Climate change adaptation should be Africa’s priority

Saturday December 10 2022
Climate activists protest during the COP27

Climate activists protest during the COP27 climate conference in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 17, 2022. PHOTO | AHMAD GHARABLI | AFP


The annual UN climate talks in Egypt last month were a breakthrough for the developing world. For the first time, participants agreed to create a “loss and damage fund” to compensate poor countries for the harm caused by global warming.

The idea that rich countries should compensate poorer ones for a problem created by the industrialised world is not new. The tiny island state of Vanuatu first mooted such a scheme in 1991. But the clamour for climate reparations has grown louder as devastation has swept around the world.

Climate change is wrecking the lives of more and more people. In Africa alone, 52 million people – four per cent of the population – have suffered either drought or floods over the past two years, deeply affecting their livelihoods, according to the State and Trends in Adaptation in Africa 2022 report. After four failed rainy seasons, 37 million people today face starvation in the Horn of Africa.

Earlier this year, one-third of Pakistan – an area larger than of Uganda – was under water and half a million people were homeless after torrential monsoon rains. Island states such as the Maldives and Vanuatu risk disappearing altogether under rising seas caused by the melting of polar ice caps. Their calls for climate justice are both urgent and irrefutable.

Climate finance

But compensation is not enough. A fund to pay for loss and damage is essential, but it is not the whole solution. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, climate justice should mean both handing over the $100 billion a year in climate finance promised to the developing countries back in 2009 and doubling the flow of finance for climate adaptation.


It is adapting to climate change that should be Africa’s priority. First, the damage inflicted by climate change is already happening and will only get worse. Second, because adapting to climate change and building resilience will speed the development of African economies. Investing to harness technology will create jobs for young people. It will provide long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes for successive waves of climate disasters. And last, preparing countries well for climate change means there will be fewer loss and damage claims in the future.

Widescale, effective adaptation

For a country like Kenya, widescale, effective adaptation makes the country less vulnerable to climate shocks, reduces poverty and provides new opportunities for economic growth. But right now, despite well-articulated strategies to fight climate change, Kenya’s farms, water, tourism and wildlife are dangerously exposed to global warming. Climate disasters are costing 2-2.8 per cent of its gross domestic product yearly, dramatically undermining economic growth. Today, Kenya invests about Ksh243 billion ($2.4 billion) a year in climate action. That’s a huge effort for a developing country.

But it is only one-third of what is needed to combat the damage being caused by global warming. And data shows that most climate finance is going into renewable energy. Yes, this is important to reduce carbon emissions, but it doesn’t address the urgent need for agriculture, forestry, transport and water management to adapt to climate change.

Closing the funding gap

Across the continent, the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) estimates that countries need to invest another $41 billion a year to adapt effectively to climate change.

That’s almost four times the $11.4 billion invested in adaptation projects in 2019-20. This means two things: African countries need to become savvier at accessing climate finance and need a much stronger portfolio of climate-adaptation projects that qualify for funding. Today, a bold initiative to build resilience and close the funding gap, the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Programme (AAAP) initiated by the Global Centre on Adaptation and African Development Bank is under way. It has been endorsed by the African Union and plans to mobilise $25 billion for climate adaptation on the continent by 2025.

The GCA supports African countries and financing institutions by bringing the best knowledge, science and solutions for adaptation projects on the ground through the AAAP Upstream Financing Facility.

In Kenya, GCA works with the University of Nairobi on adaptation solutions for transport, power, information technology and water infrastructure.

Enrich local knowledge

The focus is not only on the design of climate-resilient infrastructure but also on developing partnerships that will enrich local knowledge, increase trade, drive economic growth and deliver jobs for young people.

The GCA is also working with Senegalese financial institutions to unlock $1 billion in global climate finance for investments in food security, resilient infrastructure, jobs and entrepreneurship. In Côte d’Ivoire, the GCA is helping the government identify adaptation projects that could be funded from the proceeds of an upcoming Sustainable Sovereign Bond issue.

Africa is the continent hardest hit by climate change. It is also where effective large-scale climate adaptation promises to deliver the greatest lifesaving and life-changing benefits. But the time to act is now. As President William Ruto has said, “Africa can lead the world” in climate action.

Patrick Verkooijen is the chief executive of the Global Centre on Adaptation