Global Perspectives | Bericht | 10. Dezember 2020

Climate Change: Africa‘s Burden is the World‘s Remit

Rückblick auf die GP Konferenz “Climate Change and Migration – Point of No Return?!”

In the past, Africa had to shoulder a lot of the burden predominantly caused by the West and its political and economic decisions.

And yet, the continent will not come to rest. Right at its doorstep waits the most critical and complex challenge of our times: climate change. Africa is particularly affected by climatic changes though contributing the least of any continent to global warming. The climate crisis hits the poorest on this planet the most.

On December 9th and 10th, 2020, Global Perspectives Initiative conducted a virtual live event in which African and European leaders were discussing the issue of climate induced migration. We were particularly interested in hearing the African experts and decisions makers on their opinion and ideas.




When throwing a light on the connection between migration and climate change, it’s best to let numbers speak: Extreme weather and natural disasters led to three times more displacements than war and conflict. Nearly 1,900 disasters triggered 24.9 million new displacements across 140 countries and territories in 2019. Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have the largest numbers of internal climate migrants (out of the three regions measured): ranging from 56.6 to 85.7 million in the pessimistic reference scenario by 2050 if no action is taken according to the World Bank. The temperature in Africa is projected to rise twice as fast as the global average. “The developed world must acknowledge its contribution to climate change and offer its support to those who most need it”, says Amira Elfadil Mohamed Elfadil, African Union Commissioner for Social, during the conference.

Just 3.7 percent of all human-produced CO2 is emitted in Africa. (DW Conference Trailer)

Just 3.7 percent of all human-produced CO2 is emitted in Africa. (DW Conference Trailer)

Natural disasters affect poor people more because their resources to confront hazards are scarce and many of their livelihoods depend on increasingly threatened ecosystem goods and services. As a result, the poorest often bear climate impacts disproportionately.

In plain language, this means that Africa is responsible for only three percent of all CO2 emissions worldwide, but one of the continents most effected by climate change. This climate injustice poses a huge problem and must call the main perpetrators of climate change into action when it comes to finding workable solutions.



The drivers behind the decision to migrate in Africa are complex. The economic and political development in countries affected are equally relevant as environmental issues, conflict and war. Now, climate change has emerged as a potent driver of internal migration, propelling increasing numbers of people to move from vulnerable to more viable areas of their countries to build new lives. During the conference, many speakers from Africa told their personal stories or those from their communities to showcase the harsh impacts the  climate crisis already has in many regions.

Droughts lead to violent conflicts over resources

Hindou Ibrahim, an environmental activist and geographer, for example, originates from a pastoralist community around the Lake Chad which depends on the rainfall, the environment and its various resources. She states that 90 percent of the water of Lake Chad evaporated in the last decades with direct impact on the farmers, pastoralists and fishermen living around the area. What’s more, shrinking water resources on the one hand and extreme weather events on the other fuel conflicts between communities which fight over resources. The result: People are getting homeless and eventually die. “This is a reality for us”, says Hindou Ibrahim. “Climate change is devastating our lives and killing our people. It makes young men leave our communities.” Women and children are the most vulnerable in this battle and often left behind. Many Africans still live with and close to nature and celebrate this deep connection. With nature changing and resources disappearing, their base of live is withdrawn. “Nature is everything we have”, concludes Hindou Ibrahim. ”It gives us food, medicine, clean air, clean water.”

Africa’s urbanization dynamics drive climate-related risks

Africa’s anticipated growth is eye-opening. It is projected to have the fastest urban growth rate in the world with Sub-Saharan Africa being often regarded as the world’s fastest urbanizing region. By 2050, Africa’s cities will be home to an additional 950 million people. Much of this growth is taking place in small and medium-sized towns. Cities are therefore among the fastest growing in the world. Based on UN population estimates, the world’s 15 fastest-growing cities are all in Africa.

Informal Settlements as people move from countrysides into cities. (DW Conference Trailer)

Informal Settlements as people move from countrysides into cities. (DW Conference Trailer)

An influx of people must be carefully planned

Africa’s urban transition offers great opportunities but it also poses significant challenges. Because the climate vulnerability in African cities increases as they further expand. A lot of the so-called hotspot cities are situated at coastlines bringing them under dual pressure from uncontrolled urbanization and floods worsened by climate change. This adds up to general issues like poverty, poor waste management and drainage systems in the cities. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, current mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, confirms this development and stresses the importance of urban planning: “If you’re going to have an influx of people, you need to plan for them. We need a devolution of urban planning, land use, and property management.” Additionally, preparatory measures will be required through improved housing and transportation infrastructure, social services, and employment opportunities. This would also be increasing the economic strengths of the communities, Aki-Sawyerr adds. “We cannot talk about resilience without having stronger economies.”

