Africa in Climate Change

Africa in Climate Change


Africa in Climate Change

May 2, 2008
by Barbara Unmüßig and Stefan Cramer
by Barbara Unmüßig and Stefan Cramer

download the complete paper (first published in GIGA Focus Afrika Edition 2/2008)

At the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2007 in Bali, a new phase in the international climate negotiations was initiated. African countries will now be excluded
from all commitments to emission reduction. They expect massive international financial transfers from further negotiations in order to be able to adapt to the severe impacts
of climate change.


Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agree: no continent will be struck as severely by climate change as Africa. They add “that the continent will be particularly vulnerable (…) because the capacity to adapt to climate change is limited considerably by widespread poverty” (Hulme et al. 2001).

  • Africa’s interests were hardly noticeable in the world climate negotiations in December 2007 in Bali.

  • Scientific findings on climate change and their implications for Africa are only gradually attracting the attention of political decision-makers and civil society.

  • African heads of state admitted recently that the consequences of climate change increasingly need to be put onto the national and international agenda – and in Bali
    they demanded a large share of the funds made available for adaptation to climate change.

  • A climate-based African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) could be a coordinating instrument for an effective, consistent, and cross-border policy on climate protection.

1.  Africa’s Contribution to Climate Change

The African people and African ecosystems with their unique biodiversity will be the major victims of global climate change. At the same time, no significant contribution by Africa to global warming can be established: less than three percent of the world’s total emissions of greenhouse gases emanate from the African continent. This does not even correspond to its low share in the global gross national product.

1.1 Technical Emissions
Africa’s contribution to climate change from fossil energy and transport sources in the global context is only worth a foot note:

  • Africa’s CO2 emissions, predominantly from the energy and transport industries, amount to approximately 650 million tons per annum – even less than Germany, which emits approximately 800 tons of CO2. The main sources are power generation from coal in South Africa (approx. 350 million tons) and gas flaring in the Niger Delta (approx. 100 million tons).

  • The annual per capita emissions of CO2 in sub-Saharan Africa (2004) are put at approximately one ton (UNDP 2007). As a comparison, in Germany alone the number is approximately ten times as high.

  • These CO2 emissions are, however, unequally distributed. The largest share (approx. 95 percent) of Africa’s total CO2 emissions emanates from only 15 countries, which emit over 10 million tons respectively. Among them are the OPEC members Nigeria and Angola, as well as the primarily agrarian economies of Ethiopia, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast.

  • The majority of African countries emit only minimal quantities of 0.1-0.3 tons of CO2 per inhabitant.

The low CO2 emissions from technical sources are a direct result of Africa’s low level of industrial development. Therefore, no meaningful CO2 reduction or energy efficiency targets can be formulated here.The only exceptions are the termination of gas flaring in Nigeria and Angola, as well as the reorientation of power generation in South Africa to energy sources which emit less CO2 than coal.

1.2 Emissions Resulting from Deforestation
The small amount of CO2 emissions from technical sources contrasts with the larger net emissions of CO2 which result from rapid deforestation. This is true for the twelve densely wooded countries of equatorial Africa, whose corresponding annual (2005) emissions are estimated at approximately 1.1 billion tons (FAO 2007; UNDP 2007). The stock of CO2 stored by African forests amounts to approximately 60 billion tons, about as much as that of all OECD countries put together, including densely wooded members such as Russia and the US. A higher quantity of CO2 is only stored in the forests of the Amazon Basin.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa’s forests shrink at the alarming rate of approximately one percent per annum (FAO 2007). Other studies assume rapid economic overexploitation and the quick thinning of forests for firewood (Achard et al. 2002). The biomass stored in the forests is decreasing – and thus the emissions of CO2 from forests are increasing – a disastrous development for both Africa and the global climate.

At the climate change conference in Bali, the issues of deforestation and forest conservation came back onto the agenda of international climate policy. The world has now realized that a coherent climate strategy is impossible without an end to global deforestation. Rain forests are on the one hand a huge storehouse for atmospheric carbon. On the other hand, deforestation sets free huge quantities of CO2. With proper protection of the African forests, the continents’ emissions would be compensated for many times over and, additionally, an important contribution to the fixation of carbon in forests at the global level would be made.  (read on...)

Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.

Barbara Unmüßig

From 1996 to 2001, Barbara Unmüßig chaired the supervisory board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was elected president of the foundation in May 2002. Her numerous contributions to periodicals and books have covered international trade and finance, international environmental issues, and gender policy.


Add new comment

Add new comment