Tony Nyong argues that the impact of climate change on the environment should not be neglected as natural systems provide the foundation for many livelihoods.
The author is based in the Centre for Environmental Resources and Hazards Research, Department of Geography and Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Jos, Nigeria.
Africa’s social and economic development is now in even more danger because climate change threatens to undermine the integrity of the continent’s rich but fragile ecosystems. These natural systems provide the foundation to most countries’ economies, and form the base upon which the majority of the population derives its livelihoods. Africa contains about 20 per cent of all known species of plants, mammals and birds, as well as one sixth of amphibian and reptile species.
Biodiversity in Africa, which principally occurs outside formally conserved areas, is under threat from climate change and other stresses. Savannahs, tropical forests, coral reef marine habitats, freshwater habitats, wetlands and East African montane ecosystems are all at risk.
Poor people in Africa, especially those living in marginal environments and in areas with low agricultural productivity, depend directly on genetic, species and ecosystem diversity to support their way of life. As a result of this dependency, any impact that climate change has on natural systems will threaten the livelihoods, food intake and health of the population.
With the extinction of plant species used in traditional medicines in Africa, it is expected that climate change will affect people’s ability to cope with illness. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s population in developing countries relies on these plants for primary health care. In Mali, traditional medicines have declined because many medicinal plants have been wiped out by constant drought. Livelihoods built for generations on particular patterns of farming may also quickly become unviable.
If left unaddressed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that climate change will place an additional 80 to 120 million people at risk of hunger. Some 70 to 80 per cent of these will be in Africa. With increasing temperatures and extreme weather events, climate change will further erode the quality of the natural resource base, thereby reinforcing conditions of poverty.
Tony Nyong, Centre for Environmental Resources and Hazards Research, Department of Geography and Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Jos, PMB 2084, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. Email: email@example.com. Web: 126.96.36.199/ACADEMICS/Environmental/main.htm.
On the Web
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary presents a listing of theme sites on climate change on Africa.