October rains in Ghana and the climate change debate

The new CEO

Rainfalls in the month of October is peculiar in Ghana. Yet since the beginning of the month, some major parts of the country have experienced constant rainfalls. According to the Ghana Meteorological Agency, climate variability which is an effect of climate change has contributed to the inconsistent and abnormal rainfall patterns.

The continuous heavy downpour in what is expected to be a minor rainfall season is already impacting negatively on businesses and causing flooding in waterlogged areas. On October 15th 2019 several farms were submerged, and several persons were reported dead and thousands displaced due to the torrential rains hitting the Kasina Nankana East and South, Builsa South, Bawku, Garu Timpane and other communities in the Northern Region of Ghana.

The recent and other past incidents have generated climate change discussions, particular with the visible changes in weather patterns witnessed over the past few years. The usual Harmattan (hot desert winds) season that is accompanied by cracked lips during the Christmas periods, the bumper harvest of herrings in the months of July and August each year, and the extended Mango seasons et cetera, appears to be non-existent. The massive changes to these few scenarios and others, paints a dire picture of the consequences of climate change, which is directly linked to global warming.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) an international body of over 1,300 scientists, poverty stricken regions tend to suffer the most from the climate change phenomena, which human influence is evident. Gradually, climate pattern variations is becoming a threat to sustainable livelihood in Ghana and other under-developed countries.

This paper is intended to take a literature review of climate change and variability in Ghana by examining the impact and projections of climate change and variability in various sectors of the economy (agricultural, health, security and energy et cetera).


Global Warming and Climate Change

While others think of global warming and climate change as synonyms, scientists prefer to use “climate change” when describing the complex and long-term shifts in the planet’s weather conditions identified in temperature, precipitation, wind and other climate systems (Nunez, 2019); and “Global warming” as the unusual rapid increase in average global temperatures due to the greenhouse effect (Riebeek, 2010).

Reasons for change in climate can be natural processes and through human activities. The natural processes involve the changes that results from changes in rotation, orbit and the inclination of the earth, or extraordinary natural events such as volcanic eruptions. There is also the greenhouse effect, a process that occurs naturally in the earth’s atmosphere and results from the interaction between the energy that comes from the sun and some of the gases in the atmosphere called greenhouse gases (GHG). The natural greenhouse effect allows life to exist on the planet, because without it the average temperature of the earth would be below -18 degree Celsius (Vyas 2019).

Climate change is largely fueled by increasing levels of anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere, the most abundant of which is carbon dioxide (CO2), and which is constantly being released through respiration, plant decomposition and the burning of fossil fuels. The term climate change is therefore often used to refer specifically to anthropogenic climate change as opposed to changes in climate that may have resulted as part of earth’s natural processes (Amuakwa-Mensah, 2014). Over the past couple of centuries, the earth’s atmosphere has seen dramatic increases of CO2, Nitrious Oxide and other GHG, particularly from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and to a lesser extent, natural gas.  Uncontrolled industrialization processes, deforestation, transportation and even buildings release GHG onto the atmosphere (Benneth, 2017; Mgbemene, 2011).

Planet Earth is warm enough to sustain life thanks to gases in the planet’s atmosphere that hold heat by acting like a blanket insulating the earth. Greenhouse gases are therefore called that because they effectively act like a greenhouse — trapping the heat inside the planet’s atmosphere, making the average temperature on earth 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius). That is to say that the more greenhouse gases emission into the earth’s atmosphere, the warmer the average temperature gets.

Risks and impacts

It might sound trivial when we hear about global average temperatures changing by two or three Degrees. However those small-sounding numbers could have far-reaching and/or unpredictable environmental, social, and economic consequences.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (2009) notes that climate change negatively affects the basic elements of food production such as soil, water and biodiversity, and affects the stock of fish and their habitats. Warmer temperatures influence the fish stock, migratory patterns and mortality rates of wild fish stocks and also determine what species can be farmed in certain regions (Dontwi et al. 2008). The climatic variability effects on crops and fish have social and economic consequences for individuals whose livelihood depend heavily on the weather and climate (Al-Hassan & Poulton, 2009).

