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Climate Change In Africa Case Study

Impacts of climate change on African economies
Case study: Kenya
Robert Mburia, Kenya
Original Post: Jan. 16, 2012


Comprehensive studies on climate change show moving results and predict dire consequences on several species, as well as the socioeconomic livelihoods of many African communities, as well as those of other developing nations (NOAA, 2009, IPCC 2007, Naomi 2011). The topic of climate change elicits varied reactions from developing and developed nations. What is most clear is the fact that climate change causes and mitigation measures have not been handled with the seriousness that they deserve.

Ogola (n.d) has retaliated by stating that, under the UNFCCC every country has a requirement to develop a comprehensive climate response program that incorporates all climate change activities into energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry, and waste management sectors. This very requirement has not been met by many countries, most notably the developed ones, who are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Kenya and Climate Change
Kenya was the host of the first climate change declaration in 1990 at the Nairobi Conference of Global Warming and Climate Change. The Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change noted that the necessary measures to halt or reverse the climate change phenomenon are unique in that they must be proactive rather than reactive. Measures have to be put in place to anticipate and prevent climate change.

Climate Change and Disease Burden
In their 2010 analysis, Wamyama, et al, showed that past climate change and future projections have huge consequences on the ecological, economic and socio-physical components that comprise Kenya. Ecosystems which are very sensitive to climatic changes will be significantly affected. Owing to the fact that the country’s economy is heavily dependent on natural resources, there would be significant impacts on the growth and socioeconomic livelihood of Kenyan communities.

Climate sensitive diseases, such as malaria, have already begun affecting high altitude areas like Nairobi, Kericho, and even the Mt. Kenya Highlands, which were previously malaria free. Increased drought spells have seen pastoralists lose thousands of cattle and millions in income. Drying of biomass and subsequent reductions on the national electricity energy production (especially during droughts and flood) put further strain on the Kenya’s economy.

Droughts and Floods
The short rains of 2011 ravaged some parts of the country with massive flooding, the likes of which hadn’t been witnessed since the 1960s. Several people died, while others become internally displaced. Africa is predicted to experience greater impacts than other world regions, due to its great vulnerability and lower adaptive capacity. Stockholm Environmental Institute (2009) estimates the immediate needs will require at least $500 million to be addressed in 2012. By 2030 it is estimated that $1 to $2 billion per year will be required to adapt to the climate change in Kenya.

Economic costs of drought in the period from 1998 to 2000 cost the nation approximately $2.8 billion, due to livestock loss and crop failure, forest fires, fisheries damage, reduced hydro power generation, reduced industrial production and water supply (ibid). At the same time the 2004 and 2005 droughts had an impact on millions of people. The 2009 droughts greatly impacted Kenya’s energy and water. Post- election violence-experienced in 2007 and 2008- worsened the effects of the drought and drove inflation still higher. The greatest drought impacts were felt for the better part of 2011, where inflation increased to 15% in July due to high food and oil prices as well.

Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security (n.d) shows how economic activity caused by environmental changes may lead to conflict. Although conflicts are caused by a multiple of factors and processes, global climate change may fuel the magnitude of these conflicts, at times sparking them as well. Human economic activity increases CO2 emissions into the environment causing both regional and global environmental changes, which in turn may lead to changes in agricultural output. Altered resource availability has a direct correlation to food shortages, which may fuel political disputes, ethnic tension, and civil unrest. Such events may then affect regional and global relations, leading to regional and global conflicts (ibid).

Stephen et al (2010) concurs that although Kenya’s economy is bigger than most of the African countries, it is challenged by several issues that include poor governance, corruption, environmental degradation, and increased poverty among other factors. Stephen, et al further describes Kenya’s vulnerability as the extent to which a natural or social system is susceptible to sustaining damage from climate change.

Loss of Forests
Forests are useful ecosystems that are vital in terms of water catchment towers, carbon sinks, timber, pasture, medicinal products and many more things. Studies show dwindling wildlife populations in Mt. Kenya Forest, a factor which may deplete the elephant habitat. It is clear that different components of the environment, that include both the biophysical and socioeconomic factors work on each other. Climate change is fueled by forest loss and degradation. On the other hand, climate change has led to depletion of forest ecosystems and forest resources as well.
Multiple factors affect forests in Kenya. These include conversion of land uses and changes in land use patterns for agriculture, settlement, and industrial/commercial purposes. Tropical montage cloud forests are likely to be affected by climate change, especially temperature and precipitation change (Bruijnzeel, Scatena & Hamiton 2010). Loss of forest in Kenya has serious socioeconomic consequences, not the least of which is its negative effect on the GDP of the country.

