Why the Paris climate summit matters to Africa

The carcass of a dead cow lies in the Black Umfolozi River, dry from the effects ot the latest severe drought, in Nongoma district north west from Durban, South Africa.

Story highlights

  • African negotiators at COP21 in Paris hope a climate deal will include funding for adaptation
  • Africa's agriculture sector is particularly vulnerable to erratic weather patterns
  • Migration to cities puts a huge strain on infrastructure and creates health concerns

(CNN)Senior politicians from around the world have congregated in Paris this week to thrash out details of a global climate agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties -- or COP21.

African negotiators hope for a deal that commits industrialized countries to limiting their carbon emissions and preventing catastrophic global warming, and which makes resources available for those countries already on the frontline of climate change.
    The impacts of climate change on Africa are complex and unpredictable -- as they are across the world. Over the past decade, almost every region of the continent has experienced a greater frequency of extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods.
    In the Horn of Africa, the kinds of droughts that used to happen once in a generation happen every few years. In Southern Africa, the impacts of the El Niño weather event, which typically causes droughts, seem to be worsening, and water shortages have strained the infrastructure across the region. All along the Sahel -- the arid band of Africa that fringes the Sahara desert -- droughts have become the norm, destroying areas that were once productive.
    "Events that used to be once in 30 years are happening with greater frequency," says Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, ex-minister of finance of Nigeria and former managing director of the World Bank. "There's a lot of worry about the impact of climate change on food production, land management, on issues relating to livelihoods."

    Food security and growth

    A farmer on Lake Chad, which has shrunk from 25,000km2 to 8,000km2 today.
    African agriculture is particularly vulnerable to unpredictable weather. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 95% of agriculture is rain-fed, meaning that it is entirely dependent on the weather -- unlike irrigated agriculture, which often use boreholes or water stores.
    The majority of African farmers are also smallholders, who typically grow food for themselves and their families and sell the surplus. They are often unable to save much money between seasons, and the loss of their crops due to drought or flood can push them over the poverty line.
    These small farmers are particularly vulnerable to unpredictable weather. Without access to detailed weather forecasting or new, drought-resistant varieties of crops, small farmers -- who have planted at the same time and in the largely the same way for generations -- lack the tools to adapt.
    Crop failures undermine food security and push people into poverty, creating deep social pain. They could a