Sea level rise threatens major African coastal cities

Dina Ionesco, Head of the division Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) at the UN’s IOM (International Organization for Migration), iterates that ten of the most important urban cities are located at Africa’s coastlines and could be severely affected by rising sea levels and coastal erosion. She points out the multi-causal phenomena of what is called “contemporary migration”. Because the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and natural hazards, are mixing with demographic, economic, labour issues and conflicts and therewith further aggravate migration pressures.

Many cities are located at Africa’s coastlines and could be severely affected by rising sea levels (DW Conference Trailer)

Many cities are located at Africa’s coastlines and could be severely affected by rising sea levels (DW Conference Trailer)

Understanding and responding to different kinds of migration flows and vulnerabilities would require an adequate governance, Dina Ionesco says, calling for a very nuanced and balanced approach which avoids stereotyped thinking and focusses on “real people who can be part of climate action and will have specific vulnerabilities that need to be addressed”.

As cities grow and the landscape of urban displacement changes, local authorities must be at the forefront of both, responding to crises and reducing risks in the long-term. National responsibility and leadership and international accountability must be combined with local action.




There is one undeniable truth to a growing population no matter where on the planet it’s taking place: The energy demand will always be rising. For Africa, an enormous amount of energy is required to overcome its obstacles and boost its growth – in particular in the light of the anticipated population growth rate. Africa’s energy demand is likely to double or triple by 2040. A significant financing gap of about 50 billion dollars per year has to be bridged in the next 20 years to achieve universal access to electricity in Africa, says Dr Kandeh Yumkella, an agricultural economist and Member of Parliament in Sierra Leone. And in the interest of the global climate, it should be clean and green energy substituting the current firewood and charcoal as the primary source of energy for cooking.

Though increased private investments in Africa’s energy sector and infrastructure would be required according to Dr Kandeh Yumkella, building this new climate economy is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Africa’s nations. And a few African countries have already started to make serious efforts to transition towards low-carbon technologies, low-carbon and resilient infrastructure, and low-carbon tax systems, such as Morocco, South-Africa and Nigeria.

Solar Power Irrigation Systems in Rwanda. (DW Conference Trailer)

Solar Power Irrigation Systems in Rwanda. (DW Conference Trailer)

But apart from prioritizing efforts for investments in the renewable sector, it also requires the right public policy environment in Africa to push capacity building and allow for effective planning models. Measures to encourage more private investments, such as bank de-risking would also be required, notes Dr Kandeh Yumkella.




If fairness was the only goal, the impetus to act would lie solely with developed economies to tackle climate change. The big emitters must step up their domestic climate action, quickly. Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary for Sport, Heritage and Culture in Kenya, expresses her concerns that Africa could reach a tipping point if the world fails to keep the temperature rise below two degrees. She demands a reliable financial commitment that links climate change and migration interventions with poverty reduction. Economic development would also be one of the most effective ways to increase the capacity to adapt to climate change. Increased income levels would avail the fiscal space that is needed by African countries to finance public spending on climate related public goods. Third, she feels that a strong political leadership that agrees to and commits on priorities and implementation plans concerning climate change must be in place.

Europe must assume liability

Kumi Naidoo, a South African human rights and environmental activist, points to a problem that would even aggravate the gap between those countries causing the crisis and those suffering most from it. Naidoo thinks that actions would be taken much faster if the same drastic effects that are currently seen in Africa were seen in Europe or elsewhere, and criticises the lack of urgency in Europe’s action plan as well as ever-increasing growth rates that exceed the planet’s boundaries. This would be about a system change and not a back-to-the-normal after a crisis situation.

Water is life. Climate justice for Africa and a battle against climate apartheid should be a top priority. (DW Conference Trailer)

Water is life. Climate justice for Africa and a battle against climate apartheid should be a top priority. (DW Conference Trailer)

The Security Council needs to change to remain credible
Christoph Heusgen has been Germany’s representative on the Security Council since 2019. He knows about its inner workings, is aware of the opportunities but also the boundaries. During the conference, he states there “would be too many resolutions and conventions that were not implemented”. The current composition of the Security Council would not reflect the reality. He urges to include two countries with permanent membership from Africa to justify its licence to operate. “If we don’t change the composition, the UN Security Council does not have any legitimacy anymore”, Heusgen states, calling the African Union to get actively engaged. Kamal Amakrane, Special Advisor for Strategic Partnerships at the UN notes that people need to come together beyond the boundaries by way of regional, local, continental and vertical integration. ”Africa must have a clear understanding on where it wants to go, what it needs and how to do it”, he says.

