Africa moves ahead to tackle climate change

(This article was originally published on, available here).

As last month’s fourth conference on Climate Change and Development showed, Africa will need strong leaders such as Fatima Denton – who will deliver IIED’s 2014 Barbara Ward Lecture on Thursday – to tackle the issues of climate change.


The fourth conference on Climate Change and Development held in Marrakech, Morocco, last month, revealed clear signs of how Africa’s response to climate change offers a real chance for ‘Afro-optimism’ and an opportunity to change the narrative of the “dismal continent”.

This need to change the narrative will be the focus of a speech by Dr. Fatima Denton, head of the Africa Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) at the United Nations Economic Conference for Africa (UNECA) when she speaks at the prestigious 2014 Barbara Ward Lecture in London on Thursday.

Back in Marrakech, several hundred participants from all across Africa, including farmers, scientists, representatives from the private sector, NGOs, youth, media, and the UN agencies, joined ministers and government officials at the UNECA-organised event to share and discuss ideas for approaching the twin challenges of adaptation and mitigation. I found some of these especially striking:

Mainstreaming climate change

It was very clear that all the organisations and countries present had moved beyond characterising climate change to actually tackling it. In doing so, they showed how ideas about tackling climate change (adaptation as well as mitigation) were starting to become part of their regular planning processes. 

This does not mean they have yet achieved very much. Mainstreaming climate change will take a long time, but the journey has begun. 

Tackling climate change at different levels

It was clear that different stakeholders were tackling climate change at many different levels – farmers planting drought resistant crops, young people selling clean energy, local level authorities planning local adaptation plans and the private sector developing and selling clean energy solutions.

For example, actions were being taken at a national scale (such as Ethiopia’s Green Development Plan) to local level adaptation planning in Kenya.

Adaptation and mitigation

One of the most interesting observations was that in many cases, at the ground level, adaptation and mitigation solutions were being developed hand in hand. In Zambia, for instance, solar pumps were being developed and used to draw water from wells where the rains had failed.

Urbanisation and climate change

One of the main aspects of Africa’s development over future decades will be to tackle rapid urbanisation while also tackling climate change. Hence cities and city governments will have a key role to play in the future. Indeed, some cities in Africa, such as Durban in South Africa, are leading the way in doing so.

Youth and climate change

The other major nexus is between youth and climate change. Africa has the biggest proportion of young people among all continents and climate change will unfold as these young people grow up. Engaging Africa’s young people in climate change activities must be a key strategy for the continent.

Climate leadership

Tackling climate change anywhere, but especially in Africa, will require leadership – not only from political leaders but from all walks of life. There are however positive signs that climate leadership is developing and spreading across the continent.

One of those inspiring leaders, Dr Denton will be giving her views on ‘rewriting the narrative’ on Africa and climate change at the Barbara Ward Lecture on Thursday.

As IIED director Camilla Toulmin recently wrote, while the continent faces high population growth and enormous changes, Africa can “use climate change as a business opportunity to transform key sectors, such as agriculture, energy and water, and secure livelihoods”.

Together with leaders such as Denton, from politicians to youth and private entrepreneurs, Africa has begun the long and arduous journey to tackle climate change and build a low carbon climate resilient future for itself.


Written by: Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD