Global warming is causing long-lasting changes to our climate system, which threatens irreversible consequences if we do not act. Regardless of political changes, accelerating action on climate change to the level needed will require the world to mobilise capital at a different level than it’s ever been mobilised before.
The annual average economic losses from climate-related disasters are in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Greenhouse gas emissions are more than 50 percent higher than in 1990. This is not to mention the human impact of geo-physical disasters, which are 91 percent climate-related, and which between 1998 and 2017 killed 1.3 million people, and left 4.4 billion injured.
Global warming of 2˚C would put over 50 percent of the continent’s population at risk of undernourishment. Projections estimate that climate change will lead to an equivalent of 2 percent to 4 percent annual loss in GDP in the region by 2040. Assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C the continent could face climate change adaptation costs of US$ 50 billion per year by 2050.
In Africa, climate change threatens to derail the significant development gains that have been made over the last decades; climate change also threatens future growth and development. Agriculturalists in the region mostly apply conventional practices such as bush burning, flood (rain-fed) irrigation and overgrazing, and four in five people in the region use solid biomass (fuelwood) for cooking.
Most African countries have signed on to international climate agreements, including the 2016 Paris climate accord, which spells out a commitment from developed countries to allocate $100 billion by 2020 for climate adaptation and the mitigation needs of developing countries.
Meanwhile, some African countries have banned plastics, most still accept their use, and worse, their careless disposal. These practices worsen the climate change problem by causing land degradation, desertification, deforestation, food insecurity, water scarcity among others, and make land emit instead of absorbing some of the GHG emissions.
Even a few years ago most developing nations viewed climate change as one more trouble to which they could, with sufficient aid, adapt. But after Arctic sea ice melted so dramatically in the summer of 2007, climate scientists began re-evaluating their predictions the earth was reacting more violently than expected to even small temperature increases.
The 54 countries of Africa emit only 3.8% of global greenhouse gases, while a country like the United States, for example, emits 19%. Despite having contributed the least to global warming and having the lowest emissions, Africa faces exponential collateral damage, posing systemic risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture, and livelihoods, threatening to undo its modest development gains and slip into higher levels of extreme poverty.
Climate change impacts under all climate scenarios is above 1.5 degrees Celsius in Africa, because of the combination of its low adaptive capacity with particular eco-climatic and socio-economic conditions. Nevertheless it remains one of the regions less covered by climate change studies.
Africa is widely held to be highly vulnerable to future climate change and Ethiopia is often cited as one of the most extreme examples. Climate change and weather-related disasters threaten the safety and livelihoods of 110 million people across Ethiopia, currently one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Experts predict that the average temperature in the Greater Horn of Africa region is rising and could increase by about 2-5 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. This would make climate-related challenges from droughts, flooding, famine, to conflicts an even bigger threat to vulnerable communities.
Overall, Africa is vulnerable because for many of its crops, it is at the edge of physical thresholds beyond which yields decline. Today, vast swarms of locusts endanger the food supply of tens of millions, especially in Kenya. Swarms like these haven’t been seen in over 70 years, but they are likely to continue as the Indian Ocean warms, causing more rainfall and warmer temperatures that create ideal breeding conditions for locusts.
Coastal areas in Africa, like elsewhere in the world, tend to be more densely populated due to the economic opportunities there. For instance, in Nigeria’s low-elevation coastal zones (LECZs, areas located 10 meters or less above mean sea level), the population density is 491 inhabitants per km2, compared with 134 inhabitants per km2 nationally. By some estimates, Africa’s populations in LECZs will rise at an annual rate of 3.3 percent between 2000-2030, which is more than double the world’s average. In many cases, individual countries will experience even more extreme changes: For example, in Senegal, the share of the LECZ population is projected to skyrocket to 50 percent by 2060, up from 20 percent in the early 2000s.
Since 2000, for instance, the commercial private sector has established only about 125,000 hectares of new plantations, whereas smallholders have planted a mere 250,000 hectares. To make matters worse, government-owned forests shrank by approximately 100,000 hectares during the same period.
Among the most worrying effects of global warming is the impact on water supply. African population mostly depends on the rural sector, mainly based on rain fed agriculture which relies in turn on rainfall patterns: any negative effect of climate on the water cycle can significantly threatens agriculture production and so livelihood and economy.
Each region and sub-region of Africa is changing differently but an emerging commonality is a shift towards more intense rainfall even where there is observed and projected future drying. The rainfall arrives in shorter bursts, causing more runoff and longer dry-spells in between.
Africa is fortunate to have large reserves of untapped water and some dry areas are likely to benefit from increased rain, but the Sahel and other arid and semi-arid regions are expected to become even drier. A third of Africa’s people already live in drought-prone regions and climate changes could put the lives and livelihoods of an additional 75–250 million people at risk by the end of the next decade.
