The change in pattern of rainfall and onslaught of excessive heat over the past few years may be a timely warning of the adverse effects of climate change. Using 2021 as a benchmark, I have noticed that the rains have failed to come when they were expected and come when they are least expected. The anomaly in rainfall pattern over the past three years has offset the activities of farmers, with dire consequences for livelihoods and food security.
The long-term impacts of climate change include: changing rainfall patterns, causing reduction in agriculture production and reducing food security; worsening water security, decreasing fish resources in large lakes due to rising temperature; and shifting vector-borne diseases.
Furthermore, rising sea levels resulting from climate change affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations – leading to increased risk of conflict over scarce land and water resources. Sadly, though Africa is the least contributor to climate change in the world, the continent is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its overdependence on rain-fed agriculture, compounded by factors such as widespread poverty and weak capacity.
Economists have estimated that the adverse effect from climate change in the form of reducting agricultural production could retard the growth of countries in Africa over the long-term, since a greater proportion of the national income in most African countries is from agriculture. In Ghana, for instance, the agriculture sector serves as a source of livelihood and backbone of the economy.
Climate change indicators
Ghana has moved from a Low Income to Lower Middle-Income country (as defined by the World Bank) and is both high-growth and energy-hungry. It has been recognised, however, that climate change and the cost of climate change response is a serious threat to this progress. There is already evidence of impacts from climate change on the national economy, with clear signs that the coastal zone, agriculture and water resources are all affected; as are health and livelihoods, especially for women, resulting in increasing levels of poverty.
Climate change is already affecting national economic output, and perhaps Ghana’s long-term development prospects. The nation’s economic development also requires efficient systems which can support domestic, commercial and industrial activities: such as buildings, energy, telecommunications, transport, water and sanitation infrastructure; and social services like education, health and recreation. Consequently, rapid climate change and rainfall patterns have the potential to direct and indirect impacts on the dynamics of three key elements in a struggling economy: human communities, natural resources and infrastructure.
As indicated earlier, over the years Ghana’s agriculture sector has been exposed to climate change because the sector mostly depends on rainfall. As a result, the sector is characterised by low productivity levels when the rainfall pattern changes; as occurred in 2021. In addition, several studies have indicated the alarming rate at which Ghana is losing its wildlife and biodiversity, with many species facing extinction. Apart from the negative impact of mining on the environment, land degradation is exposing stored carbon in the soils – with the consequence of increasing greenhouse gas emissions build-up in the atmosphere. Ghana has three forestry stories: plantations, natural forests and savannah, which are all affected by climate change.
Significantly, the decrease in rainfall and its unpredictability are likely to jeopardise employment for about 60% of the active population. The majority of an estimated 60% of the workforce in agriculture are small-scale rural farmers, who are mostly women. Besides, increased water stress is also reducing the availability of water for consumptive as well as non-consumptive use, such as hydropower generation. The pollution of water-bodies by illegal miners constitutes one of the greatest threats to sustainable development in Ghana. It calls for effective land use and overall natural resource management if the country is to safeguard the natural forests for future generations. For natural forests, the future lies in strategic implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries programme (REDD+).
Emissions and charcoal production
Energy is an essential element in the livelihood of mankind, and its benefit to human society cannot be overemphasised. Thus, energy is an essential input for economic growth, and per capita use of energy is considered to be a key indicator of economic development. Though energy use is an important component (as a catalyst) of development, it also contributes to emissions. Thus, various types of energy conversions emit greenhouse gases. The demand for energy typically grows with development, but Green House Gas (GHG) emissions need not grow at the same pace – as conversion and use of energy can be made more efficient.
The efficient use of energy will depend on accurate estimation of demand for energy and knowing the factors which affect energy demand. However, the accurate estimation of energy is something that has been ignored in most countries, including Ghana. In many contexts, emissions from the energy and transport sectors represent the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. With a growing rural and urban population, associated energy requirements will lead to an increased use of wood-fuels, electricity and oil products, the main energy sources in Ghana.
In fact, the alarming rate of deforestation in the northern part of Ghana because of charcoal production gives cause for concern. In Ghana, a greater proportion of total annual energy consumption is in the form of firewood and charcoal (that is, wood fuel) for cooking (constituting 76%), followed by petroleum products for transport and cooking/lighting (constituting 17%), and electricity use for lighting and appliances (7%).
