Africa Faces a Growing Threat from Climate Change

Africa Faces a Growing Threat from Climate Change

Climate Change News from the UN, October 27, 2020 - A new report devoted solely to the continent of Africa claims that rising temperatures and sea levels, altered precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather are endangering human health and safety, the security of food and water, and socioeconomic development in Africa.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has coordinated a multi-agency report called State of the Climate in Africa 2019 that gives an overview of current and projected climate changes and their effects on the economy and sensitive industries like agriculture. It outlines key takeaways for tackling significant gaps and barriers in climate action in Africa.

"According to this assessment, climate change poses growing risks to Africa's socioeconomic development, food and water security, and human health. As a result, for planning adaptations, we need data that is accurate and current "said Ovais Sarmad, UN Climate Change's Deputy Executive Secretary.


Through the creation and execution of National Adaptation Plans, the UN Climate Change secretariat assists nations in recognizing and managing climate risks (NAPs).

The development of systematic observations and research being carried out by WMO is essential in contributing to these efforts.The study was made public on October 26 during a ministerial-level event to draw attention to the need for immediate climate action in Africa and the capacity that is now available. The dangers are getting worse.

"Climate change is having an increasing impact on the African continent, particularly on the most vulnerable people. It also plays a role in population displacement, food insecurity, and stress on water resources. Devastating floods, a desert locust invasion, and now the threat of drought due to a La Nia event have all occurred in recent months. The COVID-19 epidemic has increased the toll on people and the economy, according to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

"Science-based climate knowledge is the cornerstone of constructing resilience, a pillar of coping with climate change, and a haven for sustainable livelihoods and development. As a result, the State of Climate Report for Africa has a vital role to play in this regard, including informing our efforts to realize the objectives of the Africa Agenda 2063, according to H.E. Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission.


"The scarcity of accurate and timely climate information is a contributing factor in Africa's low adoption and usage of climate information services in development planning and practice. This report's emphasis on Africa will significantly close this gap.  Through the African Climate Policy Centre, the Economic Commission for Africa contributed to the creation of this report with the intention of highlighting the relationship between climate change and development and emphasizing the need for a development strategy that is eco-friendly, sustainable, and climate resilient and is based on the best available science. According to H.E. Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, "the involvement of numerous organizations and agencies in the report's production underlines our ideals and practices of working as one."

Rising temperatures

2019 was one of the three warmest years for the continent on record. It's anticipated the pattern will persist. African temperatures have been warming in recent decades at a rate similar to that of the majority of other continents, which is a bit faster than the global mean surface temperature.

According to the most recent decadal forecasts, which cover the five-year period from 2020 to 2024, Africa will continue to warm up, with rainfall declining in particular over North and Southern Africa while increasing in the Sahel.

By the latter two decades of this century, large portions of Africa would have warmed by more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report's medium scenarios. There have been more heatwaves and hot days since 1901, and much of Africa has already warmed by more than 1 °C. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, less precipitation is predicted to occur over North Africa and the south-western regions of South Africa by the end of the century (IPCC).

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion

Sea-level trends around Africa exhibit substantial geographical variation. Sea level rise exceeded 5 mm per year in the south-western Indian Ocean from Madagascar eastward towards and beyond Mauritius. It reached 5 mm per year in various maritime regions surrounding the continent. This exceeds the usual annual global sea-level rise of 3–4 mm.

Another significant issue is coastal erosion and deterioration, particularly in West Africa. The coastlines of Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo are eroding at a rate of about 56%, and this is predicted to get worse in the future. Sea level rise is not the main cause of environmental change right now, but it is predicted to combine with other factors in the future to make things worse.

Extreme events

High-impact events from 2019 are documented in the report. Tropical Storm Idai caused hundreds of casualties and hundreds of thousands of displaced people, making it one of the most destructive tropical cyclones ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.

2019 had a severe drought in Southern Africa. On the other hand, the Greater Horn of Africa had torrential rains and landslides in late 2019 in contrast to the region's very dry circumstances over most of 2018 and 2019. From May to October 2019, flooding also occurred in the Sahel and neighboring areas.

Health impacts

The health of the people is greatly impacted by temperature rises and modifications to rainfall patterns throughout Africa. The ecological suitability for biting insects and the spread of diseases like dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever is increased by warmer temperatures and more precipitation.


In addition, previously unaffected areas are now seeing the emergence of new diseases. An estimated 93% of malaria-related deaths worldwide in 2017 happened in Africa. Epidemics of malaria frequently follow periods of unusually heavy rainfall. In addition, the East African Highlands are warming, which increases the altitude at which malaria-carrying mosquitoes may survive.

Climate Action

The 2013-completed African Agenda 2063 acknowledges climate change as a significant barrier to the continent's development.

The primary vehicle for directing policy responses to climate change has changed since 2015 and is now known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. In order to submit revised NDCs in 2020, 52 African nations have already submitted their first NDCs.

In terms of climate services, Africa and small island developing states are the regions with the biggest capacity shortages. Of all the continents, Africa has the least advanced land-based observation network.

Africa has worked very hard to advance the international climate agenda. This is shown by the Paris Agreement's extremely high levels of ratification—more than 90%. Many African countries have made the commitment to switch to green energy in a short amount of time. For instance, nearly 70% of African NDCs place a high priority on clean energy and agriculture. Setting the priorities for the continent's economic development must include consideration of this objective.

The reduction of poverty through the promotion of socioeconomic growth, particularly in the agricultural sector, has been found to be a potential strategy across the continent for lowering risks associated to climate change and the effects of extreme events. Value-addition methods utilizing effective and clean energy sources are reportedly capable of eliminating poverty two to four times quicker than growth in any other sector in this industry, which employs 60% of Africa's population.

For instance, effective micro-irrigation powered by solar energy is raising farm earnings by five to ten times, increasing yields by up to 300%, and consuming up to 90% less water, all while generating up to 250 kW of clean energy and offsetting carbon emissions.

About the author(s)

Lawrence Slade is CEO of the London-based Global Infrastructure Investor Association, or GIIA.

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