Global Warming; Causes, Effects, Current Trends and Search for Solution

By Janes Ouma Odongo

“Climate change is an issue that presents great scientific and economic complexities, some very deep uncertainties, profound ethical issues, and even lack of agreement on what the problem is.” Mike Toman

Mother Nature operates on equilibrium with room for slight disturbances. Any unwelcome alteration to this state (massive disequilibrium) comes with devastating catastrophes both human and natural- a principle in Earth Science


  1. Introduction
    • Definition of Weather and Climate

Whereas weather is the state of the atmosphere at a specific time in a specific place and is measured using elements such as temperature, cloudiness, humidity, precipitation, and winds, climate is defined as long-term weather patterns that describe a region. The same elements that measure weather are used to measure climate with their measurements taken over a long duration spanning 30years and above.

Climate variability refers to variations in the prevailing state of the climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events. Variability can be caused by natural internal processes within the climate system, or to variations in natural or anthropogenic (human-driven) external forcing.

Global climate change refers to a change in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for several decades or longer. This includes changes in average weather conditions on Earth, such as a change in average global temperature, as well as changes in how frequently regions experience heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, and other extreme weather. Changes in individual weather events will potentially contribute to a great effect, to changes in climate variability (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); 2005).

The weather system. Source: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), 1996.

The global climate system is driven by the sun’s energy. It is also regulated by natural processes and cycles in the Earth system which include the carbon cycle and greenhouse effect, orbital cycles (for the earth and the moon), ocean currents that distribute warmer and colder water around the globe, and atmosphere-ocean interactions that moderate temperature. In addition to this, some scholars humans are principally affecting the climate system through alterations to the carbon cycle, which regulates the flow of carbon among living and non-living parts of the Earth system.

Carbon Cycle. Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS). USGS Fact Sheet137-97 1997.

  • Greenhouse Gases

These gases are a natural component of the climate system with the role of maintains the Earth as a habitable planet. Greenhouse gases are transparent to incoming solar radiation, allowing the sun’s energy to pass through the atmosphere to the surface of the Earth. The sun’s energy is then absorbed by the Earth’s surface, used in processes like photosynthesis, or emitted back to space as infrared radiation.

Some of the emitted radiation passes through the atmosphere and travels back to space, but some is absorbed by greenhouse gas molecules and then re-emitted in all directions. This helps warm the Earth’s surface and the lower atmosphere.

Water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are the two largest contributors to the greenhouse effect. Others will include Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other greenhouse gases which are present only in trace amounts. These can still have a powerful warming effect due to their heat-trapping abilities and their long residence time in the atmosphere.

Without the greenhouse effect, Earth’s average temperature would be -0.4°F (-18°C), rather than the present 59°F (15°C), (NOAA; 2005).

The greenhouse effect. Source: United States Global Change Research Program, 1996.

However some scholars are not in agreement with the addition of water vapor into the list of gasses that make up greenhouse gasses. Their thesis is that this list should only be composed of those gasses “with negative effects”.

  • Definition of global warming

Global warming refers to a gradual increase in the overall temperatures of the earth’s atmosphere. Generally attributed to the greenhouse effect, global warming is caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, Chloro Fluoro carbons and other pollutants in the atmosphere.



  • Causes of Global warming

The major agents responsible for global warming include: Mercury, CO2, methane, nitrous oxide from industries, Sulfate aerosols and use of phosphates. The concentrations of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide has increased over the past two hundred and fifty years. This is attributable to the combustion of fossil fuels for energy production. Since the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century , some scholars report that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from about 270 parts per million (ppm) to about 370 ppm. Concentrations of methane have also risen due to cattle production, the cultivation of rice, and release from landfills. Nearly one-third of human-induced nitrous oxide emissions are a result of industrial processes and automobile emissions. Further to this, ecosystems have been altered with vegetation either burned or removed by or for human activities. The carbon stored in these forests is usually released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This deforestation is blamed on agriculture, urban growth, harvesting timber for fuel, construction, and paper, among other reasons.

Current reports indicate that, up to a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere can be attributed to land-use change (IPCC; 2001).

