Climate Change and Economic Growth in Developing Countries

A Conundrum for the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS)

Essay, 2015

10 Pages

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Situation of the ECOWAS

What has changed under climate change issues?

What needs to be done?




The 21st century is said to be the century of the highest temperatures in the world. Scientists have come to affirm that human activities, especially in developed countries, are the main cause of serious environmental issues in developing ones (IPCC, 2013). It appears that every country, now aware of the situation, has made several international agreements, which serve the purpose of mitigating the rise of temperatures in the world. These agreements require an effective and collective participation of countries, as well as sacrifices that could affect national development policies in developing countries. Generally, climate change mitigation texts are considered to be a contradiction to the old economic development process (Reid, H. 2014. P 235) and to the development of the different traditional economic sectors[1]. Countries on the path to a better economic status have to consider improving their citizens’ situations while focusing on environmental protection (Gowdy, J. & Salman, A. 2007). Some of them, like the European Union (EU) have chosen a regional approach which seems to be effective, and others would probably have to rethink their ways of improving their economic status; this paper will investigate the specific case of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The ECOWAS, in its goal of “cooperation, integration, economic stability and development” should review its apprehension of economic growth in a world seriously affected by climate change. This paper has the purpose of examining the conception of economic growth and its implications under the ECOWAS. It will attempt to find out if the ECOWAS is presently for or against a model of sustainable development in its status and in its actions. It will also examine if the community is eager to reconsider its development strategies, and propose what it could do to “raise the living standard of its people, and to maintain and enhance economic stability” within its members.


Most countries of the world have opted for regional integration to achieve their development and economic goals[2]. The ECOWAS has adopted the same goal of development for its members with the adoption of the ECOWAS treaty on May 28th, 1975. The community has clearly stipulated in its preamble that the goal of the ECOWAS is to ensure accelerated development for the members of the community. Seventeen years later in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) highlighted the need of thinking in a different way regarding the development of the world; countries were called to satisfy their needs while ensuring the coming generation the ability to satisfy theirs. This implies that environmental issues have to be taken into account more seriously in the pursuit of development. In this way it might not be easy to reach a consensus around the development thought, with those who think that sustainable development is just a conspiracy by the global North to hold the global South in industrial and economic dependence (Ezeonu, 2004). This paper argued that the ECOWAS has a promising legal and institutional background that could easily enable a better consideration of climate change issues, while pursuing economic development. However, it has been suggested a revision of the community’s treaty[3] to clearly include the tools required for sustainable development.

Situation of the ECOWAS

The treaty establishing the Economic Community of West African States was adopted on May, 28th 1975. The community has fifteen member nations, all in West Africa, speaking English, French and Portuguese. The purpose of the community is to improve the living standard of its people, ensure the economic stability, the co-operation between its members and promote the global progress of the African continent (Article 3-1). In order to help the community respect its promise, some institutions have been planned by the treaty.

These institutions cover the administrative, political, legal, economic, development and technical rooms of management of the community. Article 6 of the treaty stipulates these terms and has also left an opened door for possible institutions that could be useful[4]. The institutions are the economic and social council, the fund for co-operation, compensation and development and other specialized technical commissions. Just as if the existence of the institutions would not be enough, the treaty mentions the ultimate goal of an “accelerated and sustained economic development” for the members of the community. This could imply that the countries are expecting to reach a good level of development without interruption.

In addition, the community has acknowledged the importance of having the same development policies on the national level (Article 3-2a). In other words, realizing an efficient integration requires realizing a communion of policies, actions and goals; this would contribute to the reduction of poverty in the region. Surprisingly, despite the existence of this theoretical framework for effective integration, the ECOWAS members have yet to be cited as an example of integration success. Forty years after its creation, the community is still not able to ensure to its people the better standard of living they have committed to.

Although the members have planned policies for environment protection (Arts. 3; 22) in the achievement of the “accelerated economic development,” it cannot boast itself of reaching what will be called later “sustainable development.” According to Diop, A., Dufrenot, G. & Sanon G. (2010) the African continent is in deep need of good governance. This means that if effective governance was present, the ECOWAS countries would have achieved industrial development much quicker; consequently, the environmental harm they could have caused would have also been much more considerable.

