Cycles of Escalating Threats Facing Africa from Global Warming – Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Reinforcing cycles of unsustainable human activity and intensifying climate impacts are exacerbating the threats facing hundreds of millions of Africans.

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The complexity and layers of indirect factors driving global warming and its impacts on African populations can thwart decisive policy action. Understanding these links is critical to mitigation efforts in which subtropical regions of Africa are projected to experience temperature increases significantly higher than the global average. Even if global warming is capped at 1.5°C, for example, parts of North and South Africa are expected to be 3°C warmer.

While industrialized countries have been the main drivers of global warming, human factors in Africa, such as conflict, deforestation and unregulated natural resource extraction, have further reduced resilience and increased threats to African citizens. .

Shrinking carbon sink

  • The Congo Basin is losing an estimated 500,000 to 1.2 million hectares of tropical rainforest each year, reducing the world’s second largest terrestrial carbon sink and a vital means of mitigating the effects of global warming.

Water shortage

  • Africa faces an increased risk of 3-4 year drought.
  • Zero days – when municipal reservoirs run dry – in African cities are increasingly likely. South Africa has already experienced zero-day threats during the 2015 (Gauteng province) and 2018 (Cape Town) droughts, affecting 15 million and 4.6 million people respectively.
The Olifants River in South Africa during the 2015 drought

The Olifants River in South Africa during the 2015 drought. (Photo: Abspire40)

Food insecurity

  • Climate change has reduced agricultural productivity growth in West Africa 34% since the 1960s, more than any other region.
  • At a global warming level (GWL) of 2°C, West Africa is projected to lose 42% of its rangeland and livestock productivity by mid-century.
  • At GWL 3°C, certain agricultural and livestock sectors risk collapsing in parts of the continent.

Public health crises

“Human factors in Africa – such as conflict, deforestation and unregulated natural resource extraction – have further reduced resilience.”

  • At GWL 2.1℃, 35 African cities will have more than 150 days per year with a heat index over 40.6℃.
  • Parts of southern and northern Africa will see increased heat-related mortality, especially in poor, informal settlements around cities – places where people don’t have access to running water or air conditioning. . The depletion of water supplies in densely populated cities is expected to lead to increased disease transmission.
  • The transmission and range of vector-borne diseases (such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever), pests (such as locusts) and water-borne diseases (such as cholera) are expected to increase, exposing tens of millions more, mainly in eastern and southern Africa.

Loss of biodiversity

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that above a GWL of 1.5°C, half of the species assessed lose more than 30% of their population or area of ​​suitable habitat.
  • At GWL 2℃, 12 percent of assessed African species are threatened with global extinction, placing Africa second only to South America in the magnitude of predicted biodiversity loss.
  • At GWL 2°C, 36 percent of freshwater fish species are vulnerable to local extinction.
  • At GWL above 2℃, 20 percent of North African mammals may lose all suitable climates.

Threatened marine ecosystems

  • At GWL 2℃, the IPCC predicts that more than 90% of East Africa’s coral reefs will be destroyed by bleaching.
  • On the current trajectory, maritime exclusive economic zones in West Africa are expected to lose large numbers of marine species and could experience sudden declines.
Dry farmland in Diouna, Mali

Dry farmland in Diouna, Mali. (Photo: CGIAR)

Livelihoods lost

  • More than half of the sub-Saharan workforce is employed in agriculture and 95% of cultivated land is rainfed.
  • At an air temperature of 36°C in the shade with a relative humidity of 50%, moderate physical activity for 4 hours would be dangerous and could prove fatal.

Infrastructure damage

“Dwindling rainfall, evaporating lakes and land degradation have damaged traditional sources of livelihood and contributed to the collapse of local economies.”

Pressures on social cohesion

  • Declining rainfall, evaporating lakes and land degradation have damaged traditional sources of livelihood and contributed to the collapse of local economies. Resource shortages have been exploited by criminal and violent extremist groups who have leveraged access to these resources for profit and social polarization.
  • Lake Chad, for example, has shrunk by 90% since the early 1970s. Poor governance and the evaporation of the lake have led to increased tensions between local communities and allowed armed groups and criminals to extort and more easily recruit vulnerable civilians.

Environmental migrants

Lake Chad in 2015

Lake Chad in 2015. (Photo: GRID-Arendal)

  • By mid-century, the World Bank predicts that 19 million people in North Africa and 86 million in sub-Saharan Africa could become internal migrants due to climatic shocks that affect their homes and livelihoods, such as devastating storms, floods, heat waves and prolonged droughts.
  • On the current trajectory, the world could achieve a sea level rise of one meter by the end of the century. This would expose hundreds of millions of Africans who live in coastal areas.
  • Africa’s low-lying coastal populations are expected to grow faster than any other of its populations by mid-century. Egypt, Mozambique and Nigeria are are expected to be most affected by sea level rise in terms of the number of people likely to be flooded each year.
  • The heavily populated parts of the Nile Delta, for example, are at serious risk of submergence over the next three decades. If no mitigation measures are taken, some 5 million people could be forced to move inland to Cairo, a city of about 10 million people that is also vulnerable to flooding.

Teresa H. Sadler