In addition to carbon dioxide, Sulfate aerosols and black carbon are two important additional examples of anthropogenic outputs. Sulfate aerosols, which enter the atmosphere naturally during volcanic eruptions, are tiny airborne particles that reflect sunlight back to space. Industrial activity has recently increased their concentration in the atmosphere primarily through the burning of fossil fuels containing sulfur. Anthropogenic emissions of sulfate aerosols have been associated with a net cooling effect. Black carbon (soot) is generated from industrial pollution, traffic, outdoor fires, and the burning of coal and biomass fuels. Black carbon is formed by incomplete combustion especially of coal, diesel fuels, biofuels and outdoor biomass burning. Soot particles absorb sunlight, both heating the air and reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the ground (Rosenzweig).
Greenhouse gases are released into the air from many sources. This pie chart shows where they were coming from in 2004. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group 3

Generally, fossil energy currently accounts for 80 percent of world energy use. Energy use is responsible for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation contributes more than 13% of green house gas emission but if we are to continue with our business as usual attitude, then emissions from transport related activities will double by 2050 Industry currently accounts for about 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and uses about half of the electricity generated. Most important in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in industrial sector are the chemicals, cement, and steel industries.

Another sector that is worth mentioning is agriculture which according to some scientists, is responsible for 25% of the emissions whether directly or indirectly.(Bellona Foundation; 2008).

Since 1900 the global surface temperature of the Earth has risen by about 0.8 oC and since the 70s by about 0.5 oC. The temperatures therefore increased largely between 1970 and today. This temperature increase occurred during a significant atmospheric concentration increase of some greenhouse gases (especially CO2 and CH4) which is known to be mainly due to human emissions. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in its Third Assessment Report in 2002 that: there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. It predicts that global average temperatures are likely to rise between 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius over this century, depending on the amount of fossil fuels we burn and the sensitivity of the climate system.

  • The Kyoto protocol

Representatives from 192 countries signed a treaty in 1992 called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This was later followed by the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. Also known as the Kyoto Accord, this is an international treaty among developed nations signed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 with the aim of limiting states’ emission of green house gasses into the atmosphere. Participating parties aimed to create policies and measures that would reduce and offset domestic emissions and increase absorption of greenhouse gases. The members were required to abide by the principles of accountability, compliance and reporting. The accord expired at the end of 2012 but parties agreed upon an extension of the protocol, effective from 2013 to 2020.

The Kyoto Protocol is overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). By late 2013, all UN member states except for Andorra, Canada, South Sudan and the United States had signed and ratified the treaty.


  1. A glance at the ongoing furious international debate on global warming

According to the Anthropogenic Global Warming Theory (AGWT) humans have caused more than 90% of global warming since 1900 and virtually 100% of the global warming since 1970.

This theory is advocated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is the leading body for the assessment of climate change established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The establishment of this institution was guided by the belief by many scientists that further emissions of greenhouse gases could endanger humanity.

There however exists dissenting voices opposed to this theory from scientists who, other than following the theoretical perspective, rely on meteorological observation data to make predictions. There is also a phenomenological model which says the global increases in temperatures between 1970 and 1990s was caused by phenomena happening naturally within the solar system without human influence. To this model therefore, global warming is not continuous and induced by human undertakings as claimed by the IPCC (Scafetta; 2010).

On the other hand, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stuck to its estimate that, on average, the rate of global warming should be 0.2 degree Celsius (°C) per decade. According to the vast majority of climate scientists that are in support of the IPCC approach, climate change is already underway. The past decade has seen the warmest 6 years since records began. They say that a third of global habitats are at risk, and extreme events such as floods, storms and drought are becoming more frequent. Due to this, the financial consequences of climate change are also becoming apparent – with insurance claims due to weather-related damage increasing dramatically over the past few decades. Critics of this however question both observations; that natural disasters are on the increase due to global warming and not other factors, and that losses from disasters are increasingly more from this (Huang; 2004).

A twist to this heated debate is presented by Dr James Hansen of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, New York, in a report tabled before the US Senate in 1988. According to this:

  • From 1860 to 1910 there was a slight fall in global temperatures of about 0.15°C
  • From 1910 to 1940 there was a rise in global temperatures of about 0.5°C
  • From 1940 to 1975 there was a fall of about 0.15°C
  • From 1975 to 2000 there was a rise of about 0.5°C

He gave an obvious explanation for these sequences, related to the increase in human population, the growth in the number and size of buildings, and the increased use of energy over the period for the temperature rise.

