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    November 15, 2011 | 2:10 PM

    Does climate change make development harder?

    The world is approaching a major milestone. In 2015, we will reach the target for nations to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Agreed upon at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, these are a set of eight goals to help measure progress in developing countries around the world.

    Globally, while there has been substantial progress towards completing some of the goals, a report by the Secretary General of the UN comments that "progress has been uneven and, without additional efforts, several of the Millennium Development Goals are likely to be missed in many countries."

    Source: UN Development Programme

    Take Africa, for example. The continent's progress towards these goals is examined in a new report issued by the African Development Bank, African Union, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations Development Programme. An important point the report makes is that the challenges associated with meeting the Millennium Development Goals in Africa are "exacerbated by the threat of climate change."

    Climate change can impact the Millennium Development Goals both directly and indirectly, through a sort of domino effect. To illustrate this fact, let's start with the seventh Millennium Development Goal: "Ensuring Environmental Sustainability." Between 2000 and 2005, the report states that Africa lost forests at an approximate rate of 4.1 percent per year. Since trees act as key carbon sinks, losing this amount of forestland sends carbon into the atmosphere, which in turn acts to increase global average temperature.

    In Africa, as temperatures rise, key food crops -- such as corn, millet, sweet potatoes and sorghum -- may have trouble thriving. This can mean harder work for smaller yields of dietary staples as well as higher food prices, which impacts the first Millennium Development Goal, "Eradicating Extreme Hunger and Poverty".

    Rising temperatures could also increase the likelihood of some kinds of extreme weather events throughout the continent, potentially making incidents such as this year's famine in Somalia and the 2007 floods in 22 African countries more common.

    Higher temperatures and wetter conditions could hinder progress on the sixth Millennium Development Goal: "Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases." A World Health Organization report found that increased precipitation brought about by climate change would increase the likelihood of infection in humans and livestock from diseases such as malaria and Rift Valley Fever.

    The compounding effects illustrated above could also impact the fourth Millennium Development Goal: "Reducing Childhood Mortality." With less food on the table to bolster children's immune systems, less freshwater available to stay hydrated, and more frequent outbreaks of malaria, diarrhea and other diseases, organizations such as UNICEF warn that children will disproportionally bear the consequences of climate change.

    As these examples show, climate change and economic development are linked. To help countries in Africa and around the world develop and prosper, we need to act now on climate change solutions.

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