Prevailing negative narrative on migration further fuelled

At GPI, we frequently indicated that the prevailing narrative on migration is misleading, distorted and wrong for many reasons. “We need to be clear on the narrative: migrants are not overwhelming European borders. 80 percent are staying in Africa” states Nathalie Delapalme, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. As climate change is demonstrably increasing migration on the continent and in general – now and in the future – a negative perception is even further amplified. But a poor image fails to take into account that climate induced mobility is intertwined with many different factors as Ottilie Bälz from Robert Bosch Foundation rightly points out. Even more, Goran Buldioski from the Open Society Foundations criticized that most of the time one would basically talk about environmental change as the cause for migration, framing it as a problem. “We would rarely look at this as an opportunity, as an adaptation strategy”, he says. So, similarly to those adaption strategies every country and continent must be developing in the light of the climate crisis, so does Africa with no exception. It is not about restricting migration from Africa, but shaping it, as it is also highlighted in the Annual Report 2020 of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration.

Again, we must work towards changing the negative connotation of migration and mobility. “It is time to let go of migration and mobility as words that evoke negative connotation”, said Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships in her keynote, adding that if well managed and root causes of displacements in areas vulnerable to extreme weather events would be tackled successfully, a wealth of opportunities could be created. Kamal Amakrane, Special Advisor for Strategic Partnerships supporting the UN’s advancement of digital innovation for achieving the SDGs, adds that “a mobile continent is a healthy and resourceful continent and a resourceful continent.”




When looking for answers and political backing, Claudia Roth, Vice President of the German Bundestag, is convinced that Europe has to get much more uncomfortable in order to act more swiftly adding that “it is a question of climate justice in which vulnerable groups are the first which are put behind. Germany has to do more”, she says urging for more multilateral exchange at all topic levels to find the best and most suitable solution from the technical, political and implementation perspective.

Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at Germany’s Foreign Office sees main priorities in implementing policies and frameworks, e.g. the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, working with African partners towards including internally displaced persons into national legislation as well as strengthening climate change mitigation and adaption through the launch of new sustainable development projects. “Climate change as a driver of displacement has to be part of our common European approach. This requires an enhanced and comprehensive partnership with Africa”, Müntefering notes.

The EU has an ambitions strategy – and must not relent

Indeed, Europe’s Green Deal has an ambitious and holistic strategy to address the root causes of displacement in areas vulnerable to extreme weather events like droughts and floods. Part of it is a new partnership with Africa that includes a long-term structural development plan for the next 20 years. The EU budget for the next financial cycle includes higher spending on climate induced migration. The goal must be to create a joint approach towards net zero emissions and push for economic prosperity and growth in Africa as potential markets for Europe while stemming migration and creating economic opportunity and climate security for Europe.

“Europe cannot manage migration on its own”, says Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships in the European Commission. “We need to do this by cooperating with African partners based on trust, shared responsibility and mutual interest.”

It is of utmost interest for the whole global community to strengthen its resilience. Müntefering highlights that “Climate change is a common threat to all of us. (…) The political stability of whole regions is at stake. To work together, to ease the effects of climate change is therefore a question of humanity, but also of political rationality.”


Thank you!

We thank all of our partners and the various outstanding contributors that made this virtual GP conference memorable and a success! A lot remains to do. To understand the mutual interests and problems is an important step towards creating sustainable solutions.

Special Thanks to our partners and supporters:

  • Robert Bosch Stiftung
  • Stiftung Mercator
  • Open Society Foundations
  • Mo Ibrahim Foundation
  • Deutsche Welle

and as well to our outstanding experts that were part of the conference:

  • Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Member of Leadership Board Mayors Migration Council, Sierra Leone
  • Kamal Amakrane, Special Advisor for Strategic Partnerships supporting UNs advancement of digital innovation for achieving the SDGs, USA
  • Alexandra Bilak, Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (iDMC), Switzerland
  • Nathalie Delapalme, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, UK
  • H.E. Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission
  • Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, Executive Secretary at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Djibouti
  • Dr Christoph Heusgen, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, USA
  • Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), Chad
  • Dina Ionesco, Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Switzerland
  • Dr Amina C. Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage, Kenya
  • Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Germany
  • Kumi Naidoo, Social, Economic and Environmental Justice Activist, former Executive Director of Greenpeace International and former Amnesty International Secretary General, South Africa
  • Dr Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Lead Environmental Specialist and Regional Climate Change Coordinator of the World Bank Group, USA
  • Claudia Roth, Vice President of the German Bundestag, Alliance 90/The Greens, Germany
  • Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, Belgium
  • Dr Kandeh Yumkella, Member of Parliament Sierra Leone, former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, Sierra Leone

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