According to his report, from 1860 to 1910 the system was becoming established in the large industrial cities and spreading over the globe. Equipment was being moved from the sides and roofs of buildings to protected enclosures, leading to a slight fall in the average.

From 1910 to 1940 the cities expanded, together with their energy use. Thermometers still suffered from an upwards bias because of the shrinkage of the thermometer glass. The First World War closed many stations which were rebuilt with better facilities, still mainly in large cities.

From 1940 to 1975 many stations were moved to airports and others were set up in rural areas, so causing an average fall in temperature.

From 1975 to 2000 airports expanded to become “heat islands” and better heating took place everywhere.

His report also said that there are minor differences between the two Hemispheres. Since 1975 the Northern Hemisphere has warmed more than the Southern Hemisphere. But this is not true based on available global temperature data gathered since then.

The fluctuating behavior of the record is incompatible with any explanation involving a steady climate change and it is not possible to establish any particular trend (Gray; 2001).

In the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, 0.2°C per decade was the observed trend, but in the late 1990s and all subsequent years the trend has been zero. Global climate observations are becoming incompatible with the consensus theory of climate change. Some scientists suggests that global temperature change may not even be a reality at all, but rather a false conclusion based on temperature readings that have been skewed by human activity (Knutti; 2008].

The other fact that we may not want to turn a blind eye on is that the stations that monitor the temperature in cities have moved closer to humans as cities have expanded, and many rural stations have been closed down. That explains why there has been no recorded increase in the measure of atmospheric temperatures, only a spike in the data on surface temperatures.

This paper will give balanced analogy of the debate on global warming and then finally give a concluding opinion on the same. To note however is that I am not in agreement with any discussion that seeks to allow continued careless human emission of greenhouse gases, or any other wastes for this matter into the environment. The negative consequences of careless human interaction with the environment are almost obvious and readily visibly wherever we go on earth including in our homes and at our door steps. Any assertions that our activities are not impacting Mother Nature negatively are hence in my view, either careless or aimed at scoring other goals and are not necessarily pointed at furthering the debate on global environmental conservation.



A graph showing global climate variations over time. Source: NASA,

N/B an organization called Skeptical Science has published 176 reasons to prove that Global Warming is not taking place. These can be accessed on:

  1. Effects of Global Warming

The IPCC identifies the following effects of an increase in global average temperature:

  1. Steady rise of the sea level– Rise of the sea level occurs mainly due to glacier retreat. Eighty percent (80%) of the earth’s water is in solid form mostly stored in glaciers. The glacier on top of mountains, ice sheets covering West Antarctica, Greenland, and Arctic sea ice is melting at a very fast rate. When the water melts due to increased heating, it flows through streams and underground channels into the seas and lakes increasing their levels (National Geographic: 2015). Global sea levels are expected by between 7 and 23 inches (18 and 59 centimeters) by the end of the century. In addition, the continued melting at the poles could add between 4 and 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters).
  1. Flooding of coastal areas- As a consequence of the happenings in effect one above, increasing sea levels come with flooding along the sea coasts. This has effects both on the environment and human populations inhabiting the coast. The financial effects can be devastating considering that more people tend to invest heavily along the coast in high end homes and hotels.
  2. Frequent extreme weather conditions– Global warming results in climate change which happens through changes in the timing of seasonal events such as peak rainy, dry, hot, and cold seasons. It also alters the seasonal patterns of weather through increase or decrease in temperatures. The extreme and increasingly unpredictable weather conditions tend to create hazardous conditions which, if not well prepared for in advance, can bring about meteorological disasters.
  3. Frequent poor harvests- Happens mainly due to too high or too low precipitation as well as due to extremely high or low temperatures beyond what is normal for crops and livestock.
  1. Water shortage– Especially due to droughts. This results in water bodies drying up. The water levels in lakes, springs and wells may recede as well. In other places, the water gets polluted or salty. When this happens, there occurs shortage or complete absence of water for domestic, agricultural and industrial use.


