Climate change will displace, impoverish even more Africans

Thursday October 28 2021

Herders drive animals to a water source in Sudan. Almost half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa live below the poverty line and depend on weather-sensitive activities, such as herding. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Rapidly shrinking glaciers, extreme weather and increased climate events including floods and droughts, are among the foreboding events of a rapidly warming region that could soon find itself thrust out of the frying pan into the fire, on more fronts than one.

A new report — The State of the Climate in Africa 2020 — paints a grim picture of what the environmental changes could do to the continent within the next decades.

In due course, say the authors, up to 118 million extremely poor people on the continent will be exposed to drought, floods, extreme heat and other maladies, which will hinder progress towards poverty alleviation and growth, making it even harder to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The report, a collaboration between UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa through the Africa Climate Policy Centre, other UN agencies, and international and regional scientific organisations, warns that the impacts of climate change are piling woes on a continent reeling from multiple problems such as poor health, struggling agricultural production, unemployment, poverty, civil conflict and now the Covid-19 pandemic.

Climate change, if not fixed, will fracture and strain African governments’ efforts to create economic opportunities for a burgeoning population expected to reach nearly 2.5 billion by 2050 from the current estimated 1.4 billion, the report released on Tuesday warns.

“The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system,” noted WMO’s Secretary-General, Prof Petteri Taalas.


Shrinking glaciers

He was referring to the only three mountains in Africa covered by glaciers: the massif of Mount Kenya, Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

To illustrate how bad the situation is, the authors say the shrinking glaciers retreated by rates higher than the global average, and “total deglaciation” could be possible by the 2040s.

The warming trend for 1991–2020 was higher than for the 1961–1990 period in all African sub regions and significantly higher than the trend for 1931–1960.

Annual average temperatures in 2020 across the continent were above the 1981–2010 average in most areas. The largest temperature anomalies were recorded in the north-west of the continent, in western equatorial areas and in parts of the Greater Horn of Africa.

Higher-than-normal precipitation predominated in the Sahel, the Rift Valley, the central Nile catchment and north-eastern Africa, the Kalahari basin and the lower course of the Congo River, while dry conditions prevailed along the south-eastern part of the continent, in Madagascar, in the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea and in north-western Africa.

An estimated 12 percent of all new population displacements worldwide occurred in the East and Horn of Africa region, with over 1.2 million new disaster-related displacements and almost 500,000 new conflict-related displacements. Floods and storms contributed the most to internal disaster-related displacement, followed by droughts.

Flooding that occurred over Africa in 2020 was extensive across many parts of East Africa, with the Sudan and Kenya the worst affected. Other countries reporting loss of life or significant displacement of populations were South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Chad, Nigeria, the Niger, Benin, Togo, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

Other indirect impacts from these extreme climate-related disasters including floods, windstorms, landslides and drought were diseases, loss of property and agricultural produce.

On the whole, the rates of sea-level rise along the tropical and South Atlantic coasts and Indian Ocean coast are estimated higher than the global mean rate, at approximately 3.6 mm per year and 4.1 mm per year, respectively. Sea levels along the Mediterranean coasts are rising at a rate that is approximately 2.9 mm per year lower than the global mean.

Vulnerable continent

Africa is exceptionally vulnerable to climate variability and change compared with many other regions. Almost half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa live below the poverty line and depend on weather-sensitive activities, such as rain-fed agriculture, herding and fishing for their livelihoods.

And, already, the report says, compounded effects of protracted conflicts, political instability, climate variability, pest outbreaks and economic crises, exacerbated by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, leave many on the continent exposed. Many are often significantly vulnerable to things as basic as increase in food insecurity in the region.

“Food insecurity increases by five to 20 percent with each flood or drought in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2020, there was an almost 40 percent increase in population affected by food insecurity compared with the previous year as approximately 98 million people suffered from acute food insecurity and needed humanitarian assistance,” says the report.

Responding to these increasing vulnerabilities from climatic warming requires global e ort to limit warming to 1.5°C and well below 2°C above pre-in-

In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower GDP by up to three percent, by 2050

Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture with the African Union Commission.

The report proposes that investing in climate adaptation, early warning systems, and weather and climate services, could pay o .

“Along with Covid-19 recovery, enhancing climate resilience is an urgent and continuing need. Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water and climate observing systems,” said Prof Taalas, during the release of the report at the extraordinary session of the WMO Congress aired online, and ahead of the COP26 UN climate change conference, which takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12.

Here world leaders will once again gather with renewed pronouncements setting out the course they intend to take for net global carbon emissions to reach zero by 2050 as per the Paris Agreement.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursue e orts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

“By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people living on less than $1.90 a day will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat in Africa, if adequate response measures are not put in place,” Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture with the African Union Commission, weighed in.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product (GDP) by up to three percent, by 2050,” she added.

The report estimated that the investment in climate adaptation for sub-Saharan Africa would cost between $30 billion to $50 billion each year over the next decade.

The authors said rapid implementation of adaptation strategies will spark economic development, as well as more jobs as part of post-pandemic recovery.

Pursuing the priorities of an African Union green recovery plan would also allow for sustainable recovery as well as effective climate action, to reverse the trend.

The report recommends that climate-resilient development in Africa requires investments in hydro-meteorological infrastructure and early warning systems to prepare for escalating high-impact hazardous events.