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Overview of Climate Change and Adaptation in Mali

Overview of the state of climate change in Mali. Written in 2009.
Alex Dalliston

NB: This article was written in February 2009 to support the development of Sida’s country assistance strategy for Mali.

Mali is a large, land-locked country in the Sahelian zone with a climate that exhibits large inter-annual variability, particularly with regards rainfall. As shown in figure 1, the country can be split into 4 climatic zones; a Saharan zone in the North with rainfall less than 200mm/year, (51% of land area) a Sahelian zone in the centre of the country with rainfall from 200-600mm (23% of land area), and a Sudanian zone and Soudano-Guinean in the South with rainfall of between 600-1000mm and greater than 1000mm respectively. Temperatures in Mali can reach maximums of up to 45ï‚°C, with little inter-annual and only small seasonal variations.

Current Climate and Hazards

Map showing rainfall zones in Mali: Source Mali NAPA

Data from the Met Office shows that there has been a southwards encroachment of the Sahelian and Saharan climatic and vegetation zones over the last 40 years, as rainfall has decreased (footnote 1) and analysis of the periods 1951-70 compared with 1971-2000 for Sikasso in the south and Tessalit in the North shows this decrease in average annual precipitation of 19% and 26% respectively. It is widely reported that inter-annual variability has also increased and that the rainy season has become more unpredictable, however, it is unclear whether this is backed up by statistical analysis. Temperatures have increased in the country and it has also been reported that drought conditions have become more frequent, causing migration, either temporary or permanent, to become an increasingly common coping strategy (footnote 2).

Climate Projections

There is a high level of uncertainty associated with climate projections for Mali, and W. Africa in general, in particular for changes in precipitation, with the result that projections of changes in precipitation should be treated with caution (footnote 3). The NAPA notes that temperatures will increase and there will be a decrease in precipitation, but given the uncertainties in the projections it would be unwise to use this projection of change in precipitation as the basis for planning adaptation. For West Africa the IPCC gives a range of +1.8-4.7C for the period 2081-2100 (with a median of +3.3C), and a slight increase in precipitation that the report says ‘should be treated with caution’ due to the differences between the models. Temperature increases are likely to be greater in the Northern half of Mali than in the South (footnote 4).

It is clearer, however, that climate change is expected to increase inter-annual variability and the occurrence of extreme climatic events. It is also likely that there will be increased intra-seasonal variability, for example an increase in the number of dry spells during the rainy season (footnote 5)


Mali is highly dependant on the primary sector, which employs 83% of the population, and comprises 50% of the GDP (footnote 6), and as such is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In addition, its low ranking on the Human Development Index, of 168 out of 179 (footnote 7) can be used as a proxy for its adaptive capacity, indicating that the ability to respond to climate change in Mali is fairly limited.

While the projections of changes in precipitation are unclear, certain impacts can be expected. Increasing temperatures will cause greater evapo-transpiration, which will lead to drier soil conditions in many areas, and coupled with an increase in demand means water availability is likely to decrease regardless of whether there is an increase or decrease in precipitation (footnote 8). The decrease in water availability may make conflict between agriculturalists and pastoralists more likely. Strengthening the synergies between agricultural and pastoral practices, for example through the traditional practice of allowing grazing for fodder on cultivated land, will help to avoid conflict.

Climate change is also expected to increase variability and the incidence of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and intense rainfall events, and without improved planning and management the incidence of disasters can be expected to increase. This may increase the frequency of floods in the country, which would destroy crops and property, increase erosion of already fragile soils, and require dams to cope with greater flows of water (footnote 9). Health is likely to be affected by increased maximum temperatures, an increase in diarrhoeal disease if floods become more frequent and possibly longer-term conditions related to mal-nutrition depending on the effect that climate change has on food security.

Without adaptation measures there are likely to be adverse effects on agriculture associated with these changes in climate, although the extent of the effects varies greatly depending on different projections for precipitation (footnote 10). The Millet/Sorghum farming system in the Sahel is one of the most vulnerable farming systems to drought in the world according to a recent report (footnote 11), and is likely to be adversely affected by climate change. Several studies, however, suggest that the situation with regards agriculture may not be so severe, with a USAID study showing little change on yields of maize, sorghum, millet and groundnuts, under a 2-3°C warming, and a Norweigan study arguing that nutrient availability rather than water availability will continue to be the main factor limiting plant growth and suggesting that good adaptation policies could have a large effect on agricultural yields in Mali and counteract the effects of any reduced water availability (footnote 12)

The costs of climate change have not been calculated for Mali, and it would be difficult to do so given the uncertainties in climate projections. The Stern Review, however, indicates that for developing countries the costs could be in excess of 10% of GDP with a warming of 5-6°C. It is also difficult to estimate the effects of climate change on the informal economy, which plays an important role in the livelihoods of many Malians, and there is a lack of information on the impacts on urban areas. What is clear, however, is that already vulnerable, poor rural groups will be particularly affected by the impacts of climate change and that climate change will need to be integrated in development planning in Mali if the ambitious growth plans set out by the government are to be met, in particular as the majority of this growth is based on natural resource exploitation. It is also clear that the damage caused by climate change in Mali will depend to a large extent on the degree to which impacts can be reduced through successful adaptation.