  1. Loss of biodiversity- Biological organisms are forced to adapt to new weather/climatic conditions. Those that are not able to cope with these environmental changes die and become extinct. For example researcher Bill Fraser has tracked the decline of the Adélie penguins on Antarctica, where their numbers have fallen from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in 30 years. (National Geographic: 2015). Most plants will bloom earlier than their pollinating insects become active which lowers fertilization.
  1. Ecosystems change– It is predicted that some animal species will move farther north to become more successful; those that won’t be able to move and could become extinct. Wildlife research scientist Martyn Obbard has found that since the mid-1980s, with less ice on which to live and fish for food, polar bears have gotten considerably skinnier.  Polar bear biologist Ian Stirling has found a similar pattern in Hudson Bay.  He fears is that if sea ice disappears, the polar bears will as well (IPCC, 2007).


  1. Increase of infections– This is mainly due to poor sanitation brought about by inadequacy of quality water supply. Lack of water for food production can bring with itself famines together with which comes several other diseases (IPCC, 2007).


  1. Challenges in combating global warming
  2. Lack of adequate scientific backing of the theory– As seen earlier, earth scientists are not all in agreement that the earth is heating up. Some statistics have come up which prove that the global temperatures have not risen since 1990s.
  3. Lack of political goodwill- There exists a level of reluctance among political leaders of the developed states to fully adopt the agreed upon way forward as held in the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent discussions.
  • The global capitalist attitude- Everybody wants to continue exploiting the environment to achieve their economic ends. Some of the lead contributor agent to global warming actually sustains a great chunk of the global economy. E.g. crude oil.
  1. Feared effect of alternative technologies- The alternatives are not clean as claimed. Examples will include nuclear energy and solar energy. It is evident that wastes from these alternatives also have dangerous ecological effects. They are also very hard to dispose once expired.
  2. High cost of alternatives– The alternatives are more costly to produce and install. Their energy output per unit is low- the input/output ratio is too high. Using them increases production costs which in effect also increases commodity prices.
  3. Slow pace of global cultural change- There exists a fear of moving from the known to the unknown ways of combating in energy use and waste management systems.


  1. Suggested solutions to Global warming

There exists a consensus that increased energy efficiency is an important measure to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Large emission reductions can also be achieved by improving manufacturing processes, engaging in environmentally sound agricultural practices and increasing recycling.

In many people’s view, nuclear power production, though does not lead to any direct greenhouse gas emissions, and substituting fossil fuelled power plants with nuclear power has been suggested as a solution to global warming, will not help since nuclear energy use poses serious problems. These range from nuclear waste handling, the risk of nuclear accidents, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Until these significant problems are solved, using nuclear power as a solution to combat global warming would be to fight one problem by creating another.

Other solutions that have been suggested include:

