An important movement is afoot to build resilience along West Africa’s coast, where more than 30 million people live and depend on coastal resources for their livelihoods and food security.

In June, government officials from 11 West African nations travelled to Accra, Ghana to kick off a regional coordination effort as they develop national plans to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Panel discussion with representatives from Ghana, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. Photo credit: Pam Rubinoff

The coastal region is the economic engine of West Africa, generating much of the region’s GDP through agriculture, fisheries, tourism, and industry, and providing critical infrastructure for trade with the poorer Sahel region to the north.

But West Africa’s coastal areas face multiple climate change impacts – such as more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and storms, as well as sea level rise – in the coming decades.

ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, hosted the kick-off event with USAID to encourage governments to take a shared approach to coastal issues as they create National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) under the UN climate change process.

Ghana’s Deputy Environment Minister, Bernice Heloo, opened the event by reminding officials that all nations will face climate change together. “Many African countries, including Ghana, are struggling to cope with current climate variability and change.”

Ibila Djibril, Benin’s focal point for National Adaptation Plans in the UN climate process, stressed the links between climate and development. “What is at stake here is not just the environment… but the whole process of development. A country cannot truly develop itself when climate change jeopardizes national efforts,” he said.

So what was accomplished in Accra? Participants learned to use a new approach, pioneered by USAID in Jamaica and Tanzania, to think through the initial stages of NAP development strategically. They also shared experiences with coastal development and adaptation planning through discussion and peer-to-peer learning.

But most important, a regional action plan was drafted to promote better coordination of transboundary and regional efforts in coming months. Regional institutions like ECOWAS, it was agreed, can play a key role in helping countries to access climate information and to take coordinated action around critical issues, like planning coastal infrastructure and managing coastal forests, watersheds and other shared natural resources.

Ms. Heloo, Ghana’s Deputy Environment Minister, was just one of the officials to explicitly recognize the importance of working together to build coastal climate resilience in West Africa.

“I am glad this workshop will seek to agree on an approach toward preparing a regional development strategy to address the complexities of the coastal zone,” she said. “The impacts of climate change on the coastal areas and coastal development can be devastating.”

The 11 West African countries were Benin, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. ECOWAS works to promote cooperation in the region on a range of economic and political issues.