This paper assumes that the economic development initially planned by ECOWAS has not been entirely achieved (African Development Bank – AfDB; Meriweather 1997). The literacy rate of the community is still very low (Ott, A. F. & Patino, O. (2009) and over 250 million people have less than one dollar per day in the whole continent[5] (Diop et al. 2010). The community still has an important development gap to fill[6]. It is expected that the continent in general and the ECOWAS countries in particular will have a considerable support from the AfDB to increase its economy through industrialization (Adesina, 2015; AfDB 2011). Even if the community members accept the importance of protecting the environment, they don’t highlight a direct link between this protection, the climate change issues and the way they have planned to achieve the economic development of the region.

What has changed under climate change issues?

Prior the intense global commitment around the different environmental issues the ECOWAS treaty of 1975 mentioned the necessity of the members of the community to work for the protection of the environment within the community, without making any reference to climate change issues. This could be understandable, considering the “new intensity” of the climate debate. Even with the revision of the ECOWAS treaty in 1993 and in 2007, it was probably too early to expect Less Developed Countries (LDCs) to take the lead in climate change issues. The revisions only took into account administrative processes.

All ECOWAS members have adopted and ratified the UNFCCC convention. They all figure in the Annex 2 parties, which has for long pointed the Annex 1 countries like those who have something to do with climate change issues. With the exception of Nigeria, all of them have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) early enough. Nigeria, which is the “lead country” of the community, aimed to reduce its emissions below its 2005 level by 50 percent, by 2030 (Uwaegbulam, 2015) and submitted its INDC only few days before the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris[7]. After the submission of its INDC, Nigeria finally commits to a conditional emission reduction of 45% and an unconditional reduction of 20%[8]. Even if the ECOWAS has not been submitted its INDC as a block like the European Union (EU), individually the countries have committed to enact and implement policies for climate change.

The awareness about climate change issues has come to be a common cause; African developing countries are among those who will suffer the most from the impacts of climate change (IPCC, Summary for Policy Makers 2013). Consequently, with an absence of mitigation and adaptation plans, ECOWAS countries could be severely affected. The main difficulties to implement those policies are essentially financial and technological, but could also be related to good governance within the ECOWAS. This calls on the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle of the UNFCCC and on the extent to which each responsibility should be respected.

The economy and the development process in the community still focuses on capital, strong industrialization (Adesina, 2015), and hopefully higher consciousness. It is hard to say if the ECOWAS countries will really commit to the reduction of their emissions and think about a different path to development; the constraints of a sustainable model of development and the failures of the community are important things that cannot be ignored. The INDCs of the members of the community are orientated toward a conditional commitment, which asks for the support of developed countries. Also, they trend to fix the period of commitment after 2020. They know what it will imply for them to deal with climate change issues, but they seem to be bounded by the need of raising the living standard of their people. Thus, the commitment for emissions reduction and for adaptation could be threatened by the apparent and more obvious needs of the ECOWAS people, if the support they are asking for is not provided on time, and well-managed.

Now that the ECOWAS has been confronted to climate change challenge, it could be relevant to wonder what has to be done to help the community in this direction. The ECOWAS has the initial goal of improving the economic integration of its members as well as the life of its citizens, but has apparently failed this goal (Konadu-Agyemang, K. & Panford K.2006).

What needs to be done?

Most members of the ECOWAS have an economy which relies on agriculture. Unfortunately, the IPCC has affirmed that drought and rains patterns will be severely impacted due to a changing climate, thus posing a major threat to agricultural sector, the most important source of economy for those countries. As stated previously, the economic situation of the community could have been different if the goals initially planned in its treaty were reached. Now that there is a new variable in the development equation, which is the modification of the climate, it is crucial that the treaty be revised. Then, there is a need to improve and encourage good governance within the community and at the inner level of its members. Finally there should be more commitment and respect toward the institution and its treaty.

The treaty of the ECOWAS has 93 articles. It is relevant to acknowledge the recognition of the environment as an important field by the ECOWAS members (Preamble and Article 3). However, this recognition looks like a stand-alone affirmation. Also, one of the treaty’s principle is the respect of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Art. 4-g). This Charter stipulates in its 24th article “the right of people to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development[9].”

