In Pictures: How Africa Is Using Nature to Adapt to Climate Change

Human Wrongs Watch

29 September 2021 (UNEP)* — Despite being responsible for only around 3 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, experts say that Africa will be the region hardest hit by climate change.


Credit: UNEP / GEF / Aidan Dockery

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest major report, the continent is warming faster than the global average, which is likely to bring devastating impacts, from extreme rainfall to drought to coastal flooding.

In the years to come, preparing for the impacts of climate change, known as climate change adaptation, will be key for African nations. Adaptation – reducing countries’ and communities’ vulnerability to climate change by increasing their ability to absorb impacts and remain resilient – is a key pillar of the Paris Agreement.

UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2020 found that while nations have advanced in planning and implementation adaptation projects, huge gaps remain, especially in finance for developing countries.

One approach to adaptation is rapidly gaining traction: nature-based solutions. These draw on the systems of the natural world to overcome the challenges wrought by climate change – and their benefits can be huge. For example, protecting forests and mangroves alone could prevent $500 billion in yearly climate-related losses.

This week, leaders are gathering online for Africa Climate Week 2021, where they will explore challenges and opportunities for tackling the climate crisis. To mark the occasion, we take a look at how eight communities in Africa are using nature-based solutions to adapt to a changing world.

Creating natural seawalls in the Seychelles

Victorin Laboudallon, a grandfather and local celebrity from the Seychelles is planting forests to tackle climate change. The Seychelles, a nation of 115 islands off the east coast of Africa, is vulnerable to rising sea levels but mangrove forests provide natural seawalls that act as a buffer against flooding and storms.

“If the mangroves are gone, the nation of Seychelles will be gone,” says Laboudallon. After retiring from a long career in environmental conservation, Laboudallon created his own organization of volunteers to help reforest his country. Laughing, he explains how his surname means “friend of the mud” in his local creole language.

Guarding against drought in Madagascar

A woman harvests rice.
Credit: UNEP / GEF / Lisa Murray

In the Vatovavy Fitovinany region of Madagascar, erratic rains and droughts have led to sharply declining rice harvests. With support from the government and the Global Environment Facility, Vivienne Rakotoarisoa (pictured) and her family adapted by switching to livelihoods that are more drought resilient.

For instance, rambo – or grey sedge – is a drought-tolerant aquatic plant, highly popular as a weaving material. Rakotoarisoa says shifting to rambo cultivation has provided a more stable income for her family in a changing climate.

Restoring mountain slopes in Comoros

Women and children carry branches and twigs.
Credit: UNEP / GEF / Hannah McNeish

Women and children carry branches and twigs down from the forests on top of Anjouan Island, Comoros. Rising temperatures and deforestation are drying out the soil in the area, turning forests into deserts.

To counter that, the government is helping communities plant 1.4 million trees in watershed habitats. The trees trap moisture in the ground and prevent erosion on farmland by binding the soil, helping to foster food security.

Building the Great Green Wall in Djibouti

A man inspects a tree nursery in the rapidly drying north.
Credit: UNEP / GEF / Hannah McNeish

A representative from Djibouti’s environment ministry inspects a tree nursery in the rapidly drying north. Djibouti is one of many African countries involved in the Great Green Wall of Africa, an ambitious plan to restore ecosystems along the southern frontier of the Sahara.

The initiative is designed to prevent the spread of the desert and the consequent destruction of water supplies and livelihoods. Once completed, the Great Green Wall is expected to be the largest living structure on the planet, and aims to create 10 million jobs in rural areas by 2030.

Planting spekboom in South Africa

A restoration project
Credit: Anthony Mills

In the Eastern Cape, South Africa, the government embarked on a vast ecological experiment to restore huge swaths of degraded land by planting spekboom, an indigenous plant. Spekboom increases water infiltration in the ground, boosting groundwater supplies and reducing flooding.

The plant also absorbs carbon dioxide faster than most other trees in dry conditions. Anthony Mills, CEO of AfriCarbon, says that new green jobs have been created through the restoration, which began in 2008.

“We are hoping that spekboom thicket restoration can be a flagship pioneering programme for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration,” he said. The UN Decade on Restoration, launched in June this year, is a global call to action to restore the world’s ecosystems.

Halting deforestation in Malawi

A man picks tea.
Credit: Georgina Avlonitis

Malawi is Africa’s third-largest tea producer but dwindling productivity, a consequence of climate change, has forced smallholder tea farmers to take up logging. This makes tea farming even more difficult.

The felling of trees speeds erosion, removes an important buffer from floods and deprives farmers of the pollinating power of insects.

The Malawi Tea Landscapes Adaptation Project is helping local residents to restore forests and train in professions, like beekeeping or crafting, that are less damaging than logging.

Creating green jobs in the Gambia

A woman surveys her crops in a community garden.
Credit: UNEP / GCF / Hannah McNeish

In the increasingly dry north east of the Gambia, a woman surveys her crops in a community garden. Droughts, erratic rains and rising temperatures combined with deforestation have fed desertification here.

Nearly 4 per cent of the country’s population left the Gambia and entered Europe through the Mediterranean Sea between 2009 and 2019, the highest rate of any African country. But now, one of the largest development projects in the history of the Gambia is aiming to restore over 10,000 hectares of land and improve water security.

Lamin Dibba, the Gambia’s Minister of Environment, says he hopes the project will not only support farmers, but also generate 25,000 green jobs to help provide local opportunities for the young men who risk their lives on the perilous journey to Europe.

Recognizing indigenous peoples in Tanzania

A group of Maasai.
Credit: UNDP Tanzania, Small Grants Programme Tanzania

The Tanzanian government has been working with indigenous communities to protect biodiversity and adapt to climate change in the Kiteto District, home to many ethnic groups, including the semi-nomadic Maasai.

Here, prolonged droughts and higher temperatures have triggered crop failures and food shortages since the 1990s. In July 2020, indigenous and community leaders from Olengapa received certificates of legal occupancy for their sacred sites and cattle grazing areas, which has helped to solve conflicts over land and natural resources.

The same project planted an indigenous grass species, buffelgrass, to increase the climate resilience of local pastures, as the plant is more acclimatized to the increasing aridity of the rangeland. The project is a partnership with the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme.

UNEP is at the forefront of efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, of keeping the global temperature rise to below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To this end, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution to cutting emissions.

The solution provides a roadmap to how emissions can be reduced across sectors in order to meet the annual 29-32 gigaton reduction needed to limit temperature rise.

The six sectors identified are agriculture and food; forests and land use; buildings and cities; transport; energy; and cities.


2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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