Of Climate Change and Crystal Balls: The Future Consequences of Climate Change in Africa
51 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2011
Date Written: September 1, 2011
Given its geographic location and the low adaptive capacity of many of its governments and economic systems, Africa is perhaps the most vulnerable region to climate change. However, model projections of the physical effects of climate change in Africa are highly uncertain, particularly at the national and sub-national spatial scales at which political processes operate. Against this backdrop of great social vulnerability and physical climate uncertainty, political scientists and the policy community have begun to explore the potential security consequences of climate change, describing it as a stressor or a threat multiplier with the potential to contribute to conflict and state failure. Since most of political science is focused on explaining the past rather than predicting the future, scholars have looked to historic data on rainfall variability, disasters, temperature change, refugee movements (all expected effects of climate change) to try to get traction on the causal connections between climate phenomena and security outcomes. Such an approach is rooted in the assumption of stationarity - the concept that the range of climate conditions for a given area occurs within a static envelop of variability that is defined by past extremes. The past, however, may be a poor indicator of how climate risks are likely to interact with social factors to generate disasters, instability, and conflict. Scholars of climate impacts have sought to understand such departures from historic patterns through the use of forecasting and scenario analysis.
Using Africa as a regional focus, this paper employs a different approach: vulnerability mapping. This paper presents geo-referenced maps of sub-national climate vulnerability in Africa, using past exposure to climate-related hazards, population density, household/community resilience, and governance and political violence. We couple this with projections of future climate change using an ensemble of five general circulation models. We suggest that maps of chronic vulnerability incorporating a variety of indicators provide a helpful advance for international relations scholars, as they are less reliant on heroic assumptions about changes in political and economic systems than either forecasting or scenario analysis.
Keywords: climate change, Africa
JEL Classification: N5, N57
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation