Melting glaciers predict future climate impacts in Africa

When they think of Africa, Westerners usually think of lions, elephants, zebras and giraffes. If you ask climatologists, however, the most appropriate mascots for the African continent are not the wild animals that tourists see on safari. Rather, it is the rare glaciers that occupy the highest peaks in Africa.

Currently, Africa has only three such glaciers: on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, on Mount Kenya in Kenya, and in the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. If climate change continues at its current rate, all three will disappear by the 2040s, according to a new multi-agency report released this month by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with support from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The United Nations.

Title “The state of the climate in Africa 2020”, the report examines the impact of climate change on Africa and concludes that the continent is “exceptionally vulnerable to climate variability and change compared to many other regions”.

“In 2020, climate indicators in Africa were characterized by a continuous warming of temperatures; acceleration of sea level rise; extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, landslides and droughts; and the associated devastating effects. The rapid shrinkage of the last remaining glaciers in East Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of an imminent and irreversible change in the earth system, ”writes WMO Secretary General Professor Petteri Taalas, in the foreword to the report. .

Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is in the crosshairs of the climate, according to the WMO, which points out that nearly half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives below the poverty line and depends on activities sensitive to risks. weather conditions such as rainfed agriculture, animal husbandry, and fishing. In addition, these populations have a limited capacity to adapt to climate change due to low levels of education and health care.

“Africa is experiencing increased weather and climate variability, resulting in disasters and disruption of economic, ecological and social systems,” writes the Commissioner of the African Union Commission for Rural Economy and Agriculture, HE Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko in the preface to the report, in which she notes that up to 118 million extremely poor Africans – people living on less than $ 1.90 a day – will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat by 2030. “This will place an additional burden on poverty reduction efforts and significantly hamper the growth of prosperity. In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further reduce gross domestic product by up to 3% by 2050. This represents a serious challenge for actions of adaptation and resilience to climate change because not only the physical conditions are worsen, but also the number of people affected is increasing. “

Along with the melting of glaciers, which will have “tourist and scientific” consequences, the WMO details several specific impacts that climate change has already had on Africa:

  • Heating temperatures: The 30-year warming trend for 1991-2020 was higher than it was for 1961-1990 in all African sub-regions, and “significantly higher” than it was for 1931-1960 .
  • Sea level rise: Rates of sea level rise along the tropical and southern Atlantic coasts of Africa, as well as on the Indian Ocean coast, are above the global average.
  • Increased rainfall and drought: Above-average precipitation is common in several African sub-regions, while persistent drought is common in others. Rainfall is so heavy that many lakes and rivers have reached record levels, causing deadly flooding in at least 15 African countries.

These and other events have resulted in a “significant increase” in food insecurity and the displacement of over 1.2 million people due to natural disasters.

But all hope is not lost: although it is expensive in the short term, investing in climate change adaptation (for example, hydrometeorological infrastructure and early warning systems in disaster-prone areas) can save lives. lives and money in the long run.

“Funding for climate change adaptation will be more cost effective than frequent disaster relief,” says WMO in its report, in which it estimates that adaptation to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa will cost between $ 30 and $ 50. billion dollars a year over the next decade. “Adaptation will be expensive… but the savings from reducing post-disaster spending could be three to 12 times the cost of an initial investment in resilience and adaptation mechanisms. Adapting to climate change would also benefit other areas of development, such as resilience to pandemics, and ultimately boost growth, reduce inequalities and maintain macroeconomic stability. “

To implement its climate plans, the WMO estimates that Africa will need investments of more than $ 3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030.


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