Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Environment for Africa’s Growth


Climate change is a hotly debated topic in the United States, which refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty over concern about its impact on economic activity. Scientists, politicians and pundits debate endlessly about what is happening and why it’s happening. However, in Africa, climate change is a reality and not a debating topic.

According to the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the pace and scale of climate change may exceed even the most dire predictions previously recorded. Sea levels are now feared to possibly rise up to two meters by the turn of the next century. Hydrological cycles could be drastically changed, negatively affecting regional climates and spreading dry lands north and south of the equator. Africa is almost an exact mirror of these predictions, only earlier than for much of the rest of the world.

The islands that comprise the nation of Seychelles stand to lose up to 60% of their land due to the rise of the Indian Ocean in coming years, perhaps sooner than anticipated. A paper done by the Center for Global Development lists 12 African countries among 25 cities most likely to be exposed to significant storm surges due to sea rise caused by climate change. African cities such as Lagos, Monrovia, Luanda, Dakar and Abidjan may be partly submerged or at least find their beaches encroaching on the urban landscape.

Changes in rain patterns have so gradually caused water shortages that some still think they’re dealing with poor rains. However, the traditional 10-year drought cycles in East Africa, for example, shortened to seven years in the 1970s, then five years in the 1980s, two to three years during the 1990s and now just about every year since 2000. It isn’t poor rains; it’s climate change, and it is affecting livelihoods in Africa observed for centuries.

Africans are particularly dependent on agriculture, with about 70% of Africans involved in that sector. Crop yields will decline due to lack of water and desertification. Prices for the most important agricultural crops such as rice, maize and soy beans will increase. Rising feed prices will lead to higher meat prices and lower rates of meat consumption. At the end of the day, the calorie intake of Africans will wane, increasing malnutrition. This all starts with climate change.

Some don’t think many corporations have a vested interest in being environmentally conscious. Of course, there have long been “green” companies that have been known to engage in recycling, cleaning waste water before dumping it and other environmentally friendly practices, but is this attitude more widespread now? For the last decade, the Corporate Council on Africa has promoted environmental consciousness in its activities and events. In 1999, CCA leadership worked with the Clinton Administration on promoting corporate compliance with the United Nations Convention on Desertification. That UN compact called on countries to devise a plan to deal with encroaching deserts in African and other developing countries in conjunction with the private sector.

The 2009 CCA Summit agenda is replete with environmentally related forums. They range from safe water to renewable energy to natural resource development and management to climate change and carbon trading. CCA remains involved in bringing environmental issues before its members. Hopefully, this is resulting in more eco-friendly operations on the continent.

You always hear about the proper investment environment in Africa, but if water is at a premium, if the desert shrinks agricultural land and if cities and entire countries are threatened by the rising seas, there will be no successful business climate in Africa. It is, therefore, in the interest of business for corporations to take an interest in helping Africa address its climate change challenges.

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