Reduced Agricultural Production
Kenya’s economy relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture. Agriculture and tourism are the key economic backbones of Kenya. Agricultural based goods that are exported- mainly coffee and tea- are the country’s major foreign export earners. FAO noted that Africa has been transformed from being a key exporter of agricultural products into a net importer. More than 30 million people require food aid annually in Africa. Other studies show that, whereas other parts of the world are coming out of poverty, Africa is seeing a worsening situation in widespread and abject poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where many live below the international poverty line (African Security Review 2003).

Greenhouse gas emissions and responsibilities
It is not the intention of this paper to discredit any particular nation or body, but there has been strong evidence that major greenhouse gas producers like the United States have never shown any real concern for climate change issues. Naomi (2011) observes that policy makers, especially of the United States, primarily contend over the certainty of climate change. Up to 2006, the United States was the largest emitter of the greenhouse gas that traps the suns heat (Raupach et al 2007.) However, China is now the leading emitter of carbon dioxide emissions (NEAA, 2007, Sci-tech 2006, National Geographic 2008). The concepts of sustainable development have not been fully embraced by many countries, as they continue to prioritize industrialization and economic growth.

The whole of Africa emits only 3.6% of carbon dioxide per year (UN Statistics Common Database 2006). It is also noted that Africa carries about 14% of the world’s population. Kenya as a country produces less than 0.5% of carbon dioxide per year.

Conclusion and Recommendations
No single country can make a sustainable tackle climate change causes alone, as well as the impacts. Africa is vulnerable to climate change impacts, and much of the climate induced change that has been seen up until now will be irreversible if drastic measures are not taken internationally. Climate change has a potential of slowing socioeconomic growth. There is need for the international community to fully commit to alternative practices that have no negative impacts on the climate or earth’s ecosystems. The scientific communities and research bodies (especially in the energy and industrial sectors) need to come up with more innovative ways that can positively drive sustainable growth without jeopardizing life systems. There is a need for local and international legislative and policy framework regarding various economic activity and green house gas emissions. Countries that contribute to high levels of green house gasses should be on the forefront in paying for the environmental damages, especially those incurred in African countries. Local and international collaboration in combating global warming can go a long way in sustaining life in Kenya and the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The author recommends more research to be carried out on the impacts of climate change on the African economy, as some of them are not yet known and others will continue to emerge. Preventive measures should be adopted. A ‘can do’ attitude will help with Africa’s climate change mitigation. There is also the need for Africa to rise up and take decisive action, and not simply blame developed nations and wait for compensations. The biodiversity in this continent may be the key for the world’s major challenges.

1. The FAO has stated that Africa’s annual food imports are the equivalent in hard currency of $19 billion, while its agricultural exports are valued at $14 billion. SAPA, 9 December 2002, reporting on the Africa Food Security Conference in Nigeria.
2. Ogola S.J (n.d) Climate change: Kenya’s responses, available at http://www.un-ngls.org/orf/documents/publications.en/voices.africa/number6/vfa6.11.htm
3. “China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2007.
4. China CO2 Emissions Growing Faster Than Anticipated". National Geographic. 2008-03-18
5. Leendert Adriaan Bruijnzeel, F. N. (Ed.). (2010). Tropical Montane Cloud Forests: Science for Conservation and Management. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
6. UN Statistics Common Database,2006, http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/emissions_of_carbon_dioxide_in_africa_and_selected_oecd_countries

Climate Emergency Institute
Climate Science Library


 The Health and Human Rights Approach to Climate Change

Executive Summary

The climate change discourse has engendered considerable international debates that have dominated the environmental agenda since the mid-1980s. Currently addressing the threat of climate change is a global priority. In the context of the significant attention to climate change at global level, debates regarding identification of gender perspectives and the involvement of women in addressing climate change have arisen. It is believed that men and women will be faced with different vulnerabilities to climate change impacts due to existing inequalities such as, their role and position in society, access to resources and power relations that may affect the ability to respond to the effects of climate change (WEDO, 2007; Commission on the Status of Women 2008; Carvajal et al. 2008; BRIDGE, 2008).

Currently there is insufficient knowledge regarding gender differentiated impacts of climate change. As a result policy and decision-makers are not aware of the need for gender differentiated policies. It has therefore become important to understand the interrelations between climate change and gender so as to design effective climate change polices. With particular attention to South Africa, this study aims to examine the interrelations between climate change and gender so as to make a contribution to the existing information gap on the gender differentiated impacts of climate change.

