channels of two-way communication are required to increase understanding and awareness of climate risks, enhance preparedness and response to climate disasters, and modify behaviors for a more resilient future.

Climate disasters will continue to drag the economy and livelihoods on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. A focus on climate adaptation and resilience programs as part of the recovery can have a triple benefit. They can support fast economic recovery through targeted modular climate-resilient investments; they can help with job and SME creation; and they can set the foundation for avoided economic losses countries can ill afford in the future.