Skip to Main Navigation

Africa’s Pulse: Climate Change Adaptation in Sub-Saharan Africa Can Improve Resilience and Deliver Jobs


Climate Change Adaptation and Economic Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is set to emerge from the 2020 recession sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic with growth expected to expand by 3.3 percent in 2021. This is one percent higher than the April 2021 forecast according to the latest edition of Africa’s Pulse. This rebound is currently fueled by elevated commodity prices, a relaxation of stringent pandemic measures, and recovery in global trade, but remains vulnerable given the low rates of vaccination on the continent, protracted economic damage, and a slow pace of recovery.


  • Africa bears the brunt of climate change while contributing little to it. Adaptation to climate change should be at the center of the economic policymaking on the continent.
  • Countries in the region are disproportionately affected by climate change and are already experiencing the devastating effects of slow onset changes in temperatures and other natural hazards.
  • Climate change amplifies the frequency and impacts of shocks which affect the poorest households—with long-term impacts on human capital.
  • Policymakers can harness opportunities in the crisis to prioritize programs that support adaptation to improve resilience and deliver more and better jobs in the post-COVID-19 era

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021—As Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries embark on an uncertain road to recovery with the associated fiscal pressures, they will need to embrace the opportunities in the pandemic-induced economic crisis to address the climate crisis, for which the region bears the least responsibility yet the largest brunt, according to the latest Africa’s Pulse.

Despite being the lowest contributor to global carbon emissions, the countries are disproportionately affected by climate change and are experiencing the devastating effects of slow onset changes in temperatures and other natural hazards. Recent evidence shows that monthly economic activity in the region could contract by 1 percent when the average temperature is 0.5°C higher and the impact of a drought on medium-term growth is about eight times as high as that in developing countries outside the region.

Apart from loss of lives and livelihoods and damage to essential infrastructure, climate change disproportionately affects the poorest households perpetuating the cycle of poverty and vulnerability. African countries can seize the opportunity of global decarbonization to transform the economy and create jobs, including in manufacturing,” said Albert Zeufack, Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank.

In the Sahel, for example, in the absence of effective social protection programs, extreme weather events contribute to maternal and child malnutrition by leading to reductions in food intake and triggering decisions to take children out of school or sell off productive assets, thereby perpetuating and deepening inequalities. The persistent food, water, and environmental crises amplified by climate impacts can lead to protracted fragility, conflict, and distress-driven migration.

An estimated $30 billion to $50 billion is needed each year over the next decade to finance investments in climate adaptation. The Pulse notes that while 15 percent of global spending COVID-19 response was devoted to recovery spending and 85 percent was deployed to rescuing the economy, broad trends show that the recovery spending in most countries has been focused on activities that reinforced patterns of carbon-intensive development, even as a significant portion was invested in activities with zero impact on climate.

Noting the current positive trend showing countries using the ongoing crisis to introduce important reform measures and considering that financing adaptation is more cost-effective than frequent disaster relief, the report authors urge African countries to also harness the opportunities in the crisis to prioritize programs that support adaptation to improve resilience and deliver jobs in the post-COVID-19 era.

The global climate crisis presents opportunities for economic transformation and prosperity that African countries can seize, for example:

  • An energy strategy that combines an expansion of national grids along with increasing adoption of renewable energy technologies (solar and wind), which is essential to render universal access a more achievable goal.
  • Investments in climate-smart infrastructure that will help cities create jobs and leverage limited public finance with private sector investment while addressing climate-related problems such as pollution, floods, extreme heat, and energy access.
  • Proactive government policies, planning, and investments that will provide information, incentives, and an enabling environment to encourage communities, households, and the private sector to change their behaviors and investment choices to mitigate climate change and adapt to it.
  • Land use policies are powerful levers for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening resilience to climate change, providing positive and lasting contributions toward societal well-being and sustainability including multiple benefits such as job creation, disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation, and adaptation for current and future generations.
  • Policies to foster asset diversification by supporting human and renewable natural capital accumulation, which are crucial to reduce the risk of stranded assets among countries with abundant renewable natural capital.
  • Policies that foster production and downstream value addition in pivotal sectors in countries that are abundant in the metals and minerals are required for low-carbon energy technologies (for example, cobalt, lithium, copper, manganese, nickel, and zinc) as the world decarbonizes.
  • Policies that support greater manufacturing activity including in sectors that elaborate components of the Internet of Things, value-addition to minerals that will power the green economy, and the insertion into regional value chains.

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy can unlock more and better jobs that young Africans urgently need. Therefore. financing for climate change adaptation is critical, and policymakers need to mobilize resources both domestically and internationally to deliver more and greener jobs. Linking climate-related finance with critical governance reforms and conservation of natural capital as foundational assets may serve as an entry point. Ultimately, climate change adaption must be at the top of the policy agenda of African countries to address increasing climate impacts and achieve a green, resilient economic transformation.