Environmental change and economic development in Africa.

Author:Tarp, Finn

The MIT Global Change Forum has gained an international reputation for serious, frank, and informed discussion of global climate change. The Forum meetings provide a non-official, neutral setting for analysis and discussion of science and policy aspects of global change, and for independent assessment of studies and policy proposals. This year--in collaboration with MIT, UNU-WIDER, the Republic of South Africa, National Treasury, Environmental Affairs, and National Planning Commission--the forum met in South Africa to discuss environmental change and economic development in Africa.

With CoP21 fast approaching, and given the fact that developing countries are likely to play a greater role than they did six years ago at CoP15, this was a timely and important topic. Using research from our Growth and Poverty Project to lay out the economic progress Africa has made over the last twenty years, my contribution to the forum served to provide a background against which the other discussions could take place.

Africa: lots of progress, but challenges remain Progress

In order to understand how environmental change is likely to impact economic development in Africa, we need to first understand the region's economy and how it has changed over the last two decades. There has been a lot more positive reporting on Africa's situation in recent years. In 2011, The Economist, which in 2000 referred to the continent as 'hopeless Africa', headlined an article 'The hopeful continent--Africa Rising'. While it should be noted that some challenge this view (*), there is certainly a lot to celebrate in Africa. In particular there has been improvement on six key indicators since 1995:

  1. Household consumption has doubled

  2. Child mortality has been nearly halved (mortality rate, under-5 per 1,000 live births)

  3. Girls' secondary school enrolment has doubled (percentage of girls enrolled in secondary school)

  4. Child malnutrition has been significantly reduced (percentage of children under 5 that suffer from malnutrition.)

  5. Access to clean water has improved significantly (percentage of rural population with improved water source.)

  6. Mobile phone subscriptions have dramatically increased (cellular subscriptions per 100 people)

Overall, relative to previous periods, macroeconomic management has improved significantly; a new generation of policy makers and business leaders have entered the scene; and important gains have been registered in political stability, economic...

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