The study will also aim to create awareness amongst policy and decision-makers about the need for gender differentiated adaptation policies. The study was conducted in rural areas located in uMzinyathi and uMhlathuze district municipalities. UMzinyathi and UMhlathuze are among the municipalities situated in Kwazulu-Natal. Kwazulu-Natal is a province of South Africa that forms the east coast of the country. It is South Africa’s most populous province with a population of 9 426 017 million people. Apart from being South Africa’s most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal has the biggest poverty gap of R 18 billion with 61% of the population living in poverty (HSRC, 2004).


The study makes use of qualitative research techniques guided by a combination of gender analysis tools. The techniques include participatory rural appraisal in the form of focus group discussions, role play, life histories and key informant interviews. Through these techniques, primary data was collected to understanding the differences in gender roles, activities, needs, and opportunities in the context of climate change.


The results of this study cannot be used to generalise South Africa as each community is unique and will differ in culture and values. However, the findings are an important step in unveiling the dynamics and realities of gender differentiated impacts of climate change including climate variability. In addition, with a wide scope of analysis and mthe time constraints this report cannot claim to be exhaustive, nevertheless every effort has been made to ensure that key emerging issues are highlighted.

Gender issues

In trying to understand gender and climate change in the context of South Africa, it is important to appreciate gender and gender relations in the country. In this context the contemporary position of women in South Africa cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of the ways in which colonialism, capitalism and apartheid have morganised social relations and fractured society along racial, class and gender lines (Baden, et al., 1998). South Africa therefore presents a unique situation from a political perspective, particularly with reference to apartheid.

Since the establishment of the democratic government in 1994, various significant developments have occurred to set the pace towards building gender equality in South Africa. Having recognised that gender is dynamic and that gender roles are neither natural nor sacred, a number of progressive policies and legislation have been put in place to set the context for gender transformation. This is to encourage a situation in which women and men can make real choices about their own lives and other issues.

In spite of the major gains, there still remain enormous disparities and inequalities between men and women. The most important challenges are faced by women in rural areas who are still living in poverty with limited resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods.

Some key findings

Given that the men and women in both study areas are poverty stricken with dependency on agriculture and natural resource for their livelihoods, climate change poses a risk for them. Gender differentiated impacts of climate variability were manifested in the unequal distribution of roles and responsibilities of men and women in both study areas. Results reveal that through socially constructed roles and responsibilities, women seem to bear the most burdens resulting from climate variability impacts. Women’s burdens were more evident in their response to the impacts of climate variability. Women were found to have extra workloads when faced with climatic stressors as they made efforts to cope with them. Working longer hours than men affected them not only physically but emotionally drained them as they constantly have to worry about the well being of their household members, especially children and the youth who depend on them.

Although the men’s work load is lighter than that of women they are also impacted by climate variability. Men’s impacts are more psychological than physical. Their psychological effects are further compounded by unemployment resulting in negative coping mechanisms. There is therefore no doubt that climate change will impact differently on rural men and women.

The results also show that gender roles are undergoing change due to climate related impacts which are further heightened by factors such as unemployment, HIV/AIDS and poverty which forces men and women to engage in different activities leading to new roles. With more women diversifying their livelihoods, gender roles are also being impacted. There is a change in gender roles to accommodate responses to the impacts of climate variability. In this study it was evident that women are now are involved in activities that generate earnings, thus reshaping relationships between men and women. The income generated by women through trade is used to sustain the household. Women generating an income also have more opportunities and power to decide what the income can be used for.

The shift is also driven by the country’s constitution, gender legislations in the KwaZulu Natal province, the need for women to provide for their families and women’s determination to see change that will improve their position in society. Women have also come to realise that it will take more than the constitution and decent laws to end gender inequalities. They strongly believe that in addition to the constitution and the laws, men need to accept the changing role of women in post-apartheid society. Women are aware that the constitution and the laws simply provide an enabling environment and a platform, from which women can voice their concerns. The rest depends on their determination to make the laws and the constitution work to for them.

The study shows that women are very knowledgeable and innovative with regards to coping with the impacts of the changing climate. Lessons can be drawn from their knowledge on how women can be better assisted to adapt to climate change. Results confirm that women play an important role in supporting households and communities to cope and adapt to climate variability.

Some recommendations

The study strongly recommends that to effectively address issues of gender and climate change, focus must not only be on negative gender experiences but also assess and acknowledge progress that has been made in addressing gender issues and social changes that have taken place and lead to changes in gender relations. Lessons from positive experiences can be used to guide the way forward in achieve gender equality.

Mainstreaming gender into climate change is very critical and requires a holistic approach. While addressing issues relating to gender inequality it is also vital to look beyond gender inequality and assess the different needs and choices that men and women make that eventually impact on their way of life and the way they respond to climate related impacts.

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