Climate change threatens the survival of Africa’s wild lands, wildlife, and people

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Climate Change

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  • Photo of large arid landscape in Africa
  • Aerial photo of river forest
  • Photo of woman farmer tending to seedlings
Overview

Africa’s wildlife, wild lands, and its rural communities bear the brunt of climate change.

Even though the continent consumes a tiny fraction of the world's fossil fuels, Africa’s vast ecological wealth and unique natural ecosystems are especially susceptible to shifts in weather patterns. The protection of large landscapes is one of the greatest mitigation measures for climate change. If managed responsibly, large intact lands can mitigate climate impacts, helping wildlife and people adapt.

Healthy large landscapes help absorb carbon emissions. Their intactness is not only vital for the survival of wildlife, but a necessary factor for building climate resilience.

In all of the large landscapes where African Wildlife Foundation works to protect biodiversity, we engage the people who depend on the natural environment for their economic, social, and cultural welfare. Climate-smart conservation planning, sustainable natural resource management, and conservation-friendly enterprises are powerful tools to reduce the vulnerability of communities in the face of climate shifts.

Without such sustainable and proactive participatory measures to mitigate climate change impacts on rural communities, Africa’s unique natural assets suffer.

Challenges

Land degradation endangers both wildlife and humans.

Combined with excessive greenhouse gas emissions from around the world, deforestation in Africa is costing the continent.

Forests, due to their ability to absorb and sequester tonnes of carbon dioxide which would otherwise trap heat in the atmosphere, are one of the primary tools for climate change mitigation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2050, forest cover needs to increase by more than 10 million sq. kilometers to stabilize global temperatures.

But Africa’s forests are under threat. Huge tracts of the continent’s rich forests and grasslands are destroyed for industrial and infrastructural development. Rural communities are also clearing land for settlement and subsistence farming rapidly — the scale might be small and isolated, but this shift in land-use fragments wildlife habitats and restricts the movement of certain species.

Solutions

Community-driven conservation measures mitigate climate change impacts.

  • Protecting Africa’s precious forests.

    Climate change threats are growing in Africa and across the world, and Africa’s forests can be a part of the solution. Forests contribute to about one-sixth of global carbon emissions when cleared, overused, or degraded. Healthy forests absorb emissions and store them into perpetuity.

    Nearly 20 percent of the African continent is covered by forests, including the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the Congo Basin Forest — known as the “green lung of Africa.”

    AWF works with governments and communities to ensure the sustainable management of Africa’s forests, like the Congo Basin, to conserve wildlife habitats, while also protecting water towers and enhancing forest carbon stocks.

    Through the U.N. Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), we have collaborated with partners to provide the forest communities in Chyulu Hills in Kenya with monetary incentives for adapting land-use to support conservation. Instead of logging and clearing portions of the forest for small-scale agriculture, landowners can sell carbon credits and invest the revenues into community-led enterprises.

    As part of the Central Africa Forest Ecosystems Conservation program, AWF's work with both forest communities and wildlife management agencies is helping to secure the world’s second-largest rainforest. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, local-level initiatives provide alternatives to bush meat hunting and agricultural practices driving forest loss. For communities in Cameroon, economic opportunities from non-timber forest products are transforming lives and protecting biodiversity. In southern Tanzania, AWF is increasing forest cover through tree planting and helping to secure existing forests by improving planning and management in partnership with the Tanzania Forest Service.

  • Introducing climate-smart agriculture and sustainable energy solutions.

    As part of AWF’s land-use plans, we build community capacity to adapt to climate change and provide practical solutions so communities have options that work for them.

    For rural small-scale farmers, this involves learning new sustainable farming techniques that ensure higher crop yields, promote soil health, retain water and ultimately increase incomes.

    We also train and organize groups to develop alternative livelihoods from non-timber forest products and beekeeping, depending on their priorities. By providing alternatives to communities reliant on forests, we help to protect key forest resources while providing benefits to communities.

  • Empowering communities to secure their water sources.

    By 2030 water scarcity will impact as much as two-thirds of Africa. Our reforestation initiatives help recover Africa’s lost forest cover and when focused around riverine areas, they create shade and stop the erosion of river banks, helping to improve water flow and quality for wildlife and people.

    In southern Tanzania, we have supported water user associations with training to manage their water resources, restore riverine forest areas, demarcate riverine boundaries, and assess the quality and flow of their rivers with affordable tools that involve all members of the community. This is just one component of the watershed management plans that are designed with the input of multiple local stakeholders in line with national policies and natural resource management goals.

    AWF also equips Maasai households in northern Tanzania’s Manyara Ranch with tools to harvest rainfall — instead of digging shallow wells or scooping riverbeds — transforming how communities access water in semi-arid landscapes. Tailored for traditional manyattas, each structure in the homestead is covered with a waterproof tarpaulin and a guttering frame to collect rainwater. It passes through a filtration system to remove dust and other solids before it is stored in an underground tank — out of elephants’ reach. Previously the burden of fetching water fell on women and young girls, often pushing them out of school or other income-generating activities. Now, this simple solution alleviates pressures on households, requiring only a hand pump to draw out clean water as needed. Collecting rainwater also mitigates various social and health impacts while also improving the community’s capacity for climate change adaptation as droughts become more frequent.

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