  1. Lifestyle change- Bringing about a change in consumer behavior by means of emission-based pricing, increased awareness, and public and market based initiatives.
  2. Use energy economical technologies in buildings- The major greenhouse gas emission from residential and commercial buildings comes from energy related CO2. This can be lowered by reducing primary energy demand through improved energy efficiency and to replace fossil heating with renewable heating. The use of efficient technologies can help us cut greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by about half.
  • Increase efficiency in the transformation of energy and materials into products and services especially in industry, buildings, transport and power generation.
  1. Replace fossil energy in power generation, transport, industry and buildings with renewable energy such as solar, bio- and wind energy. Global energy demand is predicted to rise as countries industrialize and population continues to grow. Overreliance on fossil fuels is likely to do the globe more harm in the future. In the transport industry in particular, these are the other measures that are recommended:
  • The need for use of light-duty vehicles to achieve improved fuel economy.
  • Transition to using plug-in vehicles that operate partly or solely on electricity.
  • Require the sale of energy-efficient replacement tires.
  • Ensuring that the majority of new residential and commercial developments in metropolitan areas take place in compact, walkable distances with access to a range of transportation options.
  • There is need for transitioning to pay-as-you-drive automobile insurance, which reduces vehicle travel and accident risk.
  • Expand as well as encourage public transportation service through better transit service. This reduces per-mile global warming pollution from vehicles through reduced number of vehicles and traffic jam on the roads.
  • Encouraging bicycle travel through improved safety and convenience of bicycling.
  • Building high-speed rail lines in 11 high-priority corridors by 2030.
  • Adopt strong fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks.
  • Encourage energy efficiency improvements in airplanes and trains.
  1. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – It is recommended that we capture CO2 from power plants and industrial plants and store it permanently in geological formations- Underground tanks. Here, fossil CO2 is captured from power plants and transported through pipelines to safe geological storage sites. CCS can also be implemented at large industrial plants.
  2. Production of carbon negative power- In a carbon negative process, CO2 is first absorbed from the atmosphere through the production of modern biomass, such as algae. The production is only limited to non-agricultural land so as to not compete with food and feed production. The resulting biomass is then used to generate power in modern power plants fitted with carbon capture and storage, hence achieving a net negative emission.
  • Putting focus on non-CO2 greenhouse gas reduction- It entails reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from waste, industry and agriculture. E.g. methane from livestock and manure, and nitrous oxide from agricultural soils.
  • Use of climate friendly agricultural practices- Agriculture currently accounts for 13.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, of which methane from livestock and manure and nitrous oxide from agricultural soils make up the lion’s share. While there are no technical ‘quick fixes’ to reduce agricultural emissions, improved agricultural practices, such as restoring cultivated organic soils and improving cropland management, can enable a 30 percent emission reduction.
  1. Encouraging land use change- It entails managing forests better to enhance their role as natural sinks of CO2. Intelligent land management, reforestation, and measures to stop the deforestation of rainforests can make land use change a net absorber of CO2.
  2. Coming up with carefully planned waste disposal systems- Waste water and landfills produce about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, in the form of methane and nitrous dioxide. Through a global adoption of readily available technologies, such as land-fill and sewage gas recovery, emissions can be reduced by more than 90%.
  3. Implementing the agreements reached under the Kyoto Protocol- Here, legally binding greenhouse gas targets as well as ranges of flexible mechanisms were agreed. Joint Implementation (JI), the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and Emissions Trading (ET) which were agreed upon approaches allow countries and companies to buy and sell emissions with other countries who may either need to buy or have excess emissions to sell to others.
  • Using alternative sources of electricity other than burning diesel– The alternatives will range from wind power, to hydro, geothermal, biomass, cells, tidal sources and wave power.
  • Transport fuels can be obtained from liquid ethanol and biodiesel produced from plants, and other chemicals
  1. Conclusion

Scientists believe that biofuels can provide a wide range of products currently based on oil and gas. Most of the key technologies aimed at reducing carbon emission are already working well in most parts of the world though in small scale. Kenya for example almost wholly relies on hydro, wind and geothermal power production for electricity supply.

There exists a radical increase in public funding for developing and demonstrating new climate-friendly technologies. These technologies are however very costly both to develop and acquire. Large scale use of these technologies remains a nightmare for many. With concerted global effort in research and funding however, scientists and manufacturers will break even and bring these new technologies affordably at our door steps. As we wait however, there is need that we fight the conscious destruction of the environment that we are currently engaging in. For instance, a change of market conditions to make it financially attractive to protect the climate is necessary and the sooner this is done the better for the protection of the environment together with the sustenance of life on planet earth.

We may not have agreed on whether global warming is real or not especially due to political interests and lack of adequate data considering that making this conclusion requires data collected over centuries but one thing that is sure is that environmental pollution has very many negative consequences most of which we all have firsthand experience with.

If the green house effect, which has been explained in this paper is a fact, then it means that any excess heating up or cooling of the atmosphere will interfere with the system temperature equilibrium which is necessary for supporting life on earth.



  1. References

Angell, J.K. 1999 Comparisons of surface and tropospheric temperature trends. Geophys Res Letters:26 (17) 2761-2764

Cynthia Rosenzweig, Goddard Institute for Space Studies (

Gray Vincent, (2001), The Cause of Global Warming, Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Hansen, J. et al. (2007), Climate simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS modelE, Clim. Dyn. 29, 661-696.

Huang S. (2004), Merging information from different resources for new insights into climate change in the past and future, Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L13205.

Idso C. and S. F. Singer, (2009), Climate Change Reconsidered: 2009 Report of Boeker E. and R. van Grondelle, Environmental Science, Wiley, 2001.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2001. “Working Group I Third Assessment Report.” Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 881 pp.

