Transboundary climate and adaptation risks in Africa: Perceptions from 2021

This publication documents how African policy-makers and experts perceive climate change and adaptation risks that have the potential for multi-country to regional consequences.
Sahel Food Crisis 2012: Drawing water from a well in the community of Natriguel, Mauritania


Le rapport est disponible en version française ici. The Covid-19 pandemic illustrates how risks can spread across national borders, directly between neighbouring countries or cascading across distant countries.

There are parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis. Climate change has global consequences and reducing its severity requires international cooperation. Climate change mitigation has long been seen as requiring international cooperation, but concerted and coordinated international action on climate adaptation has been slower and historically been treated as a local to national concern.

However, evidence is emerging that adaptation policies and actions at the local to national level might actually create risks and/or opportunities that could spread beyond localities and country borders. Even inaction by certain countries to adapt will lead to repercussions at multiple geographic and time scales. It is not just adaptation actions by one nation that could lead to unintended consequences for others. Current financial and trade systems and international trends in certain climate change mitigation efforts may influence sub-national to regional adaptation options. The failure to think locally to globally creates risks that go beyond national borders, hence the term, transboundary risks.

Transboundary climate change and adaptation risks (TCARs) are the potential consequences or outcomes that could occur as the result of transboundary climate change impacts, the transboundary effects of adaptation decisions made by one or more countries or the transboundary effects of mitigation actions on countries’ adaptation options.

Momentum is growing to explicitly scientifically investigate and address such risks in adaptation plans. The African Group of Negotiators successfully established the Global Goal on Adaptation in Article 7 and its provisions within the 2015 Paris Agreement. In Article 7, it is explicitly recognized that adaptation is a global challenge with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions.

This publication documents how African policy-makers and experts perceive 24 transboundary climate change and adaptation risks that have the potential for multi-country to regional to continental consequences.

*A summary of the paper can be found below. Download the full publication from the right-hand column for more details.

TCARs in African Policies and Strategies

The report starts with an exploration of how current national and regional policies identify and frame TCARs along five pathways – biophysical, trade, finance, people-centred and geopolitical. The risks highlighted in this chapter were drawn from National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), and national economic and agricultural policies of the following countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The authors also examined African Union and regional initiative plans and documents from the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and from natural resource management initiatives like the Great Green Wall (GGW).

Continental and regional policy framings

The African Union and the RECs have long been concerned with and active in areas around transboundary risk and the need for more cooperative and coherent regional risk management approaches. Sustainable socioeconomic development, sharing of natural resources, peacebuilding and security, good governance and financial management are some of the key transboundary objectives of the African Union.

Climate change is increasingly interlinked with the aspirations and recognised as presenting challenges from subnational to continental scales. A pan-African climate change vision to bolster its Agenda 2063 goals and flagship programmes is outlined in the Draft Africa Climate Change Strategy 2020-2030. Concerns with the cascading and linked nature of global risks and their subnational, national and regional implications to various African countries have also been recently highlighted in the 2021 African Green Stimulus Programme (AGSP).

Policy framings in East Africa

The East Africa policy landscape exhibits a mixed recognition of transboundary climate and adaptation risks. Biophysical, trade and financial transboundary risks triggered by rising temperatures and precipitation shifts in the region provide the rationale for adaptation measures in agriculture, livestock and natural resource management. However, such measures may trigger additional cascading TCARs along one or more risk pathways.

Policy framings in West Africa

The West Africa policy landscape also exhibits a mixed recognition of transboundary climate and adaptation risks. The biophysical impacts of rising temperatures and precipitation shifts in the region on agriculture and mobile pastoralism have influenced national priorities for adaptation, which must be balanced against TCARs along multiple pathways.

TCAR perceptions: Survey and interviews

As can be seen from the review of continental, regional and national policies and programmes, TCARs along the five pathways are already explicitly recognised. The authors used this review to identify 24 transboundary risks for the perceptions survey and interviews (see figure below). These risks were grouped into the five risk pathways: biophysical, trade, finance, people and geopolitical.

Ways forward: Bridging policy and perception gap for TCAR management

The key to addressing these transboundary climate and adaptation risks, as mentioned by all interview respondents, is strengthening and implementation of regional coordination activities through regional institutions – and linking these with African Union agencies, activities and frameworks.

The Draft Africa Climate Change Strategy and Agenda 2063 seek to provide the frameworks for harmonising climate resilient and sustainable socioeconomic development across the Union in coordination with the RECs, nations and financial institutions. The RECs – such as, ECOWAS in West Africa and EAC on the other side of the continent – are working with member countries on transboundary climate and adaptation issues.

There are some multi-country and regional natural resource management initiatives (e.g., the Great Green Wall, Lake Chad Basin Commission and Lake Victoria Basin Commission) already in place that are actively incorporating climate change concerns. Finally, the Africa Adaptation Initiative is seeking to bring all parties together to strengthen capacities and promote coherence in subnational, national, regional and continental policies, frameworks, strategies and actions.

At national levels, the involvement of the ministries of finance and planning is required to increase awareness of the impact of climate change on issues like trade and regional infrastructure. Some interview respondents noted that they had not previously considered transboundary trade risks, and that trade policies do not currently account for such risks.

In addition to needing resources to implement the REC’s and regional NRM initiatives’ climate change policies and plans, respondents also indicated that decision-makers need better scientific information on future climate risks and adaptation options.

Our findings indicate that Sudano-Sahelian Africa is on its way towards acknowledging and prioritising TCARs. Some risks are more visible than, and therefore prioritised above, others. However, there is increasing attention toward understanding risks along and between the five pathways, as well as coordinating multi-country action around their management.