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Towards a regional strategy on adaptation to climate change in West Africa

Publication date:
M. Niasse
Type of publication:

This paper lays the foundations of a regional climate change adaptation strategy based on the risk-sharing approach (i.e. sharing the burden of the development and implementation of response measures that help avoid or attenuate the impacts of climate change). The author argues that the West African context is particularly favourable to promoting the concept of sharing the costs of climate change adaptation responses through regional collaboration. The main justifications given are:

West Africa is the poorest subregion of one of the poorest regions of the world and  the countries it is composed of are often unable to bear alone the high costs of designing and implementing appropriate climate change adaptation measures
some of the key natural resources of the region are transboundary and are therefore not properly integrated in strictly national strategies
interstate collaboration in the design and dissemination of adaptation measures can help countries achieve economies of scale, by pooling together available expertise and by sharing best practices.

However, there are also a number of constraints. These are identified as:

many of the regional structures which could act as a driving force in implementing regional adaptation initiatives are more effective in policy than in practice
it is easier to mobilize funding for national initiatives than for regional ones
governments are often sensitive to anything that touches on their national sovereignty and are therefore reluctant to endow regional institutions with the legal powers that would allow them to fulfil their mandates
even if shared resources such as water offer opportunities for collaboration, they are also often disputed resources and sources of conflicts
climate change is an area in which there remain unanswered questions and as such, decision makers tend not to consider climate issues among their priorities for strategic intervention.

With these constraints in mind, the author proposes a strategy with the aim to reducing West Africa's vulnerability to climate change by sharing adaptation costs at the regional level. Four strategic objectives are outlined:

promoting sub-regional and regional collaboration in the establishment and use of decision-support knowledge bases on climate change and its impacts
promoting subregional and regional collaboration in the development and sustainable exploitation of transboundary natural resources and ecosystems 
identifying, promoting and disseminating appropriate climate  change adaptation technologies, techniques and practices
putting in place a regional framework for consultation on climate change and its impacts.

The author concludes by asserting that unless they come together to share the burden in an organised manner, West African countries will have difficulties dealing with climate change.