Kirkby J. (2007), Cosmic Rays and Climate, Surveys in Geophysics. 28, 333-375.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 2001. “Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions. “ National Academies Press. 42 pp.

Knutti R., G. C. Hegerl (2008), The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes, Nature Geoscience

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in:

Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute.

Scafetta N., (2009), Empirical analysis of the solar contribution to global mean air surface temperature change, J. of Atm. And Sol.-Terr. Phys. 71, 1916-1923.

Svensmark H, Bondo T and Svensmark J. (2009), Cosmic ray decreases a_ect atmospheric aerosols and clouds, Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L15101.

Scafetta N., (2009), Climate Change and Its causes: A Discussion about Some Key Issues, at the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, DC USA.

Scafetta N., (2010), Climate Change and Its causes: A Discussion about Some Key Issues, La Chimica e l’Industria 1, p. 70-75

Rockstr¨om J., et al. (2009), A safe operating space for humanity, Nature 461, 472-475.



  1. Other relevant links that informed the findings in this paper

Africa’s Development Story

By Janes Ouma Odongo

Africa is endowed with rich and diverse renewable and non-renewable natural resources, yet its people remain among the poorest in the world.

Africa’s environment is continuously being degraded. The region is increasingly experiencing desertification, climatic variability and extreme events such as floods and droughts. While the region is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, its capability to respond and adapt to its impacts is limited. The region’s forests, biodiversity, and coastal and marine environments are also under severe threat.

Africa is an important supplier of natural resources globally, and the extractive industry (oil, gas, minerals) plays a crucial role in many African economies. Accounting for more than 50 per cent of Africa’s export in the 1990s, the extractive industry constitutes Africa’s largest export category. Exploitation of Africa’s abundant mineral resources was a major motivation for colonization. It is still is a challenge to add value to the exploited resources so as to obtain significant revenues for domestic savings and investment.

In our view, Africa’s lack of investment in infrastructure, transport and industry since independence has played a role in the maintenance of this underdeveloped state. Our leaders have not taken any daring initiatives towards the expansion of industries, load, port networks as well as the availability or accessibility of several other commons that need to exist before realistic upward economic growth momentum can be experienced. Until recently, though this still persists in many African nations, our leaders have tended to focus more on impoverishing the citizens, acquiring more wealth, strengthening their own military prowess for the leaders rather than nation’s sake and ignoring calls for improving economic and human development of their nations. This can be attributed to the fact that most of them had experience of working under colonialist regimes which had no respect for human rights; especially for Africans, or having been guerillas with only lessons learnt being those on how to torture and make enemies to toe the line. How independence age leaders barely knew or even wanted to know a thing on the role of the state in achieving economic progression for the nation and her citizens. This was made more worse, as well, by their not having thought of their states as competitors in the global economy, they were merely contented with receiving aid and giving away precious natural resources of the continent in return.

This was made worse by the high illiteracy levels in many an African nation. It is only recently that Africans have started acknowledging their role in the global village thanks to the rise in literacy among Africans coupled with increased access to the global mass media and economic empowerment which has allowed people from the continent to interact more with the world.

Moving Towards Realizing the Millennium Development Goals

The overriding sustainable development challenge in Africa is poverty eradication. The “African Ministerial Statement to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) identifies poverty eradication as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. Africa is the only region in the world where poverty has increased both in absolute and relative terms, (ECA, Economic Commission for Africa; 2014).

Apart from being the poorest region in the world, Africa remains the least developed, the most technologically backward, the most indebted, the most food-insecure and the most marginalized. Furthermore, malnutrition, disease, environmental degradation, natural resource depletion, poor and inadequate infrastructure, unemployment and weak institutional capacities continue to pose serious development challenges for Africa.

This state of affairs is exacerbated by recurring natural disasters and the AIDS pandemic, which is reversing decades of economic gains and imposing costs on Africa at least, twice those in any other developing regions, thus undermining sustainable economic growth. It is striking that Africa is the only continent not on track to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, (ECA; 2014).

