On October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations (UN) disclosed that the world has only twelve (12) years to limit climate change catastrophe. We are once again drawn to the need for urgent and unprecedented approach to socio-economic and environmental choices if the looming disaster is to be averted.
Three years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, global climate action is not yet sufficient to limit global warming to comfortable levels. Currently, the world is 1oc warmer than preindustrial levels yet the target, according to the Paris Agreement, is to keep temperatures between 1.5oc and 2oc. The IPCC report warns that there is only a few more years to achieve this otherwise, there will be a risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Nevertheless, the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI Result 2019) compiled by the Climate Action Network shows that no country is doing enough to prevent dangerous climate change.
More worrisome however, is the fact that no continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa. Given its geographical position, the continent will be particularly vulnerable due to the considerably limited adaptive capacity, exacerbated by widespread poverty and the existing low levels of development.
In Africa and other developing regions of the world, climate change is a threat to economic growth (due to changes in natural systems and resources), long-term prosperity, as well as the survival of already vulnerable populations. Consequences of this include persistence of economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities particularly for the economic and livelihood sectors. Climate change, variability and associated increased disaster risks are an additional burden to sustainable development in Africa, as well as a threat and impediment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Constraints in technological options, limited infrastructure, skills, information and links to markets further heighten vulnerability to climate stresses.
Africa’s human existence and development is under threat from the adverse impacts of climate change – its population, ecosystems and unique biodiversity will all be the major victims of global climate change.
Why Africa is at risk
Temperatures: By 2050, average temperatures in Africa are predicted to increase by 1.5 to 3°C, and will continue further upwards beyond this time. Warming is very likely to be larger than the global annual mean warming throughout the continent and in all seasons, with drier subtropical regions warming more than the moister tropics.
Ecosystems: It is estimated that, by the 2080s, the proportion of arid and semi-arid lands in Africa is likely to increase by 5-8%. Ecosystems are critical in Africa, contributing significantly to biodiversity and human well-being. Between 25 and 40% of mammal species in national parks in sub-Saharan Africa will become endangered. There is evidence that climate is modifying natural mountain ecosystems via complex interactions and feedbacks.
Rainfall: There will also be major changes in rainfall in terms of annual and seasonal trends, and extreme events of flood and drought.
Annual rainfall is likely to decrease in much of Mediterranean Africa and the northern Sahara, with a greater likelihood of decreasing rainfall as the Mediterranean coast is approached. Rainfall in southern Africa is likely to decrease in much of the winter rainfall region and western margins. There is also a likelihood of an increase in annual mean rainfall in East Africa. It is unclear how rainfall in the Sahel, the Guinean Coast and the southern Sahara will evolve. In the tropical rain-forest zone, declines in mean annual precipitation of around 4% in West Africa, 3% in North Congo and 2% in South Congo for the period 1960 to 1998 have been noted.
Droughts: By 2080, an increase of 5 to 8% of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios (TS). Droughts have become more common, especially in the tropics and subtropics, since the 1970s.
Human health, already compromised by a range of factors, could be further negatively impacted by climate change and climate variability, e.g., malaria in southern Africa and the East African highlands.
Water: By 2020, a population of between 75 and 250 million and 350-600 million by 2050, are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Climate change and variability are likely to impose additional pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa.
Agriculture: By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%. Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. Projected reductions in yield in some countries could be as much as 50% by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90% by 2100, with small-scale farmers being the most affected. This would adversely affect food security on the continent and exacerbate malnutrition.
Sea-level rise: Africa has close to 320 coastal cities (with more than 10,000 people), and an estimated population of 56 million people (2005 estimate) living in low elevation (<10-m) coastal zones. Towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations. Sea-level rise will probably increase the high socio-economic and physical vulnerability of coastal cities. The projection that sea-level rise could increase flooding, particularly on the coasts of Eastern Africa, will have implications for health.
Energy: Access to energy is severely constrained in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 51% of urban populations and only about 8% of rural populations having access to electricity. Extreme poverty and the lack of access to other fuels mean that 80% of the overall African population relies primarily on biomass to meet its residential needs, with this fuel source supplying more than 80%of the energy consumed in sub-Saharan Africa. Further challenges from urbanisation, rising energy demands and volatile oil prices further compound energy issues in Africa.
We have not provided these details to arouse fears on the African continent rather, to prompt African nations to the evident dangers of laxity towards climate issues. Environmental scientists have posited that the world can still be saved if all nations refuse to rest on their oars. Nigeria for instance, as the giant of Africa, is expected to ensure Africa’s leadership in the pursuance of climate/environmental actions not only through government initiatives but also through the commitment and participation of every sector of the economy, including the civil society.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from CSRFiles Journal (Power Edition). The second part will by next week explore the impacts of Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, as well as posit how African nations can approach climate actions, considering that the continent makes no significant contribution to global warming.