IPCC AR6: Africa’s ability to adapt being pushed to its limit, creating urgency to reverse course

March 02, 2022, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued the second part of its 6th Assessment Report, focusing on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.  This timely report warns of multiple climate change-induced disasters in the next two decades, even if strong action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and further notes that the ability of human beings and natural systems to cope with the changing climate is reaching its limits.  It warns that further rise in global warming would make it even more difficult to adapt. The report has, for the first time, made an assessment of regional and sectoral impacts of climate change. Across sectors and regions, the most vulnerable people and systems are disproportionately affected. The report notes that over 3.5 billion people (over 45% of the global population), live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change. Africa is identified as one of the vulnerable hotspots, with several regions, towns and cities facing very high risk of climate disasters such as flooding, sea-level rise, heat-waves, and water stress.


The report shows that worldwide, climate change is increasingly affecting marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems and ecosystem services, water and food security, settlements and infrastructure, health and wellbeing, and economies and cultures. Also for the first time, the IPCC report assesses the health impacts of climate change, and projects that climate-sensitive food-borne, water-borne, and vector-borne disease risks will increase under all levels of warming. Sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly affected, with increased incidence of vector-borne and water-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.


Among some of its most pertinent findings, the report concludes that increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, with the largest impacts observed in disadvantaged communities and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Climate change is contributing to humanitarian crises where climate hazards interact with high vulnerability. Climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement in all regions, with SIDS being disproportionately affected. Flood and drought-related acute food insecurity and malnutrition have increased in Africa.


Between 2010-2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability.  Vulnerability at different spatial levels is exacerbated by inequity and marginalization linked to gender, ethnicity, low income or combinations thereof, especially for many Indigenous peoples and local communities. On urbanization, the report notes that human vulnerability will be highest in informal settlements and rapidly growing smaller settlements. Present development challenges causing high vulnerability are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many Indigenous peoples and local communities.


In rural areas, vulnerability will be heightened by compounding factors such as high emigration, reduced habitability and high reliance on climate-sensitive livelihoods. Key infrastructure systems including sanitation, water, health, transport, communications and energy will be increasingly vulnerable if design standards do not account for changing climate conditions. Vulnerability will also rapidly rise in low-lying SIDS.


With the observed impacts of climate change increasing, climate resilient development pathways are becoming more urgent.  The world must pursue both mitigation and adaptation at speeds and scales beyond what we have done in the past.  While adaptation to climate change remains feasible, adaptation has its limits and climate change impacts are already outstripping efforts to adapt, resulting in significant loss and damage to property and livelihoods. We are already reaching the limits of what is possible to adapt to at the currently observed 1.1°C warming. At 1.5°C, the options for adaptation will be considerably reduced, particularly for Africa. The report is unequivocal that there can be no climate resilient development for vulnerable countries above 1.5°C.  As the report observes, the limits to adaptation may already have been reached in some regions such as SIDS and for some smallholder farmers, who constitute the bulk of Africa’s population.

The report identifies many options for adaptation, including strengthening health systems, early warning systems and improved access to potable water. It recommends harnessing the adaptive strengths of nature through agroforestry, conservation, protection and restoration of natural forests and planting of diverse tree species. Adopting rainwater storage and other water-saving technologies can combat groundwater depletion in agriculture, while food security can be enhanced by adopting stress-tolerant crops and livestock, promoting community-based adaptation that is locally driven as well as respecting local and indigenous knowledge systems. These solutions can further produce co-benefits for nutrition, health and wellbeing. Cities can use nature-based engineering approaches like establishing parks, green corridors, and urban agriculture, while expanded social safety nets will help with disaster management.


However, to reap further benefits from adaptation, several constraints, particularly poor governance, climate literacy and access to finance, need to be overcome. Current global financial flows for climate action are insufficient, and are mostly targeted at emissions reductions, with a small proportion going towards adaptation. As climate impacts worsen, economic growth will slow down and as a result reduce the availability of financial resources for vulnerable regions.


UNECA is working with African member states to address the underlying causes of vulnerability; build the resilience of economies, ecosystems and communities; enhance early warning and weather observation capacities, and enhance the integration of climate information services into development programmes.  Through initiatives such as the SDG 7 initiative, ECA is supporting climate informed investment in renewable energy in order to increase access to energy for citizens. We also recognize the importance of regional ecosystems for carbon sequestration, and have been rolling out programmes to support nature based solutions and to build the resilience of livelihoods and ecosystems in Ethiopia.


We recognize the greater vulnerability to climate impacts that Africa faces, and have therefore worked with the African Union Commission to develop an African Climate Change Strategy which responds to these specific circumstances. The strategy has been endorsed by the Committee of African Heads of State and Governments on Climate Change (CAHOSCC). In the lead up to COP26, UK informed parties to UNFCCC that developed countries would not meet the goal of delivering $100 billion/year by 2020 in climate finance to developing countries. The African Group of Negotiators also stated that the continent requires $1.3 trillion/year by 2025 to finance its mitigation and adaptation actions. The gap between available and required finance is huge, and already some African economies are losing up to 5% of their GDP annually due to climate change impacts, despite emitting just 4 percent of global pollution, while its population is 17 percent of the world's population. ECA has started initiatives aimed at increasing access to innovative climate finance to undergird the adaptation responses of our continent. We recently launched the The Liquidity Sustainability Facility (LSF), which is an Africa-led innovative solution with ambitious use of Special Drawing Rights(SDRs) to avail financing for adaptation, mitigation and a green recovery from COVID-19. UNECA has also demonstrated the viability of approaches such as blue and green bonds, debt swaps and supported Member States to design strategies, policies and programmes for sustainable green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We further recognized the challenges of accessing the limited public finance for climate action, and we have been working with many partners and member states to put in place appropriate programmes to ensure that the continent benefits from its ecosystems through carbon trading.


Lastly, UNECA is supporting Member States to build their capacities to plan sustainable, climate informed urbanization in order to ensure that the growing urban population and infrastructure is resilient to climate impacts. We also continue to support member states to revise and implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  COP27 will be hosted in Africa later this year, and we will redouble our efforts to ensure that the event addresses African priorities and creates the policy conditions for successful adaptation to climate impacts as recommended by the IPCC report.


Issued by:

Communications Section

Economic Commission for Africa

PO Box 3001

Addis Ababa


Tel: +251 11 551 5826

E-mail: eca-info@un.org