Although North Africa as a whole and a small number if Sub Saharan Africa economies have the potential to reach the sub goal of reducing extreme poverty by half by 2015, the slow pace of progress in the majority of countries indicates that as a continent, Africa is unlikely to reach this goal, given current trends. The number of the poor in Africa has actually risen since the 1990s by over 90 million, while the average income of the poor has declined, indicating worsening income distribution within the countries. On the whole, the proportion of people living with insufficient food has declined by only 3 percentage points since 1990, while hunger still prevails. This is especially true for rural Africa (ECA; 2005a).

Taking our country as an example, Kenya’s poverty incidence rose from 52 per cent in 1982 to an estimated 56 per cent in 2004. During the same period, rural absolute poverty had increased from about 48 per cent to about 60 per cent with urban informal settlements and rural areas being more adversely affected. More seriously, the gap between the rich and the poor increased with poverty levels, standing at approximately 56 per cent of the population by 2003, up from 52% in 1994.

The interaction of the poor and the environment has resulted in undesirable consequences, which contribute to the worsening poverty situation in Kenya. As a result of poverty, the poor engage in activities such as poor farming practices, overgrazing, burning of trees to make charcoal and poor waste disposal, to mention but a few.

The Gini coefficient increased from 0.40 in 1982 to 0.49 in 1992. The Gini coefficient for 1992 for urban areas was about 0.45. The distribution of income has continued to worsen. For instance, in 1982 in the rural areas, the bottom 20% of the population received 4.9 per cent of the income while the top 20 per cent received 56.9 per cent. By 1992, the distribution was 3.5 per cent and 60.2 per cent respectively. The poorest 20 per cent were even worse off in the urban areas in 1992, where the lowest 20 per cent received 2.9 per cent and top 20 per cent received 58.8 per cent, (Biodiversity Conservation and Information Network; 2005).

Even in view of the above, the emerging picture of Africa in the MDG report portrays a continent that has secured progress in key areas such as net primary enrolment, gender parity in primary education, political empowerment of women, access to safe drinking water, and stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS. Antiretroviral treatment is becoming available in a large number of countries and maternal mortality rates are falling in some places.

The report draws attention to policy innovations in Africa that are facilitating progress toward attainment of the MDGs. These innovations include new and expanded social protection programs, which were once thought to be unaffordable to most poor countries but are now embraced as important additional interventions to secure progress on key human development indicators. In addition, countries have used the MDGs as a framework for development planning, strengthening coordination and cascading the MDGs to lower tiers of government (UNDP 2000,

UN 2003).

Economic sustainability

Africa’s economies performed reasonably well in the 1960s and early 1970s but did poorly in the following two decades. However, since the late1990s, the economy has picked up. But the recovery’s sustainability is fragile for two reasons. First, strong domestic savings do not underpin it. Second, Africa’s economies remain vulnerable to outside shocks (ECA 2001a). Economic growth for 1990-2000 averaged only 2.1 per cent a year, less than population growth of 2.8 per cent. However, African economies have continued to sustain the growth momentum of the early 2000s and recorded an overall average real GDP growth rate of 5.4 percent (ECA, 2007). This can be attributed to substantial progress in macroeconomic stabilization, deregulation, privatization, trade, and exchange rates reforms. However, structural constraints and institutional weaknesses continue to inhibit a vigorous supply response, as most economies still depend on primary products, exhibiting a high export concentration. While 60 per cent of all exports from Africa are agricultural (66 per cent of which is unprocessed); they account for only 8 per cent of the countries’ GDP (Osuntogun; 2005).

Africa and foreign aid

Africa’s dependence on foreign aid is not helping the situation. The so called aid does not only breed a culture of dependence on others by the continent. The aid also comes with strings attached, of which all seek to burden the continent with high interests that will take the people of the borrowing African states decades to repay.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

Average annual inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Africa doubled in the 1980s compared with the 1970s. It also increased significantly in the 1990s and in the period 2000–2003. Comparisons with global flows and those of other regions may be more useful, however. In the mid 1970s, Africa’s share of global FDI was about 6 percent, a level that fell to the current 2–3 percent. Among developing countries, Africa’s share of FDI in 1976 was about 28 percent; it is now less than 9 percent Also in comparison with all other developing regions, Africa has remained aid dependent, with FDI lagging behind official development assistance (ODA). Between 1970 and 2003, FDI accounted for just one fifth of all capital flows to Africa. It is well known that FDI is one of the most dynamic international resource flows to developing countries.

