Climate action held back by conflicting policy in African countries

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  • Study assessed ‘coherence’ of policies on climate, water, agriculture, energy
  • Policy conflicts hold back action on climate change in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia
  • Barriers include lack of buy-in and institutional capacity, conflicting mandates

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[NAIROBI] Government action on climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa is being held back by conflicts between policies that promote adaptation on one hand, and development goals on water, agriculture and energy on the other, an analysis has revealed.

It found that in Tanzania, for instance, the national development plan has little “coherence” with the national adaptation programme of action (NAPA), as well as water policies. And in Malawi, the national water policy, adaptation programme of action, and agricultural policies are not consistent with national strategies to address climate change.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change call for coherent policies across sectors such as water, agriculture and energy to help address climate change impacts including severe droughts and flooding.

“There are many barriers to a lack of policy coherence. Some are common throughout all countries, including lack of buy-in,”

Patrick Curran

The authors of a policy brief resulting from the analysis identify several barriers to a lack of policy coherence across such sectors.

“Some are common throughout all countries, including lack of buy-in, conflicting mandates for sectoral ministries or the limited resources to enable the processes necessary to support coherence,” says Patrick Curran, co-author of the policy brief and a policy analyst at the UK-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Other barriers include limited institutional capacity or leadership to coordinate sectors, and weak capacity to undertake regular reviews or put in place a process to update and align national and sectoral policies.

The researchers focused their analysis on Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia by using a scoring system to assess the extent to which policies that focus on water, agriculture, energy and climate change were consistent in addressing climate change impacts.

“The research was conducted to gain a greater understanding of the political economy affecting climate change and sustainable development decisions being taken in the region,” says Andy Dougill, a co-author of the policy brief and a professor of environmental sustainability at UK’s University of Leeds.

The researchers recommend that countries revisit their development strategies or policies in order to review, update or develop them so they explicitly integrate climate change and the SDGs as key objectives.

They also recommend developing institutional arrangements that enable coherence across sectors involved in climate change planning.

George Okoye Krhoda, an associate professor of geography and environmental studies at Kenya’s University of Nairobi, tells SciDev.Net that both policy decisions and assessments of policy coherence in Sub-Saharan Africa are limited by insufficient data.

Krhoda adds that water, energy and food production are the most climate-sensitive production systems and supports the call for governments to work across sectors given the scale of the challenge. “Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa will be grave based on the current predictions,” he says.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.