The African economic institution already has the necessary legal ground to improve its laws for environmental protection and a more inclusive economic development. It could simply include the environmental variable into the treaty by specifying the inherent relationship of environmental protection and economic development. In addition to the commitment on achieving a “sustained economic development” the treaty could mention the pursuit of a sustainable economic development, which deeply focus on the well-being of all its people.

Furthermore, among the nine slots planned for the creation of the institutions of the community, no place has been explicitly appointed to the environment. The treaty has already planned the possible creation of future important institutions by stipulating the apparition of any other “useful” institution (Art.6). Therefore, a specialized institution could be created for the cause of environmental issues. This could certainly be a worthy support for the Environment and Natural Resources technical commissions in article 22.

Forty years of existence and the majority of the ECOWAS members are still in a critical economic situation, but the community still exits. With the example of the EU, Ott et al (2009) call for patience and determination to make a regional, economic integration successful. 40 years is possibly a proof of patience and determination, but could also be a sign that something needs to be changed after the slow increase in economic status of the community.

Regarding the lack of good governance mentioned by Diop et al. (2010), it could be suggested that good governance is important for the success of the ECOWAS. The West African region has been a place of conflict and political instability for more than 40 years. Some internal divergences still hinder the good progress of the States of the region, the ECOWAS States included. States are corrupted and people see politics are the best sector to make money and to be wealthy. Unless the way West African countries govern themselves is profoundly revised and improved, governance for development, for environmental protection and issues solving will always be an issue. If the countries themselves have a high index of corruption, it is hard to see how they could enhance the way the ECOWAS itself work and implement decisions. If those decisions are predicted for environmental protection, their success could be considerably mitigated.

Finally, by creating the ECOWAS, the West African States have agreed on reducing their power to the profit of the institution. Surprisingly, the commitment has not been properly respected. Conceding sovereignty for the good of all is still something the States will have to work on. It would be too optimistic to hope that the States will easily bend under the ECOWAS decisions, but at least there can be a common consent on specific actions. Environmental harms don’t respect the sovereignty principle. In this regard, it is imperative for ECOWAS members to effectively cooperate and work on the coordination and harmonization of their programs, actions and policies, to be able to meet the existing and upcoming environmental difficulties.


Economic development in West Africa is still an important issue. States have committed through the ECOWAS to put their resources together and ensure their citizen a better well-being. The rising of new issues like the environmental ones, especially climate changes, has put the West African environment under stress, thus shifting the ECOWAS States into a more difficult situation. This paper has argued that the ECOWAS countries already have the necessary legal background to have more commitment toward the environment. However, they will need to first, revise the ECOWAS treaty and appoint a higher priority to the environment and to its related issues, then improve the level of governance within themselves and finally, improve the coordination and the harmonization of their activities in the environmental field.


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[1] and


[3] The first was when it revised its treaty on 24 July 1993; the second was in 2007, when the Secretariat was transformed into a Commission.

[4] 1. The Institutions of the Community shall be: a) the Authority of Heads of State and Government; b) the Council of Ministers; c) the Community Parliament; d) the Economic and Social Council; e) the Community Court of Justice; f) the Executive Secretariat; g) the Fund for Co-operation, Compensation and Development; h) Specialized Technical Commissions; and i) Any other institutions that may be established by the Authority. 2. The Institutions of the Community shall perform their functions and act within the limits of the powers conferred on them by this Treaty and by the Protocols relating thereto.

[5] UNESCO. (2012). Global education for all meeting. Sub-Saharan Africa 2012 Education for All (EFA) report. Paris Summary Data Table Key EFA Indicators. Retrieved from:

[6] ECOWAS. (2012). Annual report. Integration and political stability in West Africa. Retrieved from: Pages 39, 40.

[7] Nigeria submits its INDC to UNFCCC – Presidency. Retrieved from:

[8] The Federal Government of Nigeria. (2015). Nigeria’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution. Retrieved from: Pages/submissions.aspx.

[9] African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights or Banjul charter. (1987). Retrieved from: The Charter is also included in the African states constitution.

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Climate Change and Economic Growth in Developing Countries
A Conundrum for the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS)
The American University, Washington, DC  (School of International Service)
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ISBN (Book)
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Climate change, ECOWAS, developing countries, Regional integration, sustainable development, sustainable model of development
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Emmanuel Awohouedji (Author), 2015, Climate Change and Economic Growth in Developing Countries, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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