Fall 2023

Africa's Climate Crisis

– Clément Gibon

Unveiling challenges, seizing opportunities, and embracing technology to provide climate leadership for the continent—and the world.

The first rays of sunshine slip through dense palm leaves, lighting up the face of Thomas Nampe Moyo, a 40-year-old farmer from the town of Anna, on the outskirts of Côte d’Ivoire’s capital. For more than a decade, Moyo has been growing manioc, a root vegetable crop essential to support his three children. In recent years, however, his lush paradise has turned into a fierce struggle for survival as the challenges of an increasingly unpredictable climate persist.

Thomas Nampe Moyo, a 40-year-old farmer from Côte d’Ivoire, is part of a program to help farmers overcome the challenges wrought by a changing climate. Photo by Mohamed Aly Diabaté. Courtesy IOM.

For Moyo, memories abound of days gone by, when the seasons bestowed flourishing manioc crops. Time has altered the symphony of the seasons and the once reliable rhythm has weakened, giving way to unpredictable rains that disturb former serene dry periods which now include  untimely downpours. Erratic climatic fluctuations, formerly a rarity, now cast a shadow over Moyo’s life, where the tuber cops often decay.

“Over the years, my production has dropped drastically. My yield of manioc per hectare has been halved,” Moyo said. “Other farmers in the village face the same challenges as I do—and are also forced to turn to other crops.”

In addition to the unpredictable weather, village farmers are contending with an increase in crop-destroying insects, and a decrease in fish to catch. To meet his challenges, Moyo joined a peri-urban farm program set up by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) last February that helped him cope with climate disruptions. Through the program, Moyo made a strategic shift in his agricultural practices, opting to cultivate shorter-duration crops instead of crops like manioc, which require a nine-month growth period and are highly susceptible to weather variations.

Photo by Mohamed Aly Diabaté. Courtesy IOM.

“Today, I'm learning to adapt to market gardening, organic farming, and permaculture—which allows me to continue working the land,” Moyo said with pride, showing off his lush new plots of lettuce, spinach, and cucumber. “These short-lived crops make it possible to juggle with the mood swings of the climate.”

The Disproportionate Impact of Climate Change

The Côte d’Ivoire is not the only country experiencing the harsh realities of climate change. Africa as a whole is particularly vulnerable to its effects, with the continent facing warming at a rate between 1991 and 2021 that is higher than the global average. This has made Africa one of the continents most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“The current state of climate in Africa is indeed a grave concern as the continent grapples with a myriad of climate-related challenges that have far-reaching consequences for the environment and the socio-economic well-being of its population,” said Dr. Ernest Asi Afiesimama, a Nigerian environmental and climate scientist at the World Meteorological Organization.

With one of the fastest-growing populations in the world, the lack of electricity access could escalate into an even more critical concern for the continent's sustainable development, and climate resilience.

Dr. Afiesimama noted the increase in  rainfall throughout numerous countries, along with the increased risk for severe flooding and erosion, especially in the western part of the continent. There are also prolonged periods of scorching heatwaves and droughts, which pose a significant threat to the already delicate ecological equilibrium.

Extreme weather events have been particularly deadly this year, with Cyclone Freddy claiming more than 1,000 lives in Malawi last March and flooding in Congo that claimed 400 lives in May. For its part, North Africa experienced extreme heat waves this summer, with excessive temperatures leading to forest fires and loss of life in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. And in September, Libya was struck by the destructive force of Storm Daniel. At the time of this writing, the World Health Organization reported at least 4,000 lives lost, and another 8,000 individuals missing.

Pallbearers carry a coffin at the burial ceremony for some of the people who lost their lives following heavy rains caused by Cyclone Freddy in Blantyre, southern Malawi, Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi).

Africa is also facing rising  sea levels, which are especially pronounced in the Red Sea and southwest Indian Ocean regions. By 2030, between 108 to 116 million people in Africa are projected to confront the alarming risks posed by rising sea levels, especially in coastal cities like Alexandria, Egypt; Lomé, Togo; and Cape Town, South Africa. This phenomenon is projected to escalate significantly, driven by the region's rapid population growth and urbanization in coastal areas.

“Climate change acts as a threat multiplier: amplifying conflicts in the region, jeopardizing food security, and disrupting socioeconomic development. It also works as an inequality multiplier, exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities with a particular impact on women,” said Hind Aïssaoui Bennani, regional migrations specialist for environment and climate change for IOM’s West and Central Africa office.

In 2022, Sub-Saharan Africa experienced a staggering increase in disaster-related displacements, with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reporting a near-tripling of such occurrences compared to 2021. In 2022, the continent witnessed more than 16.5 million internal displacements, accounting for 27% of the world's total.

Harnessing Traditional Knowledge, and Today’s Tools to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change

Photo by Mohamed Aly Diabaté. Courtesy IOM.

Nearly half of the people were displaced by extreme climate events, which caused severe disruptions, particularly in agriculture, a vital industry for millions of lives. By the end of the previous year, about 146 million people in 36 Sub-Saharan African countries faced a severe food crisis, including the Mbororo pastoralists in Chad, who were directly affected.

“Rainfall intensity has undergone drastic changes, with heavy showers sometimes leading to flooding and insufficient rainfall leading to droughts at other times. Both of these extremes contribute to food insecurity because crops are destroyed—and pastures are dying,” said Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, and a member of the Mbororo community.

