African Free Trade Could Increase Resilience to Climate Change and Conflict

Cars on the thruway.

By David Harary

Developing countries are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as drought, flooding, severe weather events, and threats to humanity’s basic needs like food, water, energy, and shelter. The African continent knows much about the impacts of climate change. But what can it do about it?

Enter the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). For decades, African leaders have looked outside the continent for trading partners. While intra-Asian and intra-European exports accounted for 59 percent and 69 percent of their respective total exports in 2016, intra-African exports made up only 18 percent of total exports. A heavy reliance on external markets, such as China, makes the African continent vulnerable to the whims of faraway leaders. This is especially true for the most basic necessities, such as food.

In 2011, the global market price of wheat nearly doubled as a consequence of heat waves decimating the Russian harvest. Russia subsequently restricted agricultural exports, which led food prices to rise across the globe. Countries that relied on Russian agricultural commodities, especially those in the Middle East and North Africa, witnessed a series of spikes in the price of bread. The resulting famine helped set the stage for the Arab Spring. Egypt’s revolutionary slogan, “bread, dignity, and social justice,” embodies the nexus of climate change, global trade, and human insecurity.

 

Published October 24, 2018

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