Although wood-fuel products are in themselves renewable and thus carbon dioxide neutral, wood fuel combustion can lead to net emissions when there is no reforestation. According to the one study, 90% of wood-fuel is obtained directly from natural forests and the annual deforestation rate is 3%. The other 10% of wood-fuel is from wood-waste in the form of logging and sawmill residue, and planted forests. With this rate, one can project the deforestation rate for a decade to be about 30%.
What’s even more alarming is that Ghana is now exporting charcoal in response to increasing global demand for the product, but with more consequences on the environment. What’s more, the continuous harvesting of rosewood in the Savanah Region is adding to quick degradation of the savannah lands. Policy directions need to stop the policy, or else Ghana risks even more rapid deforestation. Environmental analysts have warned that the persistent exploitation and conversion of forests, land and wet-land ecosystems to other uses will contribute to net atmospheric emissions (GHGs) due to biomass burning and the loss of carbon sinks.
Estimates of the environmental degradation cost in 2006 suggest that 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost annually from unsustainable management of the country’s forests, land resources, wildlife and fisheries; and health costs related to water supply and sanitation. Almost 70% of the total land surface is now prone to soil erosion, and hard-pressed farmers are resorting to slash-and-burn practices which have converted more than 50% of original forest to agricultural land. Fish, timber and non-timber forest product stocks have decreased.
Sea level rise
Scenarios of climate change development for the first National Communication (under the UNFCCC Country Studies Project) have shown a sea level rise of 2.1 mm per year over the last 40 years in Ghana, with potential increases of 5.8 cm, 16.5 cm and 34.5 cm by 2020, 2050 and 2080 respectively. This will affect many communities within the 30-metre contour of the national coastal zone, where more than 25% of the population lives. Ghana’s coastal zone is pivotal to the economy, with five large cities and significant physical infrastructure situated there. The coastal areas are already extremely vulnerable to flooding and erosion.
Erosion, submergence and sea water intrusion will lead to the loss of economic, ecological, cultural and subsistence values through loss of land, infrastructure and coastal habitats. Sea level rise and changes in freshwater inflows could affect the habitats and biodiversity of coastal and marine ecosystems. Coastal and offshore gas, oil and electricity infrastructure is at risk of experiencing significant damage and increased shut-down periods from an increased frequency of storm surges, flooding and high-tide wave events.
There are direct health implications for communities and ecosystems with extreme air temperatures and increased air pollution. Climate change projections indicate potential changes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, affecting natural resources and associated productivity – which has an indirect impact on the livelihood and food security of communities. These changes also influence vector-borne infections, with significant increases in the incidence of climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and meningitis.
Royal Dialogue on climate change
It is heartening that traditional leaders in the country are playing a critical role in creating public awareness on climate change and its negative effects on the country’s future.
Last week, a series of meetings on climate change, dubbed ‘Royal Dialogue on Climate Action and Sustainable Development Goals’, began at Ofori Panin Fie, Kyebi, in the Eastern Region. Led by the Okyenhene Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, the eminent chiefs and other stakeholders deliberated on Climate Action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) .
The overarching objective of the Royal Dialogue was to provide a forum for reflection and dialogue on Climate Action and the SDGs, and to define collective actions for accelerating progress toward the SDGs and Ghana’s commitment under the Paris Agreement.
The Declaration aims at acting as a catalyst for increased urgency to accelerate Climate Action in Ghana, and securing strong commitments to pursue adaptation and mitigation options which will put Ghana on the path to achieving net zero emissions before 2050. In an opening statement, the Okyenhene expressed delight that traditional leaders have been given the opportunity to lead the agenda on climate change. “It represents a refreshing commitment to include traditional leaders, the shepherds of our communities and the vehicle for authentic indigenous expression,” he said.
According to the Okyenehene, as global warming and climate change continue to deplete the foundation on which growth and human survival are based, concerted and coordinated efforts are needed to reverse the impact of global warming and climate change. “We continue to witness changing rainfall patterns, which affects agriculture and reduce food security. We are alarmed by the worsening water situation, decreasing fish resources in large lakes due to rising temperatures and rising sea levels affecting low-lying coastal areas,” he said.
Asante, FA & Amuakwa-Mensah, F. 2015. Climate Change and Variability in Ghana: Stocktaking. MDPI.
Tropenbos Ghana. 2021. Policy brief.
Ghana National Climate Change Policy, 2013.