Towards a green, resilient Africa: GCA’s Africa Adaptation Acceleration Day shines spotlight on continent’s climate challenges, opportunities

Days before the launch of COP26, global leaders gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, to steer the world’s attention to the African continent, a region which, in spite of its negligible contributions to climate change, will disproportionately bear its impacts.

I n 2020, more than one in five people in the African continent faced hunger. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, 2020 became the fourth warmest year in Africa since 1910. Climate disasters, such as floods, insect infestations and droughts, which affect the greatest number of people in the region, have long contributed to food insecurity in Africa. As the planet continues to warm, we can only imagine how this alarming statistic will evolve in the coming years.

Just days before the launch of COP26, global leaders gathered at a lecture hall in the University of Nairobi, Kenya, to steer the world’s attention to the African continent, a region which, in spite of its negligible contributions to climate change, will disproportionately bear its impacts.

The Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) organized Africa Adaptation Acceleration Day on 26th October in hopes of securing the required momentum for adaptation action in Africa to change the statistics. As CEO of GCA Prof. Dr. Patrick Verkooijen mentioned in his inaugural annual lecture, livestreamed from Nairobi, the story of climate change in Africa is far from bleak.

“It’s a story of resilience, of responsibility, of solidarity, of opportunities for a safer, greener, and more prosperous continent,” Verkooijen said, adding that this is the story captured in GCA’s flagship report State and Trends in Adaptation in Africa 2021: How Adaptation can make Africa Safer, Greener and more Prosperous in a Warming World (STA21), which was officially released during the event.

STA21, the world’s leading guide on adaptation action, was developed by prominent global and local researchers. The report unveils the projected climate risks that Africa could face along with a detailed set of adaptation actions and policy recommendations. In the words of 8th Secretary General of the United Nations and Chair of GCA, Ban Ki-moon, STA21 is “the most comprehensive adaptation report on Africa, where adaptation is most needed.”

Echoing Verkooijen, Ban Ki-moon pointed out that the report does not just paint a “gloomy picture of the future.”

“It identifies opportunities to invest in adaptation across all key economic sectors as well as the positive returns on such investments to speed up achievement of the SDGs in Africa,” Ban Ki-moon said.

As Verkooijen said in his speech, preparing STA21 involved interviewing African youth and small entrepreneurs, whose stories of resilience are particularly inspirational.

Verkooijen shared the story of Lucia Gulugulu, a young community nurse from Zimbabwe who, amid the devastation left behind by Cyclone Idai in 2019, set up a youth corner at her clinic to educate patients on the links between climate disasters and health.

“These are the stories of action and solidarity that are captured in the report. These are the actions of individuals that should inspire us all to step up today because the window of opportunity for adaptation is closing fast,” he said.

In his opening remarks, H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, mentioned that the latest IPCC report confirms that the African continent is the region most exposed to and adversely impacted by climate change.

He pointed to the devastating impact of climate events in recent years, such as the 2020 floods in East Africa, which affected more than 1 million people, and the worst locust outbreak in the last 25 years, which plunged 1 million people in the Horn of Africa into food insecurity.

Kenyatta warned that the economic impact of the climate emergency on Africa could be equally destructive.

“If we do not take any action Africa could, as a consequence, see its Gross Domestic Product contract by up to 30 percent by 2050 due to climate change,” he said.

Global leaders present at the hybrid (virtual and in-person) event, including Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC agreed that solutions exist to veer Africa away from a climate ravaged future, and the main one is, of course, adaptation.

“As today’s report rightly says, for Africa climate adaptation is a necessity, it is not a choice. And adapting to climate change must go hand in hand with reducing poverty, improving livelihoods, raising living standards,” said Georgieva.

Together with the African Development Bank (AfDB), GCA created the Africa-led Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP), to scale up adaptation action in four main areas: Climate Smart Digital Technologies for Agriculture and Food Security; African Infrastructure Resilience Accelerator; Empowering Youth through Jobs and Entrepreneurship and Innovative Financial Initiatives for Africa. The AAAP aims to mobilize $25 billion for adaptation in Africa in the next five years, and AfDB will contribute half of this total by 2025.

As Espinosa pointed out, the “key to success in adaptation and resilience – like so many other issues related to climate change – is adequate finance.”

In Verkooijen’s words, “more ambition and more finance” are required to accelerate adaptation in Africa, and next week, “Glasgow must deliver for Africa.”

The event concluded with a round table discussion during the day’s second forum, “Delivering Adaptation Together,” where key partners, including Cabinet Secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry Keriako Tobiko, GCA Regional Director Anthony Nyong and Hans Olav Ibrekk, Policy Director of Energy, Climate and Food Security from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shared their reflections on the themes of the day, discussed joint opportunities for adaptation action across Africa, and the path to a successful COP26.

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