Climate Change Effects in Africa | World Series Part 2
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
In Part Two of our World Climate Change series, we will be discussing the climate change impacts on Africa. Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, which holds 17.4% of the entire human population.
The African continent has countries in both the southern and northern hemispheres, with a climate that is primarily dry in the northern parts and tropical and humid in the central and southern parts.
Africa has dense biodiversity, with the largest number of megafauna species. As stated by the IPCC, the African population is highly dependant on natural resources and biodiversity for its consumptive and non-consumptive uses, such as for its agriculture, medicine, livelihood, tourism activity, and socio-economic development. This makes Africa one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts.
The surface temperature in Africa is increasing at a faster rate than the global mean, with 2019 being one of the three warmest years on record. Some regions in Africa will exceed 2°C of warming above pre-industrial levels, under moderate scenario predictions based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) report.
This warming trend, as well as changes in precipitation patterns, is anticipated to continue throughout the next century, accompanied by a rise in sea level and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.
Therefore, organizations such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN have been creating strategies and implementing National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), in managing and preventing severe future climate risks, which can affect food and water security, human displacement, and the socio-economic sector in Africa.
Climate variability “hotspot”
Africa is called to be a hotspot for climate variability because of a few factors. Firstly, the sea level increase in the regions near the oceanic areas has exceeded the average global sea-level rise by reaching a 5mm increase per year, from Madagascar eastward towards Mauritius.
This has caused several coastal degradation and erosion, which is a major challenge for West African countries. Although the sea-level rise is not a dominant contributor to African vulnerability, it exacerbates the negative consequences of climate change.
The next factor is still on the topic of water variability. In 2018 and early 2019, the Greater Horn of Africa had a very dry climate which resulted in an extensive drought in Southern Africa. However, the climate shifted rapidly to heavy rainfalls in late 2019, causing floods and landslides, which affected the Sahel and the surrounding areas.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, the number of undernourished people in African has increased by 45.6% since 2012. This devastating fact was stated by the IPCC to be the cause of global warming impact, which decreases crop productivity and food security.
Food insecurity could be caused by a few factors which are associated with heat stress or droughts, increased pest and disease damage, and flood damages, which can seriously impact food security starting from individual, regional, to national levels. As climate change gets worse, these events are exacerbated, making agricultural development in Africa more challenging.
The increased frequency and severity of these events increase the volatility of crop and livestock yields. It is predicted that by 2050, the mean yield in West and Central Africa will reduce by 13%, 11% in North Africa, and 8% in East and Southern Africa. However, rice and wheat are expected to be the most affected by 2050 by a loss of 12% and 21%, respectively.
Besides food, Africa relies highly on the agriculture sector for its economic development. Thus, this impact by climate change could destabilize the local markets (from the increase of food prices for both farmers and consumers), and impact negatively on economic growth as it shows a heightened risk for agriculture investors.
Still, investments in irrigation, better roads to connect markets, seed production improvements, and an upgrade in crop storage facilities are vital in modernizing Africa’s agriculture.
Disease and human displacement
Climate change increases the global surface temperature and precipitation. And as mentioned in our ‘Climate Change Health Impacts’ article, vector-borne disease carriers such as mosquitoes and insects, favor warmer regions which result in increased transmission of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever.
In 2017, around 93% of global malaria deaths occurred in Africa, due to the heavy rainfall and warming, especially in East Africa, where malaria-carrying mosquitoes were able to survive at higher altitudes.
Besides an increase in disease spread, extreme weather events also increase the vulnerability of the population. This causes human displacement, especially among poorer residents, from the combination of the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, for example, food insecurity and extreme weather events.
As the home to the largest megafauna species, the continent is rich with wetlands, tropical forests, deserts, savannahs, and other natural habitats for the many endemic species living there.
Biodiversity plays a vital role in sustaining livelihoods, such as by providing food, water, health, and other services such as socioeconomic and infrastructure development of a country. Therefore, biodiversity should be protected as best as we can.
Anthropogenic activities are the cause of climate change, which has destructive impacts on biodiversity already through extreme weather events such as wildfires, floods, droughts, etc.
However, part of the cause of biodiversity loss in Africa is due to anthropogenic activities such as overexploitation of the ecosystem, which has caused a significant loss to the African bird and mammal species by 50%, and a decline in lake productivity by 20-30%.
Therefore, protecting biodiversity should be a priority to the African government and population to sustain a livelihood for future generations. Despite many challenges and impacts that have already occurred, it is never too late to take action in saving our planet.
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Olivia Eugenia is an Environmental Science student at the University of Western Australia. She is also an activist and a content writer at IYOPS.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.