Governance and climate change adaptation: Roles and challenges of African countries

Today, it is a fact that risks due to climate change are a serious threat to our societies. The concept of “climate governance” used by climate experts appeared in this context.

Govern the climate? This question is doubly puzzling. For what reasons? What historical process? With what methods?

Climate is, firstly, a matter of geography, then of physical and atmospheric sciences. How has climate become an object of governance at the end of the 20th century? Is climate can actually be governed, when we daily witness on TV tornadoes, floods and extreme weather disturbances all over the world?

Governance applies on many levels, and we can retain three dimensions: An international, national or regional and then a local dimension. We talk about local, territorial, corporate, employment and global governance. In addition, the word “governance” derives from the Latin "gubernare" which means governed, to pilot a ship. So, this is the art or manner of governing, by promoting a business management model.

According to Jacques Theys governance is:  "a managerial conception of public systems and it basically intends to find pragmatic solutions to market or public intervention failures" (Theys, 2002).


The objective of this article is to determine the climate issues in Africa and the role of African States in global climate governance.


First, Africa is a continent that consumes little power with 621 million people that don’t have access to electricity. Then, from one country to another, differences are huge. For example in DRC access to electricity is of 16%, 53% in Botswana and 85% in South Africa. Besides, this is also in Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, where the consumption is up to 139 billion KWH for a population of 860 million, which is far less than in Spain, 243 billion KWH for a population of 47 million inhabitants (Le Monde, 2016). For example, a Tanzanian will consume in eight years as much energy as an American in a month. Moreover, in Great Britain, a  kettle used by a family consumes five times more electricity than the average annual consumption of a Malian.

However, even though Africa is the continent that contributes the least to global warming worldwide, 4% against 15% for the US and 26% for China, it must be said that Africa faces the full brunt of the climate change effects with the multiplicity of recent years floods and droughts on the continent. It is urgent to take action and to adapt to climate change knowing that a temperature increase of two degrees could cause a decline in agricultural productivity, up to less than 20% in 2050, which would worsen the food crisis. This adaptation should be both political and environmental to protect against major risks of climate change. Indeed, the most commonly used definition of human adaptation systems to climate change is the one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): an "adjustment process to the current climate or expected as well as its consequences, so as to minimize detrimental effects and to exploit the benefits. " This definition refers to both current and future climate, and considers both natural and anthropogenic climate change.

Does Africa have the means to adapt and govern climate risks?

According to the UN, Africa’s adaptation costs to climate change amounts to 45 millions euros per year by 2050. The issue of climate finance from Northern countries to the benefit of countries of the South was one of the challenges of COP21. Indeed, a support fund would find alternatives to charcoal, which is widely used in Africa, 4 out of 5 Africans use it for cooking. The consequences of this use are ecological but also sanitary. Each year, 600,000 Africans die from inhalation of this fuel, it is almost as much as much as malaria and HIV. Renewable energy is a new alternative that is why more and more African countries rely on green energy. Thus a country like Ethiopia has decided to develop renewable energies to reduce climate risks.

Resolving problems related to climate change is also initiating governance at global and local levels that will find adapted solutions to climate risks. What is the role of Africa in global climate governance? The Paris conference on climate change in December 2015 has once again demonstrated the ridiculous place of Africa in the various issues of climate negotiations. This can be explained by the fact that for African countries, the main objective is economic development. But economic development without environmental concerns is it sustainable? The issue of climate change is therefore put at the second place in the hierarchy of needs in Africa, enough to retain a single point on the various African climate concerns: support to poor countries to adapt to climate change and reallocate 1000 billion $ of private investment towards low carbon economy.


All in all, the African continent remains fragile on the various threats related to climate change. Even though important initiatives around a green economy are erected in some countries that are ahead in energy policies like Morocco with the world's largest solar park, a local work will need to be done. To drive a real momentum in the fight against environmental changes, it starts with empowerment of local and regional civil awareness. This extension of ecological civic consciences towards nature will allow a better consideration for environmental concerns in African issues. This will pave the way for a better valorization of African local and regional initiatives in the development of environmental programs worldwide. So far the influence of Africa in this geopolitical climate is very limited.

Translated by Anne Sophie Cadet

Auteur: Cheikh Ba

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