Africa to see worsening impacts of man-made global warming, warns UN report

Residents collect water from a municipal tanker in drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, November 17, 2019.MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters

Although Africa has contributed relatively little to the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, the continent has suffered some of the heaviest impacts of climate change in the world, from famine to floods.

Yet, from its coral reefs to its highest peaks, the repercussions of human-caused global warming will only get worse, according to a new United Nations report

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted on Monday that floods, heat and drought in the Sahara will increase, Africa’s rich fauna and flora will decline and glaciers of its most emblematic mountains will disappear in the decades to come.

On a continent already struggling with high levels of poverty and food insecurity, the panel warned that fishers and farmers will feel the pain of future climate change on their lives and livelihoods.

In Kenya, Safari farmer Mbuvi is already trying to weather his country’s four-year drought and watches his crops fail time and time again.

“Since I was young, my father used to get a bountiful harvest on this farm, but now there seems to be a change in the climate and the rains are no longer reliable,” he said. “I won’t harvest anything, not even a single bag of maize is possible. …And I’m not the only one. Every farmer in this area has lost everything.

Warming temperatures will weaken Africa’s food production system by leading to water scarcity and shorter growing seasons, according to the UN report. Yields of olives, sorghum, coffee, tea and livestock are expected to decline.

“Agricultural productivity growth has been reduced by 34% since 1961 due to climate change more than any other region. said the panel.

Climate change, along with conflict, instability and economic crises, have contributed to hunger. Since 2012, the undernourished population in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 45.6%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And in 2020, an estimated 98 million people were acutely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance in Africa, according to the World Food Program’s Global Report on Food Crises.

If the world warms just another degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050, an additional 1.4 million African children will suffer from severe stunting due to malnutrition that limits growth and development cognitive, said the IPCC.

“Lack of food and undernutrition are strongly linked to hot climates in the sub-Saharan region and lower rainfall in West and Central Africa,” the panel said in an FAQ document. “Climate change can undermine children’s educational attainment, reducing their chances of securing well-paying jobs or higher incomes later in life.”

Jean Paul Adam, who heads the climate change division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said: “Africa represents 17% of the world’s population, but accounts for less than 4% of global emissions of greenhouse gas. It is the region of the world that is already severely affected by climate change and has extremely low adaptive capacity.

Climate change has a major component of social injustice, with the poor being hit hardest by pollution from the rich, said former Irish President Mary Robinson, now with The Elders, a statesmen’s group founded by Nelson Mandela. “All the injustices are captured by looking at the region of Africa.”

Drought is a problem that particularly affects the continent. While only 7% of disasters globally were drought-related, they caused just over a third of disaster-related deaths, “mostly in Africa”, according to the IPCC report.

Droughts have also reduced Africa’s hydropower by about 5% below the long-term average, hampering growth, the report said.

“When we look at the impacts, it’s not just that Africa is being hit by droughts and cyclones, sea level rise and disruption of rainfall patterns,” said Canadian climatologist Katharine Hayhoe. , chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s that their vulnerability is so much higher than in a lot of other places.”

Scientists say it is impossible to disentangle Africa’s poverty and the damage caused by climate change.

“Africa is overlooked because it is in some ways more vulnerable to physical impacts, but also because there will be many people living on less than a dollar a day,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute.

Monday’s report says sea surface temperatures are set to rise, threatening fragile marine ecosystems, including coral reefs in East Africa. The report warns of threats to the livelihoods of 12.3 million people who depend on fishing.

The report says global warming will also affect Africa’s famous wildlife and tallest mountains.

He predicted that the glacier ice covers on the Ruwenzori Mountains and Mount Kenya would be gone by 2030 and Mount Kilimanjaro would lose its place around 2040.

By 2100, the report says, climate change is expected to lead to the loss of more than half of Africa’s bird and mammal species – and a 20-25% decline in the productivity of Africa’s lakes and plant species. Africa. Increasing damage to coral reefs from pollution and climate change is expected to harm fisheries and marine biodiversity in general.

Over the coming decades, the continent, islands and coastal cities of Africa will be exposed to climate change-related risks that can seriously undermine economic sectors such as agriculture, tourism, transport and energy.

The report predicts a reduction in the frequency of Category 5 cyclones, although it says they are expected to be more intense with significant land impacts.

By 2030, the report predicts that 108 to 116 million people in Africa will be exposed to sea level rise – and that without adaptation measures, 12 major coastal cities will experience a total of 65 to 86.5 billions of dollars in damage.

Africa’s rapid urbanization, poor infrastructure as well as the growth of informal settlements will expose more people to climate hazards, according to the report.

He noted that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that has seen rising flood mortality rates since the 1990s – and that millions of people were displaced by weather-related causes in 2018 and 2019.

“Many cities are completely unprepared for the scale of the challenges ahead, and are even actively escalating the situation,” said Kaisa Kosonen, senior policy adviser at Greenpeace Nordic. “Real action against climate change requires resilient urban development and justice.”

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Teresa H. Sadler