Flood-prone areas in Southern Africa, on the other hand, are likely to become wetter as rainfall patterns shift, causing floods to become more frequent and severe and diverting resources from development to emergency relief. For the past decade, The Gambia has reported crop failures of more than 70% from droughts and rising sea levels that destroy rice fields. The Gambia’s citizens are starving, and the country’s development has stalled.
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.
Measuring the health effects from climate change can only be very approximate.
Nevertheless, a WHO assessment, taking into account only a subset of the possible health impacts, and assuming continued economic growth and health progress, concluded that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050; 38 000 due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48 000 due to diarrhoea, 60 000 due to malaria, and 95 000 due to childhood undernutrition.
Simultaneously, regions currently outside the malaria zone may become infested as they get hotter and wetter. The World Health Organization has warned that globally, as many as 80 million more people could become infected as malaria spreads among populations lacking both natural protection against the disease and awareness of prevention and treatment methods. For several decades, the destruction of natural environments has caused more numerous and virulent zoonoses, referring to diseases that stem from animal-to-human transmission.
Many of the most serious outbreaks including Ebola, Zika, etc have been linked to biodiversity loss and deforestation. The current COVID-19 pandemic belongs also to the group of zoonoses triggered by wildlife habitat encroachment. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of conserving biodiversity, particularly in Africa.
Common natural resources like land, forests, rivers, wetlands, lakes and wildlife are essential for the survival of communities, but they cannot be protected unless the country has good governance: responsible, accountable and indeed visionary governance and leadership that manages the natural resources for the common good of all.
African countries continue to struggle to raise the financing needed to meet their targets, particularly for climate adaptation. Private investors have a pivotal role to play in closing the multi-trillion dollar climate investment gap. The expense of reducing greenhouse emissions has been a major obstacle to action against climate change over the past decade, even for rich countries.
While scientists generally argue that it is cheaper to cut emissions now and prevent the worst effects of climate change, some governments argue for slower and smaller reductions, pointing to the cost to industry and consumers and the risk of damaging the global economy.
Estimates show that adaptation costs range from less than 5 percent (in Niger) to 60 percent (in Kenya) of the costs of inaction. Crucial strategies for adaptation include infrastructure construction and maintenance, beach nourishment, and diversification away from activities vulnerable to climate change. If governments undertake some of these strategies, population exposed to flooding could be halved by 2100. Without adaptation, the annual costs related to flooding alone could range between $5 billion and $9 billion.
According to the Sustainable Development Report 2020, 43 countries in Africa and many more across Asia and Latin America have managed to meet these climate action goals. But some scientists have said that the SDGs do not go far enough in addressing climate change. A paper published in journal Nature earlier this year said that while most countries were showing good progress toward the environmental SDGs, it had very little impact on actual biodiversity and conservation.
Countries can reduce harmful emissions and halt warming, by investing in cleaner “green” technologies and changing consumer habits. African countries should strike the right balance between mitigating climate change and addressing its consequences. Policymakers in the region need to incorporate the climate change agenda into the local development contexts. National visions, development plans and budgets at both decentralised and centralised levels should accommodate climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.
According to ECDPM analysis, adaptation policies should go beyond (simply) addressing the aftermath of climate change to include a transformation to more sustainable practices. African governments can sustainably mitigate some of the consequences of climate change through grassroot climate actions. They have to tackle it in multiple ways, including by helping cities develop in clean ways, making climate-smart agriculture practices the norm, improving clean, green, and affordable energy, and putting people and communities at the forefront in order to improve lives and protect the future.
Forests, due to their ability to absorb and sequester tonnes of carbon dioxide which would otherwise trap heat in the atmosphere, are one of the primary tools for climate change mitigation. While the protection of large landscapes is one of the greatest mitigation measures for climate change. If managed responsibly, large intact lands can mitigate climate impacts, helping wildlife and people adapt. Healthy large landscapes help absorb carbon emissions. Their intactness is not only vital for the survival of wildlife, but a necessary factor for building climate resilience.
Changing the economic processes by raising the cost of pollution is therefore important if global efforts to halt global warming are to succeed. One proposal is to tax greenhouse gas emissions, thereby making it cheaper to prevent them than to generate them. But “carbon taxes” have encountered strong opposition in many countries and have been adopted by only a handful of governments.
Moreover, a substantial portion of some countries’ economies (for example, one third of GDP for Ethiopia and one fifth of sub-Sahara Africa’s economic output) depends on agriculture. Some aspects of adaptation may be challenging; For example, African farmers are generally more vulnerable to higher temperatures, fluctuations in rainfall, and variable yields than farmers in developed countries, who can usually more easily secure crop insurance, adjust what they plant, irrigate their fields, or apply crop protection chemicals and fertilizers.