“Our nomadic and semi-nomadic way of life makes us particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. However, it also makes us the best solution builders as we have adapted to living in diverse ecosystems, allowing us to exploit various resources,” Ibrahim added.

For more than two decades, Ibrahim has been a champion of Indigenous peoples' rights, advocating for their voices to be heard in political discussions and their traditional knowledge to be taken into account when making decisions. To better adapt to the effects of climate change, Ibrahim spearheaded a project, working closely with local leaders to develop a comprehensive map of local resources. This map combines Indigenous knowledge and satellite images and includes a wide range of information about settlements and fresh-water resources, drought-resistant crop locations, sacred lands, and roads.

“This project has proven instrumental in developing a strategy for communities to mitigate conflicts over resource management, enabling us to plan and share natural resources more effectively,” Ibrahim said. She added that initiatives of this nature contribute to fostering constructive dialogues between communities and the government, enabling them to make more informed decisions about the management of their natural resources and the preservation of their traditional knowledge. The Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim mapping project stands as a shining example among numerous unique initiatives that bring together traditional knowledge, modern science, and technology.

Climate Leadership Through Technology and Renewable Solutions

The energy sector has also proven to be a valuable lever in enhancing resilience against climate change. According to the latest data from The World Bank, access to electricity remains an urgent issue in Sub-Saharan Africa, with only half of the population having reliable access to power. With one of the fastest-growing populations in the world—at a rate of 2.5%—the lack of electricity access could escalate into an even more critical concern for the continent's sustainable development, and climate resilience.

For now, fossil fuel remains the primary source of energy for the continent and access to electricity remains too expensive for many households. However, according to the International Energy Agency, Africa is home to 60% of the world's best solar resources, and Africans are using technology to unleash this abundant source of green energy.

Unlocking the renewable energy resources that we have in our continent is not only good for Africa, it is good for the rest of the world. -President William Ruto of Kenya

Nthabiseng Mosia, an entrepreneur from Ghana who later moved to South Africa, co-founded the company Easy Solar in 2016. In just a few years, the company has provided electricity to more than one million people in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Using flexible financings, the company makes it easier to introduce solar panels in homes, small businesses, and in larger commercial and industrial settings. Through the utilization of an uninterrupted power system, energy is stored in batteries, ensuring a continuous supply of electricity from the grid, even during blackouts.

“Electrifying entire countries necessitates significant investments in infrastructure, a financial undertaking that may pose challenges for nations with limited available funds. Our primary goal is to provide easy access to affordable energy,” Mosia said. “Renewable energy—particularly solar power—brings forth not only cost savings compared to fossil fuels, but also opens up avenues for income generation.”

Today, Easy Solar stands out as one of Africa's most rapidly expanding companies. They have consistently doubled their household reach each year, and are aiming to provide clean and affordable energy to many more households in the next three years.

Climate Justice in Africa, Climate Solutions for the World

Activists who are working to find solutions to the increasing challenge of climate change in Africa often highlight that the continent’s global anthropogenic CO2 emissions accounted for just 7% between 1950 and 2019. Today, at 4%, Africa maintains one of the world's lowest per capita and total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

“I believe there is a fundamental question of justice regarding how we tackle climate change in Africa,” Mosia said. “There is an urgent need for greater action from countries like the United States, Europe, and China.”

Young people take part in a protest calling for the government to take immediate action against climate change in Cape Town, South Africa, September 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht, File).

Climate justice emphasizes holding more developed countries accountable for their historical emissions alongside their support of Africa in its efforts to achieve sustainable development and resilience in the face of climate change.

Photo by Mohamed Aly Diabaté. Courtesy IOM.

“My community acts without knowing who is responsible for climate change because we care about our environment. We grow up like this: respecting nature, taking only what we need, and giving back,” said Ibrahim.

As COP 28 approaches, many activists and advocacy groups including Don’t Gas Africa, are demanding an end to financing fossil fuels, which account for more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions—making them the most significant contributor to global climate change.

“The action of the industrialized countries that have historically profited from exploiting natural resources and largely contributed to CO2 emissions are not yet commensurate with the severity of the climate change challenges we are witnessing,” said Ibrahim. “Our message as Indigenous peoples for the COP 28 is ending fossil fuel—and it is not negotiable.”

In September, during the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) hosted by the Kenyan government, more than 20 African nations came together to unanimously endorse the Nairobi Declaration. This declaration outlines Africa's collective aspirations for climate finance and debt relief ahead of COP 28. Among the key demands are a global carbon tax applied to the utilization and trade of fossil fuels, access to low-interest loans for sustainable green energy initiatives in Africa, and a call for fundamental reforms within the global financial system.

“In Africa, we can be a green industrial hub that helps other regions achieve their net-zero strategies by 2050,” said President William Ruto of Kenya during the recent summit. “Unlocking the renewable energy resources that we have in our continent is not only good for Africa, it is good for the rest of the world.”

Clément Gibon is a freelance photographer and journalist, who documents humanitarian affairs, human rights, and social conflict in the Middle East. He has written for a variety of English, Arab and French media including Time Magazine, Middle East Eye, Wilson Quarterly, Daraj, Al Monitor, Le Monde Diplomatique, and Libération.

Cover photo: Kenyan President William Ruto addresses delegates during the closing session of the Africa Climate Summit at the Kenyatta International Convention Center in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, September 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi).