What climate change means for ‘coastal Africa’

When global leaders gathered for COP28 in December 2023, Africa came at the top of their agenda in the race against climate change. The African Coastal zone, which includes 32 mainland countries, is made up of an assortment of vital ecosystems that include coral reefs, mountains and deltas. It also happens to be one of the most vulnerable regions in the continent to the destructive effects of climate change.

The Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Preservation, and Peace Building (CCCPA) recently participated in the Sahel (Coastal) Regional Forum on Climate Change, Peace, and Security with the aim of increasing awareness of the impacts of climate change. One of the key issues addressed was the funding needed by Coastal Africa to be able to tackle climate change.

Overall, Africa received $29.5 billion in climate finance in 2019/2020, but Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) indicate that the continent needs $580 billion worth of funding throughout the period of 2020-2030, which means that a $435 billion gap is accumulating over this decade. The danger also hits close to home, especially as Egypt’s coastal city Alexandria deals with issues that are no different from those in other African coastal cities. Alexandria’s population is rapidly booming, meanwhile, the risks of sea level rise continue to threaten its people, coastal ecosystems, and various industrial sectors. The real estate sector, being one of the most vital sectors in the city and country, is at the top of the sectors vulnerable to climate change. The question here remains: can coastal Africa beat the climate change clock and address the challenges before they turn into disasters?

Contributors to climate change: is wealth a curse?

Coastal Africa’s richness in natural resources has actually been a contributor to climate change. An emerging activity like sand mining, for instance, has become a dangerous, yet lucrative business. With sand being the second most consumed natural resource after water, it is used in a range of industries, from construction (cement, glass, and asphalt), to electronics and aeronautics. The effects of sand mining include erosion of the shoreline, which can cause reduction in water quantity and quality, as well as a disruption of vital aquatic ecosystems.

In Nigeria, the population has felt the impact of sand mining, and the government has taken action against sand mining in vulnerable areas, such as Lekki beach in the city of Lagos, located in southwestern Nigeria and renowned for its beauty that makes it a popular tourist hub, as well as beaches in the city of Anambra, located in southeastern Nigeria and known for its rich deposits of natural gas and crude oil. After the two areas were exposed to beach erosion and flooding, the Nigerian government decided to ban sand mining, but the impact still persists.

Another consequence of climate change that has resulted from the exploitation of Coastal African resources is deforestation. Deforestation refers to transforming forests into agricultural land. As one of the world’s largest cocoa producers, Cote d’Ivoire in Ghana has lost nearly 80 percent of its forest land in the past century. While actions are being taken to combat this crisis, demand for cocoa beans from the area continues to grow, thus hampering any progress that might be made.

The vicious cycle of climate change

A domino effect can also be seen as deforestation results in the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) that lead to a rise in sea levels, which results in a plethora of risks, including flooding. This, in turn, causes saltwater intrusion (SWI). SWI is the movement of salt water into fresh water. In addition to being a threat to agriculture, it can also risk the lives of those who rely on those fresh water resources for drinking water. SWI can also corrode infrastructure like roads, bridges, and buildings, thus putting entire cities at the risk of flooding and transforming them into wetlands.

Growing demand for housing

City life in coastal Africa is not only at risk, but also adds on to the vicious cycle of climate change, since the steady rise in population is a main driver of climate change.

The real estate industry alone produces 40% of emissions worldwide, giving one an idea of the great environmental impact of this sector. To meet the demands of the growing population, the real estate industry must ensure that adequate housing is provided, and this contributes to the causes of climate change. The surge in building homes will cause an increase in sand mining for construction material, as well the deforestation of entire areas in order to clear land for these new homes, which eventually impacts agriculture. This leaves the industry in an economically-precarious position as the sea level rise threatens to flood homes, potentially drastically cutting residents’ property value in the near future. The high demand for housing, combined with the high insurance costs of living in coastal areas also mean a surge in property prices, resulting in homeownership no longer being accessible to all.

The real estate industry has taken measures to meet this increasing demand in housing while also keeping its environmental impact at bay. The Africa Climate Summit held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) during September of 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, discussed climate change not as a looming threat but rather as an immediate concern for the real estate sector. Its aim was to come up with practical and sustainable solutions that address the climate-related challenges in Kenya and across the continent. One result of this summit was the real estate company, Finsco Africa, dedicating funds to achieving sustainable and green real estate.

Green real estate

Green real estate has also become popular in Egypt, with companies such as Suez Cement and Lafarge Egypt implementing the idea of “Green cement”, which produces lower emissions. But real estate is not the only sector that contributes to climate change in Egypt. For instance, the Red Sea, with its enchanting beaches, is a popular vacation getaway for both locals and tourists, and also a safe zone for coral reefs. It has been referred to as a “vital artery to the world economy”; however, it remains at risk because of activities such as mining, pollution, overfishing and construction, compromising its stability.

The Red Sea

Lina Challita, a biodiversity expert working on the protection of the Red Sea and former manager of Green Fins Egypt, an organization that aims to protect coral life through sustainable tourism, said, “Over the last few summers, we have seen a rise in sea temperatures, which has affected the Red Sea reefs and caused a significant increase in coral bleaching, especially in the southern regions. Rise in water temperatures affect the entire ecosystem, compromising the lives of a variety of creatures, from coral reefs to turtles to sharks.”
She explained that the coral bleaching in the area is particularly important because the region’s “super corals” — dubbed with their title because of their heat tolerance and ability to recover from ocean warming and still be able to successfully reproduce — have “in the recent years, begun to witness the tipping point of our reef ecosystems.”

She also mentioned that while the public and private sectors have recently taken several initiatives to sustain the stability of the Red Sea, there is still a need for boosting awareness on the matter, and “translating policies into tangible action.” She added that sustainability initiatives require ongoing support for the change to continue and extend to all the economic sectors that are dependent on the Red Sea.

Where to go from here?

Coastal Africa is not only home to major industries and trade, but also encompasses some of the most densely populated areas in the continent. Action to combat the impacts of climate change are therefore not only necessary for the overall wellbeing of the planet, but also crucial for the livelihoods of those inhabiting the area.

While coastal Africa’s natural resources continue to make it a prime location for exploitation, government controls and growing awareness can fight back. The real estate industry is one of many examples of sectors trying to reduce their environmental impact while meeting the demands of the population.

The Red Sea is also taking strides in ensuring that its precious resources do not run out one day or become scarce, and that the exceptional coral reef economy remains healthy and resilient.
While climate change is a force to reckon with, joint contributions to ensuring that we treat the planet with the love and care that it deserves could guarantee future generations a safe and secure planet to live in.

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