AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

CLIMATE CHANGE IN CENTRAL AFRICA

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Large scale logging of hardwood in Cameroon

J. C.Vincent/Still Pictures

GHG emissions are minimal in Central Africa, contributing just 2 per cent of Africa's total emissions in 1996. They form a negligible part of global emissions (African Development Bank 2001). Emissions of gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane result from a variety of sources, including dumping of gas-producing garbage, use of traditional fuels in domestic energy production, and from slash and burn agriculture. The occasional eruption of Mount Cameroon also contributes to gaseous emissions.

However, global atmospheric and climatic changes will impact on Central African countries, increasing rainfall and temperature fluctuations and thus affecting security of food and water resources. Most of Central Africa will experience increased precipitation, soil moisture and runoff. This could result in a net increase in forest cover, although increased suitability of land for agriculture may lead to accelerated rates of forest clearance. Shifting distribution of natural habitat could also have important consequences for the unique biological resources of the Central African forests, such as the endangered Mountain Gorilla. Other perturbations of hydrological systems may change flooding patterns, increase the risk of contamination of freshwater supplies and encourage outbreaks of water-borne diseases. Malaria and trypanosomiasis may spread to new areas, particularly to areas at higher altitudes where their presence was previously limited by low temperatures, and to drier areas where increased rainfall is predicted (IPCC 1998).

Freshwater availability may decrease in the arid and semi-arid parts of Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad because of decreased rainfall and increased evaporation. Over the past 30 years the level of water in Lake Chad has dropped greatly under the combined pressures of rainfall fluctuations and continued withdrawals and the water level today is around only one-twentieth of what it was 30 years ago (NASA GSFC 2001). The millions of people currently dependent on the lake's resources could suffer enormous economic and food security losses if its level decreases further.

Sea level rise and increased vulnerability to inundation and storm surges will render some of the coastal areas of Central Africa uninhabitable, displace millions of people and threaten low-lying urban areas, such as Douala in Cameroon (IPCC 1998, IPCC 2001b).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in Central Africa

In response to the challenges of adverse climatic variations, all countries in Central Africa have joined the international community in signing and ratifying the UNFCCC. At the national level, capacity building amongst stakeholder groups and revision of policies and legislation for enhanced environmental protection is underway, including protection of the sub-region's important forest reserves (see Box 2a.5). Although this action demonstrates political commitment across the region to addressing the problem, Central African countries emit negligible amounts of GHG and- because they are classed as developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol-they are not yet required to reduce emissions. Climate variability and the impacts of climate change are also being tackled through the establishment of climate modelling programmes and early warning of rainfall variations. These are, however, in the early stages of development and little information on their effectiveness is available.

Box 2a.5 The role of Central African forests in mitigation of climate change

Central Africa's extensive tropical forests are important carbon sinks and can assist in mitigating GHG emissions. In the Republic of Congo a research study has been launched to evaluate the carbon sink potential of the tropical forests and develop strategies for forest conservation. Additional studies are underway as part of the Central African Regional Programme for the Environment (CARPE) to develop and implement means of reducing deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Congo Basin.

The Conference on Ecosystems of Dense Humid Forests in Central Africa (CEFDHAC) is another initiative linked to CARPE, established to improve subregional cooperation on issues of forest management in the Congo Basin.

Source: USAID 2001b a