GLOBAL WARMING

Africans ought to lead climate action

We don’t have to wait to 2050 to experience the devastating effects.

In Summary
  • According to the World Bank, climate change may cause internal migration of about 140 million people in South America, and sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.
  • These migrations will be driven by climate induced water scarcity, declining food productivity, flooding and sea level rise.
People wait to collect food parcels handed out by an aid organisation to locals after Cyclone Idai, near Dondo village outside Beira, Mozambique, March 24, 2019.
People wait to collect food parcels handed out by an aid organisation to locals after Cyclone Idai, near Dondo village outside Beira, Mozambique, March 24, 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

There is scientific consensus that 10,000 years of relative climate stability is nearly over. Our planet is now on the throes of unprecedented climate instability. Sea levels are surging, floods and droughts have grown in frequency, and average temperatures have risen and heat waves have become more severe.

Regardless of whether you believe or deny the fact of climate change, it is already having devastating effects on life and work, physical infrastructure, financial services and capital markets, health, food systems and natural capital, which underpin essential environmental services.

The socioeconomic and ecological impacts of climate change are projected to be nonlinear. This means that climate change impacts will not follow a normal cause-effect pathway. Climate change impacts will have catastrophic system-wide, knock-on effects.

According to the World Bank, climate change may cause internal migration of about 140 million people in South America, and sub-Saharan Africa by 2050. These migrations will be driven by climate induced water scarcity, declining food productivity, flooding and sea level rise. Moreover, climate stress will amplify migrations owing to poverty, war and conflict over resources.

But we don’t have to wait up to 2050 to experience the devastating effects of climate change. We have seen significant decrease in rainfall over the African continent. Weather-related disasters such as floods and droughts have doubled, resulting in hunger, malnutrition and even mortality.

That Africa’s climate has changed is incontrovertible. Extreme precipitation changes over eastern, southern and western Africa have been more frequent in the last 30-60 years. Further climate change is inevitable and will amplify existing stress on water and food systems, especially in semi-arid areas.

The Mozambique floods of 2000 caused 800 deaths, 1 million people needed food aid and more than 300,000 people were displaced. In 2019 cyclones Idai and Kenneth wrought havoc in Mozambique with nearly 1 million people facing food shortages, nearly 780,000 hectares have been destroyed and tens of thousands of families displaced.

The Great Horn Africa faced the worst drought in 60 years between 2011 and 2012. The drought caused severe food crisis in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, and threatened about 10 million people. Refugees from Somali fled into Ethiopia and Kenya where, squalid conditions coupled with severe malnutrition contributed to many deaths.

Southern Africa is gripped with severe drought. According to the World Food Programme 45 million people in the 16 countries in southern Africa face hunger from repeated drought and widespread flooding.

About 8 million peoples are gripped with crisis proportions of hunger in eight of the most affected, which include Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

That Africa’s climate has changed is incontrovertible. Extreme precipitation changes over eastern, southern and western Africa have been more frequent in the last 30-60 years. Further climate change is inevitable and will amplify existing stress on water and food systems, especially in semi-arid areas.

It does not matter what development priorities Africans pursue, climate change poses the greatest challenge to Africa’s growth and development, and will undermine the development and prosperity gains from the so-called Africa rising.

Africans must cost and finance Africa’s adaptation to climate change as well as build resilience. We cannot sit and wait for a global consensus.