FDI is particularly important because it is a package of tangible and intangible assets and because firms deploying them are important players in the global economy. There is considerable evidence that FDI can affect growth and development by complementing domestic investment and by facilitating trade and transfer of knowledge and technology.

Regional trade among African states

Over the period from 2007 to 2011, the average share of Intra-African exports in total merchandise exports in Africa was 11 per cent compared with 50 per cent in developing Asia, 21 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 70 per cent in Europe. Furthermore, available evidence indicates that the continent’s actual level of trade is also below potential, given its level of development and factor endowments.

There are several reasons for the weak regional trade performance in Africa, one of which is that the approach to regional integration on the continent has so far focused more on the elimination of trade barriers and less on the development of the productive capacities necessary for trade. While the elimination of trade barriers is certainly important, it will not have the desired effect if it is not complemented with policy measures to boost supply capacities.

Africa’s development future

Though the continent has had numerous challenges as highlighted above, the continent seems to be geared towards having a brighter future. This era of sustainable development has been championed by undertakings such as the African Summit held in Lusaka, Zambia, 2001 which adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) that makes peace, security, democracy, good economic and corporate governance preconditions for sustainable development on the continent. NEPAD is governed by the following priorities:

  1. Establishing the conditions for sustainable development by ensuring:
    • Peace and security;
    • Democracy and good, political, economic and corporate governance;
    • Regional co-operation and integration;
    • Capacity building.
  2. Policy reforms and increased investment in the following priority sectors-
    • Agriculture;
    • Human development with a focus on health, education, science and technology and skills development;
    • Building and improving infrastructure, including Information and Communication Technology (ICT),
    • Energy, Transport, Water and Sanitation;
    • Promoting diversification of production and exports, particularly with respect to agro-industries, manufacturing, mining, mineral beneficiation and tourism;
    • Accelerating intra-African trade and improving access to markets of developed countries; and
    • The environment.
  • Mobilizing resources by –
  • Increasing domestic savings and investments;
  • Improving management of public revenue and expenditure;
  • Improving Africa’s share in global trade;
  • Attracting foreign direct investment; and
  • Increasing capital flows through further debt reduction and increase capital flows (NEPAD: 2014)


Booth, David and Diana Cammack (2013) Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems. London: Zed Books.

Greig, A., D. Hulme and M. Turner (2007). Challenging Global Inequality. Development Theory and Practice in the 21st century. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

ECA. 2002. Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable development. ECA Policy Research Report. Addis Ababa.

ECA. 2001. Transforming Africa’s Economies. Economic Report on Africa 2000. Addis Ababa.

ECA 2004. Assessing Regional Integration in Africa. ECA Policy Research Report Addis Ababa.

ECA. 2004. Economic Report on Africa 2004. Unlocking Africa’s Trade Potential. Addis Ababa.

ECA 2004. The African Gender and Development Index. Addis Ababa.

ECA. 2004. Striving for Good Governance in Africa. Synopsis of the 2005 African Governance Report. Addis Ababa.

John Rapley (2007), Understanding Development. Boulder, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Hunt, D. (1989), Economic Theories of Development: An Analysis of Competing Paradigms. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf

Khun, Alex (2008-08-06). “Inform Educate Action: Critical Review of Modernisation Theory”.

Meadows et al. (1972), The Limits to Growth, Universe Books, ISBN 0-87663-165-0 Osuntogun, C. A.2005. Country Report on the Status of Sustainable Development in Nigeria.

Sheldon, E.B. and W.E. Moore. 1968. Indicators of Social Change: Concepts and Measurement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, (2013), Economic Development in Africa: Intra-African Trade: Unlocking Private Sector Dynamism, United Nations Publication ISBN 978-92-1-112866-6

UN 2003. World Summit on Sustainable Development: Johannesburg 2002. Political Declaration and Plan of Implementation

UNDP 2000. Human Development Report 2000. Oxford University Press

“W.W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), Chapter 2, “The Five Stages of Growth-A Summary,” pp. 4-16″.

 About the author

Janes Ouma Odongo is a Masters of Arts in Disaster Management Student at The University of Nairobi. He is a Graduate Assistant in one of the Public Universities in Kenya