Africa requires urgent assistance to adapt to climate change and action by industrialized countries to deliver deep cuts in emissions if the Continent and its people are to thrive in the 21st century.
The regional report by Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that continued increase in greenhouse gases will later this century put up to 1.8 billion more people in Africa at risk of water stress. Even a modest temperature rise could lead to falls in water flows in some river systems equal in volume to one large dam being lost annually.
Tourism, much of which is based on nature, is also likely to be hard hit with 25 per cent to 40 per cent of animal species like zebra in the national parks of sub-Saharan Africa set to become endangered.
Meanwhile, arid and semi-arid lands are likely to increase by up to eight per cent with important ramifications for livelihoods, poverty eradication and meeting and maintaining the Millennium Development Goals.
Sea level rise, especially on the east African coast, will increase flooding with the adaptation bill rising to up to 10 per cent of GDP.
The report also predicts that wheat may disappear from Africa by the 2080s; that the soya bean harvest in Egypt could drop by close to 30 per cent by 2050 under a worst case scenario and maize yields fall significantly in southern Africa.
Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which co-founded the IPCC, said:” The report underlines the enormous costs facing Africa as a result of unchecked climate change—costs that are wholly unacceptable for the 800 million people alive today and for the generations to come. It is the Continent with the least responsibility for the climate change and yet is perversely the Continent with the most at risk if greenhouse gases are not cut”.
“Some measure of climate change is however a reality that the world must already live with. That reality requires assistance for Africa to adapt. It requires investment but equally requires climate proofing of economies now and in the future. This is as much about investment in careful and considered planning-- so that climate change becomes central to the development process-- as it is about financial investment,” he added.
Sometime between 2080 and the end of the century, average annual rainfall is very likely to decrease along Africa’s Mediterranean coast by a fifth with the fall also experienced in the northern Sahara and the northern west African coast.
Declines are also forecast for much of southern Africa with the extreme west of the region likely to experience falls of as much as 40 per cent through June and August. In contrast, tropical and eastern Africa may experience increased rainfall of seven per cent.
Climate change is likely to aggravate water scarcity with the precise numbers of people at risk dependent on factors including population growth. A temperature increase of one degree C will decrease run off in Morocco’s Ouergha watershed by 10 per cent by 2020.
“If such an annual decrease in run off were to occur in other watersheds the impacts in such areas could be in the order of one large dam being lost per year,” the IPCC report says.
The Okavango River Basin is also highlighted as one likely to experience significant negative impacts with climate change becoming a bigger factor than impacts like dams and abstraction for agriculture. The report acknowledges that uncertainties in models and future governance make it tough to know how flows in the Nile will be affected.
Between 75 and 250 million people in Africa will be at risk of increased water stress with a one degree C rise; between 350 and 600 million with a two degree C climb and up to 1.8 billion if temperatures rise by three degrees C which could happen by around 2080.
Extreme Weather Events
Models indicate that the Sahel region will have more extreme dry and wet years towards the end of the 21st century. By the end of the century there could also be more frequent and intense tropical storms in the southern Indian Ocean. An up to 20 per cent increase in cyclone activity may occur if surface sea temperatures rise by two to four degrees C.
Health and Disease Patterns
This fourth assessment report underlines growing scientific confidence in the climate models not least in the realm of malaria where it is estimated that an additional 80 million people will be at risk.
Different areas are likely t experience different impacts. It is expected that, by 2050, large parts of the western Sahel and much of southern and central Africa will become unsuitable for malaria transmission. Meanwhile, malaria may become a familiar disease in the densely human populated areas of countries like Zimbabwe.
The highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi—currently malaria free—become highly suitable for malaria mosquitoes by the 2080s. Malaria is also likely to rise in the highland areas of Angola and Somalia, areas currently with low levels of malarial cases.
Agriculture and Fisheries
Parts of the Sahara are expected to suffer most with agricultural losses equal to up to seven per of GDP predicted. Central and western African countries are anticipated to suffer losses equal to up to four per cent of GDP.
One study indicates that net crop revenues across the Continent could fall by as much as 90 per cent by 2100 with small-scale farms suffering most. Adaptation measures could however reduce these negative effects.
The report acknowledges that some areas may benefit. Higher predicted rainfall and increased temperatures may extend the growing season in places like the Ethiopian Highlands.
Falls in frost in alpine zones like those in and around Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro may make it possible to grow more temperate crops such as apples, pears and barley.
Fisheries may be impacted by a variety of changes including alterations in river flows and intrusion of salt waters into lagoon and further up estuaries. A doubling of carbon dioxide indicates that extreme wind and turbulence could decrease fisheries productivity in South Africa by up to 60 per cent.
Plantations of coconuts and palm oil on the coasts of Benin and Cote D’Ivoire and shallots in Ghana could be at risk. In Kenya, losses for mangoes, cashew nuts and coconuts could be nearly $500 million for a one metre sea-level rise.
Up to 30 per cent of Guinea’s rice fields could be at risk from flooding by 2050. A one metre sea-level rise would cost Eritrea an estimated $250 million as a result of the submergence of infrastructure in the port city of Massawa.
A suite of options may assist Africa to cope with climate change with some research indicating that these could be cost effective. Sea level rise in coastal countries may cost up to 14 per cent of GDP. Adaptation may cost less—between five to 10 per cent of GDP.
Adaptation to and coping with climate change is complex and will involve a range of social and economic factors including education and literacy as well as creative financial and technological solutions including a better understanding and application indigenous knowledge and traditional coping strategies.
In the Sudan, for example, women are directly responsible for selecting sorghum seeds for planting. They select a variety of seeds with different characteristics that ensure resistance to a variety of conditions they may emerge in the next growing season.
In semi-arid areas, rainwater harvesting can play a role as an irrigation and drinking water source. Improved early warning systems may improve health care planning. In terms of malaria, which in semi arid areas is linked with excessive rain fall “it may be possible to give outlooks with lead times of between two to six months,” says the report.
In agriculture, the report says other factors could be investigated to “enhance resilience to shocks such as droughts which include national grain reserves, grain futures markets, weather insurance, cash transfers and school feeding schemes”.
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