80% of Mali’s electricity is generated from hydro-power, and this is affected by dry years, where production can be reduced by up to 20%. This suggests that climate change may cause problems for the generation of hydro-electricity, and that the possibility of greater numbers of years with lower electricity production should be taken into account in plans for the energy sector.


Adaptation measures need to be put in place to minimise the impact of climate change in Mali, in particular on already poor and vulnerable groups. Malians have always had to deal with a variable and unpredictable climate, and have developed many coping strategies to deal with this variability, including the diversification of land-use patterns, soil conservation techniques and the generation of off-farm income (footnote 13). Adaptation strategies must be based on traditional coping mechanisms and must stem from the ideas and needs of the local communities in order to be successful.

General adaptation options proposed in Mali include: agricultural improvements such as the adoption of crops with shorter growing seasons, agro-forestry systems and improved access to dekadal and seasonal forecasts; water harvesting and management techniques, for example flood gates to enable flood irrigation; and the strengthening of relevant government and non-governmental institutions, for example agricultural extension agencies.

For the agriculture sector Aune and Batiano (2008) outline a method for increasing the resilience and productivity of farming systems, starting with techniques that are of no additional cost to the farmer (for example pre-germination of seeds and water harvesting techniques), and moving through steps that gradually require more capital and institutional support. More efficient water management systems will be vital to ensure adequate water supply for a growing population.

Given the uncertainties associated with the impacts of climate change, strengthening the capacity of key institutions in Mali, both government, research and NGOs, to integrate climate change into their activities and respond to the best available information is one of the most important steps to take. Increased harmonisation and sharing of information and best practice between groups, for example through forums where exchange can take place, would be a useful start to this process.


Mali has very low levels of emissions, of 0.05t/capita (footnote 14) compared to the world average of 4.22 tonnes/capita, and as such the focus should be on adaptation to climate change rather than mitigation, as under any international agreement Mali would fall among the countries allowed to increase their emissions. Any mitigation projects should have strong development co-benefits, such as rural electrification programmes using solar heaters, or reafforestation programmes which would also aid soil conservation.

The energy sector in Mali is dominated by firewood and charcoal, which comprise 96% of Mali’s energy consumption, and are strong drivers of deforestation, in particular close to urban areas. Moving away from these sources of fuel would not only ease pressure on Mali’s forest resources, but also reduce health issues associated with indoor fires. Any move away from these fuels should be made with renewables in mind, such as Mali’s great potential for solar and wind power which is currently not utilised (footnote 15).

Although the Clean Development Mechanism is a potential way to attract investment to Mali, it is a very competitive market, and currently the majority of projects are implemented in China and India. Mali would need to rapidly increase its capacity to attract CDM projects if this investment in clean technology is to be a meaningful amount. It is worth noting that there is a large amount of funding for adaptation currently being pledged both by donors, and increasingly private foundations, and that if Mali can demonstrate institutional capacity for adaptation it will be in a strong position to attract this funding.


Mali’s National Adaptation Programme of Action was completed in 2007, and identifies Agriculture and Health as the most vulnerable sectors, followed by Fisheries, Energy and Water Resources. A combination of government officials, NGO staff, academics, civil society and rural communities were involved in the NAPA process and helped to identify and prioritise 19 adaptation projects, ranging from the adoption of better adapted plant species to income diversification, cloud seeding, micro-dams for irrigation and awareness raising about natural resource management. As of January 2009, none of these projects had been implemented, and it is too early to tell to what extent the work of the NAPA will be integrated into national planning documents.

Institutional relationships

Mali became signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 1992 and to the Kyoto Protocol in 1999. In 2003, the country established a Designated Operation Entity as the focal point for the Kyoto Protocol, which regulates the Clean Development Mechanism in Mali. The responsibility to follow international environmental conventions in the country lies with the Permanent Technical Secretariat for the Institutional Framework of Environmental Issues Management (STP/CIGQE). The STP/CIGQE is the focal point for the UNFCCC and UNCCD conventions. As such, it coordinates activities related to the conventions and reports to meetings of the conventions. Furthermore, the Secretariat is responsible of managing the national environment and climate information.

The capacity to cope with climate change depends on the institutional framework and understanding, and the ability of the country to take concrete actions (footnote 16). In general, the political awareness of the Malian Government on the need to protect the environment is high, particularly since the extensive and very harmful droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. Overall, the environment appears well integrated into the Mali’s second poverty reduction strategy described in the Cadre Stratégique pour la Croissance et la Réduction de la Pauvreté (CSCRP) (footnote 17). The CSCRP was approved in October 2006 and covers the period 2007-2011. It presents the Government’s long-term vision to promote a re-distributive growth and a reduction of poverty through the re-launch of the productive sectors and the consolidation of the public sector reforms.

