A new report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reveals Africa's "disproportionate vulnerability" to the climate crisis. It will impact over 100 million of the poorest Africans while completely melting the continent’s three glaciers in less than 20 years.
The Lewis Glacier on Mount Kenya is the largest of several still present there. Projections show it will be gone forever in about ten years as a direct result of global heating. Photo: Josski on Dutch Wikipedia
Africa is in many ways well ahead of the rest of the world in the serious harm the combination of higher heat, drought, and flooding from extreme weather both within the continent and from across its shores, among many other impacts. Its suffering from the climate crisis has, however, been hidden from much of the developed world and general news reports.
The just released report, State of the Climate in Africa 2020, lays bare many rapid transitions Africa is already going through, as a call to action to assist its people manage the adaptation to and mitigation for what is already present and getting worse every year. It is also yet another “warning shot” offered up in advance of the COP 26 UN Climate Change Summit happening only a few weeks from now.
In that report, the authors write with damning force about how despite that the 54 countries on the continent produce just 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, that the 1.3 billion residents within Africa are being faced with a warming rate far faster than the global average. That warming rate makes them “extremely vulnerable,” the authors note, to the most dire of disasters the climate crisis is bringing. It is also happening in a region with few of the economic resources or alternate solutions to keep the people safe.
“By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people will be exposed to drought, floods, sea level rise, and extreme heat in Africa, if adequate response measures are not put in place,” said Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, the African Union Commission’s commissioner for rural economy and agriculture.
To put that in perspective, the WMO authors define the “extremely poor” as those surviving on less than $1.90 per day. Even without the climate crisis bearing down on them, they were already at risk. They are now in danger of being the first mass casualties of global heating on the planet.
Among the key revelations of the report are the following:
Just as in the rest of the world, warming trends are accelerating for Africa. Much higher rates are being recorded in the last thirty years than in the 1961-1990 period for all African states.
The hottest temperatures in the continent were recorded in northwestern Africa, in sections of the Greater Horn region and in western equatorial areas. Those extremes are rising rapidly, placing virtually all aspects of life and commerce at risk.
Sea level rise because of global melting of the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland, and the Himalayas have already impacted Africa disproportionately. “The rates of sea level rise along the tropical and South Atlantic coasts and Indian Ocean coasts are higher than the global mean right, at 3.6 mm/year (0.14 inches/year) and 4.1 mm/year (0.16 inches/year),” the report explains.
The rate of melting of glaciers on the continent is so much faster than the worldwide average that Africa may become the first continent with glaciers to completely lose them because of the climate crisis. Mount Kenya, known for its dramatic vistas and snow/glacier melt which is important to local ecology, is expected to become completely barren by just ten years from now. Those on Mount Kilimanjaro and in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains are projected to be gone by 2040.
Extreme weather conditions from more violent and frequent storms are bringing extreme rainfall in some parts of Africa while others are suffering continued extensive drought which is deepening annually. The Sahel band across the mid-region of the continent, the central Nile region and its catchments, northeastern Africa, the lower portion of the Congo River, and the Kalahari basin are now dangerously overflowing on a regular basis, because of higher-than-normal precipitation. Within the southeastern and northwestern parts of Africa, in the northern part of the Gulf of Guinea, and in Madagascar, drought is destroying land, farms, and threatening drinking water supplies for all.
Last year along heavy rains tied to a warming atmosphere now capable of holding moisture were responsible for over 800,000 dealing with extreme flooding in the Sudan last year, with at least 155 dead. In Kenya, similar conditions resulted in 285 killed.
The impacts of all range from loss of life to loss of livelihood. They are also forcing millions to migrate to regions where they can escape the devastation in their areas, or to stand in place to adapt to what is already part of their lives.
"In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 3% by 2050," wrote AUC Commissioner Sacko regarding these implications. "This presents a serious challenge for climate adaptation and resilience actions because not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing."
According to the report, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Chad are suffering the worst climate migration movements thanks to drought, flooding, and other climate impacts.
The report also notes that even if there were means of how to deal with the crisis, global heating could end up costing African nations some $30 to $50 billion every year for the next ten years to deploy those solutions. That calculates out to 2% to 3% of the region’s GDP.
The WMO also said that food shortages increase by 5% to 20% for each flood which hits a given region.
Africa is of course not alone in this crisis.
In the United States, extreme drought has a stranglehold on the American southwest. That regional challenge will cost billions of dollars to address, even with the most innovative ways to increase available water resources, change usage patterns in industry, and switch to alternate crops which are more heat and drought resistant. It is also bringing with it broad-based wildfires which are now considered inevitable and more often long-lasting.
Extreme weather in the form of unusually heavy rainfall and increasingly dangerous hurricanes is also transforming coastal regions along the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast.
In Russia, Siberia continues to set records for heat and its wildfires.
In Europe, record flooding in Germany tied to the climate crisis wiped out entire towns and displaced many this summer.
In India, record rainfalls in Kerala last week killed dozens that they know of and likely more; thousands have been displaced now, without homes, after just this one impact.
Meanwhile, the Himalayan range is melting at over twice the rate it was twenty years ago, Greenland is sloughing off glaciers at accelerating speeds, the Antarctic is melting its ice from underneath the flows visible from above, and the “Last Ice Area” in the Arctic is breaking apart far more often in water-filled holes that reach down to the sea’s surface. Sea levels are going up rapidly all over the world in response, displacing millions just at the coasts.
An extensive report the UN issued last month calculated that over 216 million citizens of the Earth will be forced to flee their homes in just 30 years.
So no, Africa is not alone. It just happens to be a continent plagued with bad luck because of where it is situated and because of the continued reckless ignorance by the wealthy worldwide and developed nations too wrapped up in their politics to take the tough steps necessary to slow the climate crisis.
Credit the UN for raising the alarm about Africa before the COP 26 conference takes place next month. But don’t count on most anyone there even talking about Africa or taking any concrete actions to do something about the survival of the planet.
The African continent, like all others, faces its own unique existential crisis for how to enable its inhabitants to survive and thrive as the planet heats up and the repercussions of global heating are felt by all. Climate Survival Solutions, with a global reach and innovative solutions to water scarcity, climate migration, sea level rise, and more, is ready to assist.