According to the World Bank (2014), women are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change as a result of a combination of factors including gender-based cultural norms, inheritance structures and household responsibilities. Nelson and Agbey (2005) finds a strong relationship between climate and poverty levels, and suggesting that poverty increases vulnerability to the negative effects of the environment conditions in the form of natural resource base, ecological fragility, access to safe water and sanitation.

Studies have also confirmed the link between climate change variability and human health. According to Hainesa et al. (2006), changes in climatic conditions are expected to affect the distribution of morbidity and mortality through the physical effects of exposure to high or low temperature. Through climate change, some regions are experiencing extreme rainfalls leading to flooding, while other areas experiencing a decrease which leads to drought conditions. And while global mean temperatures are expected to increase between 1.4 and 5.8 degree Celsius by the end of this century, there would be a corresponding rise in sea level as glaciers melt (IPCC, 2007).

Ghana Specific Issues

A 2017 data from the Water Resource Institute (WRI) shows Ghana as ranking 97 of 188 countries for per capita emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), contributing only 0.07 percent of global emissions, compared to China which ranks number 1 and contributing 27.52 percent of emission. In spite of the low contribution to global emissions, Ghana is rated as highly vulnerable to global climate change, ranking 107 out of 181 countries in the ND-GAIN index scores for 2017 for climate vulnerability. The Index ranks Ghana as the 114th most vulnerable country and the 110th least ready country; meaning that the country is highly vulnerable to, and less ready to deal with climate change effects on especially food, water, eco-system service, health, human habitat and infrastructure.

Over the past three decades, Ghana have witness a slight increase of total annual precipitation (Climate Service Centre, 2015). Farmers have had evidence in temperatures rise, unpredictable rainfall patterns across all ecological zones, longer periods of Harmattan (hot desert winds) and desertification as the main current effects of climate change (Akon-Yamga et al. 2011; Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, 2010). The northern part of the country has repeatedly experienced incidences of droughts and floods (Akudugu, & Alhassan, 2012). In 2007, floods in the northern part of the country, immediately following a period of drought, affected more than 325,000 people. Also in 2015, days of torrential rain within Accra resulted in widespread flooding and left 159 dead (Flood List, 2016; GFDRR 2013).

Climate change in Ghana is projected to produce high temperatures and low rainfalls in the years 2020, 2050 and 2080, and desertification is estimated to be proceeding at a rate of 20,000 hectares per annum. Sea-surface temperatures are expected to increase in Ghana’s waters with a corresponding drastic effects on fishery. The suitability of weather within the current cocoa-growing areas in Ghana is expected to reduce by 2050, accompanied by an increase evapotranspiration of the cocoa trees. Rice and rooted crops (especially cassava) production are expected to be low. Hydropower supply is also at risk, and the incidence rate of measles, diarrheal cases, guinea worm infestation, malaria, cholera, cerebro-spinal meningitis and other water related diseases is expected to increase as a result of the current climate projections and variability (Asante & Amuakwa-Mensah, 2014).

Ghana’s “Climate Change Profile” for 2018 as published by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, suggests that high temperatures will further increase, and patterns of rainfall will be less predictable. Rising sea levels is another projected effect of climate change, with coastal regions expected to face a sea level rise of 13-45 cm in 100 years, and are especially vulnerable to flooding and waterborne disease (WHO & UNFCCC 2015; Climate Service Center, 2015) in especially low-lying areas with large populations, leading to increased risk of conflict over scarce land and water resources (Asante & Amuakwa-Mensah, 2014), and affecting the country’s water availability and food security in especially in the north of the country (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, 2018).

The discussion on climate change in Ghana must therefore continue if we are to ensure that human and all living things continue to depend on predictable weather patterns for food supply, shelter, safety, good health, and socio-economic developments.

Written by Paa Kwasi Anamua Sakyi, Institute for Energy Security ©2019

The writer has over 22 years of experience in the technical and management areas of Oil and Gas Management, Banking and Finance, and Mechanical Engineering; working in both the Gold Mining and Oil sector. He is currently working as an Oil Trader, Consultant, and Policy Analyst in the global energy sector. He serves as a resource to many global energy research firms, including Argus Media and CNBC Africa.

Leave a Reply