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Planning Africa’s Infrastructure in An Uncertain Climate Future

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Using a comprehensive, broad set of state-of-the-art climate projections, the study examines impacts in Africa’s main river basins (Congo, Nile, Niger, Orange, Senegal, Volta and Zambezi) and across four electricity power pools (Western, Eastern, Central and the Southern Power Pool). 


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new report examines how governments can plan climate-resilient infrastructure
  • The report uses a consistent, comprehensive set of climate projections to evaluate the possible economic impacts of climate change on Africa’s infrastructure
  • The report also recommends practical ways to incorporate climate resilience into infrastructure planning and design, including the development of technical guidelines, launching climate-resilient training programs for infrastructure professionals and establishing an Africa Facility for Climate Resilient Development

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2015— A new report from the World Bank, “Enhancing the Climate Resilience of Africa’s Infrastructure,” examines climate change impacts on hydropower, irrigation and electricity expansion in Africa and finds that the continent’s economic growth prospects can be improved by fully integrating future climate changes into infrastructure planning. The report shows how governments and regional organizations can work with climate scientists and design engineers in today’s uncertain climate future.  

Africa’s strong economic growth of 5% over the past decade has helped reduce extreme poverty and improved the lives of millions of families. To continue this trend, the continent’s heads of state and government are calling for an expansion of hydroelectric power generation capacity by over 54,000 MW, and of water storage capacity by 20,000 Km. Much of this investment will support the construction of long-lived infrastructure, such as dams, power stations, and irrigation canals, all being planned for construction and operation in a historically more constant climate. Yet scientists are predicting that the weather in the future is going to be very uncertain.   

“Although climate change impacts in the mid 21st century may seem far away, they are going to be very real during the life span of the infrastructure that will be built in the coming decades,” says Raffaello Cervigni, a lead environmental economist with the Africa Region of the World Bank and the lead report editor. “While this report provides stakeholders with tools needed for tackling the challenge of planning under climate uncertainty, the specific way in which infrastructure plans should be modified are choices that countries and regional organizations will need to make themselves.” 

The study team used for the first time a consistent approach, including a comprehensive, broad set of state-of-the-art climate projections, to examine impacts in Africa’s main river basins (Congo, Nile, Niger, Orange, Senegal, Volta and Zambezi) and across four electricity power pools (Western, Eastern, Central and the Southern Power Pool), to evaluate the economic impacts of an uncertain climate on hydropower and irrigation expansion plans when compared to a future with a constant climate. The team found that without fully integrating climate change considerations into plans, countries may face significant economic costs.

For example, in the driest climate scenario, the possible revenue losses across these basins from overbuilding hydro infrastructure range from 5% and 60%, with the Zambezi, Senegal and Nile basins identified as being the most affected.  On the other hand, under wet climate scenarios, there is the potential for increased revenues of 20% to 140%, with the larger potential gains projected for the Volta, Niger and Eastern Nile basins. But this potential can only be seized it investment planning is modified to factor in the possibility more water may be available than in the baseline.  

As there is no way to tell in advance if the climate will be drier or wetter, the report proposes an adaptation strategy suited for situation of deep uncertainty; and finds that it can cut in half (or more) the maximum climate change impact (loss of revenue or missed opportunity to increase it) that would be faced in the case of inaction.

Incorporating climate resilience into regular planning and project design processes will require time and a change in thinking. The report recommends several areas of interventions, including:

  • Develop technical guidelines on the integration of climate change in the planning and design of infrastructure in climate-sensitive sectors
  • Promote an open-data knowledge repository for climate resilient infrastructure development
  • Establish an Africa climate resilience project preparation facility to support the needs of different sectors
  • Launch climate-resilient training programs for infrastructure professionals
  • Set up an observatory on climate-resilient infrastructure development in Africa to link technical work with policy development