A devastating future is staring Africa in the face; one that includes an increase in natural disasters, the loss of landmark mountain-top glaciers, and hundreds of millions of vulnerable people facing the impacts of extreme weather events. This is according to the latest “State of the Climate in Africa” report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), agencies within the African Union, and the United Nations (UN). 

Released on Oct. 19, the report shows what climate change looked like on the continent in 2020, and forecasts what will happen without urgent climate action. 

While Africa is responsible for just under 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is already witnessing the worst that climate change has had to offer so far. For instance, the continent is increasingly experiencing drought conditions that contribute to famine, as well as flood conditions that have left millions of people displaced. 

According to the report, in 2020, Africa was defined by a continued increase in temperatures, a rapid rise in sea-levels, and devastating natural disasters across the board that included floods, landslides, and droughts. The report also shows that around 1.2 million people were displaced by storms and floods last year — more than double the number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict in the same year.

What’s more, widespread droughts coupled with the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly increased food insecurity on the continent. The report indicates that there was a 40% increase in people being affected by food insecurity in 2020 compared to 2019. 

The WMO pointed to investing in climate adaptation as a high priority in order to mitigate climate change’s disastrous effects on the continent. 

"Along with COVID-19 recovery, enhancing climate resilience is an urgent and continuing need,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taala in the report’s foreword. 

“Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water, and climate observing systems,” he added. 

The report goes on to predict that if temperature rises continue on the same source, all three of Africa's last-existing glaciers, namely Tanzania's Kilimanjaro, Kenya's Mount Kenya, and Uganda's Rwenzoris — which are all of significant importance to local tourism as well as global science — will be gone by the 2040s. 

Environmental changes will also impact Africa’s economy, hitting the continent’s poorest people the hardest. 

“Africa is witnessing increased weather and climate variability, which leads to disasters and disruption of economic, ecological, and social systems,” said Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture with the African Union Commission. 

“By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people — living on less than $1.90 a day — will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa if adequate response measures are not put in place,” she said in the report’s foreword. “This will place additional burdens on poverty alleviation efforts and significantly hamper growth in prosperity.” 

She went on to explain that the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will decrease by up to 3% by 2050, resulting in an increase in poverty rates, and therefore, an increase in the number of people being negatively impacted by climate change. 

According to the report, sub-Saharan Africa will need to dedicate $30-$50 billion every year to adaptation in order to avoid even worse consequences. Authors of the report also said that this investment towards kicking off Africa’s climate adaptation strategies will help boost economic development, and create employment as part of post-pandemic recovery.


Defend the Planet

118 Million of Africa’s Poorest Facing Droughts, Floods, and Extreme Heat: UN Climate Report

By Khanyi Mlaba