Skip to main content
December 14, 2018

EVANS KITUYI: What 1.5°C increase means for Kenya and Africa


The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) for the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC (SR1.5) will be released today in Incheon, South Korea, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Representatives of the IPCC’s 195-member governments have been working with scientists from the IPCC since October 1 to scrutinise line-by-line this 20-page SPM.

The report’s full name is Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Governments invited the IPCC to prepare the report in 2015 when they adopted the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. The report will be the main scientific input at the Talanoa Dialogue in the Katowice Climate Change Conference (COP24) in December in Poland. The Paris Agreement sets a long-term goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

The report contains several benchmark findings according to a draft obtained by the IDRC. Five of these particularly stand out for developing countries. First, there is very high risk that under current greenhouse gas emission trajectories and national pledges, global warming will exceed the 1.5°C threshold above pre-industrial levels. Secondly, the 1.5°C global warming limit is being approached very quickly, and is expected to be reached within a decade or by 2040 at the latest. This points to challenges for adaptation at local scales.

Third, even if global warming is effectively limited to 1.5°C, climatic trends and changing extreme events in oceans and over land imply appreciable climate risks for ecosystems and human societies that will be larger than today. This is especially so for individuals and communities experiencing multidimensional poverty and persistent vulnerabilities.

Fourth, the number of people affected by multiple climate change risks could double if global temperature rises by 2°C, compared to a rise of 1.5°C. Similarly, economic development is bound to be significantly affected by exceeding the adaptive capacity of vulnerable systems at temperature increases higher than 2°C.

Lastly, to meet the 1.5°C or even the 2°C target will be a difficult task. For many scientists, these targets are technically feasible but politically or socially unrealistic. These call for slowing the pace of warming and to invest in resilience to the unavoidable warming already locked into the climate system. It implies transformational adaptation and mitigation, behaviour change, supportive institutional arrangements and multi-level governance.

Other peer-reviewed studies published after the SR1.5 deadlines similarly report findings that should give African policymakers sleepless nights. For example, according to Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) studies funded by Canada’s IDRC and UK’s DFID, at least 44 African countries will warm more than the global warming mean of 1.5°C. Countries with arid and semi-arid climates and those with more continental locations will also warm more than those with predominantly humid and maritime conditions.

The semi-arid lands will also experience high variations in rainfall, with significant impacts on power production, agriculture and human health. For example at 1.5°C global mean increase above pre-industrial times, high decreases in mean rainfall and increases in dry-spell length are projected in already-water-stressed countries such as Botswana that will lead to more frequent water shortages in today’s urban and agricultural supply systems. Similarly, at global warming of 1.5°C, 14.3 million livestock holder families in East Africa will be affected by the 30°C cattle production threshold, above which cattle productivity falls. In Kenya alone, 1.7 million heads of cattle will be lost to these conditions, an equivalent of US$680 million today. Even higher cattle losses are expected at 2°C of global warming.

Emissions reductions in all sectors would be needed in order to meet the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. The broad 1.5°C pathways proposed by the SR1.5 are mainly appropriate for developed countries with capacity for significant multi-sectoral emission reductions. In any case these are also the countries responsible for much of the emissions in the atmosphere. Different portfolios of emission reduction measures have different implications for sustainable development, including regional climate change, food security, biodiversity, the provision of ecosystem services, and the vulnerability of the poor.

Delayed action or weak near-term policies also increase the severity of projected impacts and adaptation needs. To many observers, it makes more sense for African countries in particular to direct most of their near-term effort towards climate resilient development initiatives in key sectors such as agriculture.

Examples could include climate-proofing of key commodity value chains and scaling up adoption of innovations such as devolved climate funds that have recently been piloted in places like Isiolo County. Other counties already ahead of the pack with climate-resilient initiatives with simultaneous sustainable development benefits include Makueni and Laikipia that have adopted community-driven activities in the crop and livestock sectors. Kenya can do its part by mobilising both national and county governments to implement its National Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2022, one of the most progressive plans in the world.

Senior Programme Specialist, Climate Change Programme

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

[email protected]

Poll of the day