Defending Ecosystems An Immediate Priority
No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa. The continent is very vulnerable due to limited adaptive capacity, and widespread poverty.
Climate change is a particular threat to continued economic growth and to livelihoods of vulnerable populations. Its farmers’ dependence on rainfall, its weak infrastructure and its lack of social safety nets will add momentum to the problems.
Africa has done little to cause global warming, but it is facing the worst effects of climate change, including drought, flooding, desertification and land degradation.
By 2020, up to 250 million people on the continent will be exposed to increased water stress. In some countries, drought will reduce crops by up to 50 percent.
Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase; regions in Africa within 15 degrees of the equator are projected to experience an increase in hot nights as well as longer and more frequent heat waves.
Global warming of 2˚C would put more than 50 percent of the continent’s population at risk of undernourishment. It’s estimated that climate change will lead to an equivalent of 2 percent to 4 percent annual loss in GDP in the region by 2040. As endangered species go extinct, tourism will collapse. Assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C the continent could face climate change adaptation costs of $50 billion per year by 2050.
According to the IPCC, projections show that the western Sahel region will experience the strongest drying, with a significant increase in the maximum length of dry spells. The IPCC expects Central Africa to see a decrease in the length of wet spells and a slight increase in heavy rainfall.
West Africa has been identified as a climate-change hotspot, with climate change likely to lessen crop yields and production, which impacts food security.
Southern Africa will also be affected. The western part of Southern Africa will become drier, with increasing drought frequency and heat waves.
A warming world will generate less rain over the Limpopo basin and areas of the Zambezi basin in Zambia, as well as parts of Western Cape in South Africa.
But at 2° C, Southern Africa is projected to face a decrease in precipitation of about 20 percent and increases in the number of consecutive dry days in Namibia, Botswana, northern Zimbabwe and southern Zambia. This will cause reductions in the volume of the Zambezi basin projected at 5 percent to 10 percent.
If the global mean temperature reaches 2° C of global warming, it will cause significant changes in the occurrence and intensity of temperature extremes in all sub-Saharan regions.
West and Central Africa will see particularly large increases in the number of hot days at both 1.5° C and 2° C. Over Southern Africa, temperatures are expected to rise faster at 2° C, and areas of the southwestern region, especially in South Africa and parts of Namibia and Botswana, are expected to experience the greatest increases in temperature.
Perhaps no region in the world has been affected as much as the Sahel, which is experiencing rapid population growth, estimated at 2.8 percent per year, in an environment of shrinking natural resources, including land and water resources.
Inga Rhonda King, President of the UN Economic and Social Council, a UN principal organ that coordinates the economic and social work of UN agencies, told a special meeting at the UN that the region is also one of the most environmentally degraded in the world, with temperature increases projected to be 1.5 times higher than in the rest of the world.
Largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture, the Sahel is regularly hit by droughts and floods, with enormous consequences to people’s food security. As a result of armed conflict, violence and military operations, some 4.9 million people have been displaced this year, a threefold increase in less than three years, while 24 million people require humanitarian assistance throughout the region.
Climate change is considered a threat multiplier, which exacerbates existing problems. Ibrahim The Sahel region is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with 300 million people affected.
Drought, desertification and scarcity of resources have led to heightened conflicts between crop farmers and cattle herders, and weak governance has led to social breakdowns. The shrinking of Lake Chad is leading to economic marginalization, which creates a breeding ground for recruitment by terrorist groups as social values and moral authority evaporate. Read The full story about climate change and Africa.