The CSCRP explicitly acknowledges the importance of sustainable natural resource management and environmental protection in achieving rapid broad-based growth. Climate change related risks and adaptation measures are not given explicit priority within the strategy document and climate change is not explicitly addressed in the 13 ‘priority intervention areas’ (axes d’intervention prioritaires) into which the strategy is further broken. However, the intervention areas ‘Environment Management and Conservation of Natural Resources’, ‘Food Security’ and ‘Rural Development’ involve critical climate change adaptation elements that are well integrated into the strategy.

Another relevant policy for climate change is the Politique Nationale de Protection de l’Environnement (PNPE – the National Environment Protection Policy). The PNPE was approved in 1998 and remains the dominant legal instrument of environmental policy in Mali. The central goal of the PNPE is to promote sustainable development by ensuring food security and the development of national capacity for sustainable management of natural resources. The PNPE recognizes that the environment is a cross-cutting issue and stresses clearly the need of integrating the protection of the environment into the design, planning and implementation of all development policies and programmes. In general, the PNPE is well reflected in the Malian sectoral legislation (i.e, in the Code de l’Eau of 2002 and in the Loi d’Orientation Agricole of 2006), with exception of certain sectors where environmental requirements are less well specified (i.e. Tourism and Telecommunications)(footnote 18). Overall, the PNPE could serve as a powerful frame of reference to incorporate climate change considerations into national development planning.

Nevertheless, even though the PNPE is well reflected and understood in the Malian legislation and appears to work well as a guiding framework, the policy has been less than fully implemented. There are four major reasons for this which are explained in detail on this page:

Other Donor Activities

NB: This is indicative and is no way comprehensive.

DANIDA has a lot of work on climate change in Mali and is working on water resources and sanitation, Agriculture and Private Sector enterprise, as well as providing support for good governance and the Energy sector. Other important donors in Mali include GTZ, The Netherlands, UNDP, UNEP and UNITAR who are all supporting activities related to climate change. Regional organisations such as SOS Sahel, AGHRYMET/CLISS, the Near East Foundation, Mali FolkeCenter, Institut d’economie rurale, Direction Nationale de la Conservation de la Nature (DNM)and the Drylands Coordinating Group (umbrella Group for Dryland NGOs) are all also actively involved. A partial list of activities being carried out in Mali can be found in Appendix 1, which should be supplemented by the work of the consultant in Mali.


  1. Ministere de l’Equipement et des Transports (2007) Programme d’action national d’adaptation aux changements climatiques.
  2. ‘Ministere de l’Equipement et des Transports (2007) Programme d’action national d’adaptation aux changements climatiques.
  3. Christensen et al. (2007) Regional Climate Projections. IPCC WG II Chapter 11. The inability of most models to produce ‘semi-realistic’ simulations of the Sahel drought, the lack of vegetation feedback in the models and the fact that small changes in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone would produce large changes in rainfall cast doubt on projections for precipitation.
  4. Christensen et al. (2007) Regional Climate Projections. IPCC WG II Chapter 11.
  5. Ebi, K., Smith, J. (2006). Mali Pilot Study: Climate Change and Agriculture In Zignasso. Final Report. Washington DC: U.S. Agency for International Development.
  6. Ministere de l’Equipement et des Transports (2007) Programme d’action national d’adaptation aux changements climatiques
  7. UNDP (2008) Human Development Statistics
  8. Danida (2008) Appréciation des impacts des changements climatiques sur les programmes de dveloppement de la cooperation Danoise au Mali.
  9. Danida (2008) Appréciation des impacts des changements climatiques sur les programmes de dveloppement de la cooperation Danoise au Mali.
  10. Butt et al. 2006
  11. Hyman, G. S. Fujisaka, P. Jones, S. Wood , M. Carmen de Vicente, J. Dixon (2008). Strategic approaches to targeting technology generation: Assessing the coincidence of poverty and drought-prone production. Agricultural Systems 98: 50-61.
  12. Aune, J.B. (2008). Adapting Dryland Agriculture in Mali to Climate Change. Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Department of International Environment and Development Studies.
  13. Danida (2008) Appréciation des impacts des changements climatiques sur les programmes de developpement de la cooperation Danoise au Mali.
  14. US Department of Energy 2008</li>
  15. Ministere de l’Equipement et des Transports (2007) Programme d’action national d’adaptation aux changements climatiques.</li>
  16. Stern, N. (2006). Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury, Cabinet Office.</li>
  17. ‘Lawson, A., Bouare, S. (2007). Budget Support, Aid Instruments, and the Environment. Mali Country Case Study. Draft Report. Overseas Development Institute.</li>
  18. Lawson, A., Bouare, S. (2007). Budget Support, Aid Instruments, and the Environment. Mali Country Case Study. Draft Report. Overseas Development Institute.</li></ol>

Related Pages

Mali Institutional Issues

Mali ACCCA project

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