Africa global warming impact 'worse than feared'

Posted: 6 November 2006

A new report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation in Africa warns that the continent's vulnerability to climate change is even more acute than had previously been supposed.

The new report, released by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and based on data from bodies including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), contains frightening forecasts of the impact on African countries.

It estimates that 30 per cent of Africa's coastal infrastructure could be inundated, and between 25 per cent and over 40 per cent of species' habitats in Africa could be lost by 2085. Cereal crop yields will decline by up to five per cent by the 2080s with subsistence crops also suffering climate-linked falls.

"Africa has made the lowest contribution to climate change," said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UNEP. "It is also the least prepared to cope with the consequences ... and has the most to lose."

Hungry goats in Sudan feed on a single acacia tree. Photo: FAO
Hungry goats in Sudan feed on a single acacia tree. Photo: FAO
Hungry goats in Sudan feed on a single acacia tree in the desert.© FAO

Meanwhile part of Africa's current and future adaptation needs must include improvements in climate and weather monitoring capabilities and better links between climate research and policy-making.

Monitoring

"Climate change is underway and the international community must respond by offering well targeted assistance to those countries in the front-line which are facing increasing impacts such as extreme droughts and floods and threats to infrastructure from phenomena like rising sea levels" said Mr Steiner.

"Part of the action, part of the adaptation response and part of this responsibility to Africa, must include significant improvements in Africa's climate and weather monitoring capabilities. Then countries on the Continent can better tailor their response in areas from agriculture to heath care and international donors can better understand Africa's needs now, and in the future." Latest estimates indicate that about 25 per cent out of the Global Climate Observing System surface stations in east and southern Africa are not working and most of the remaining stations are functioning in a less than desirable manner. Around a fifth of the 10 upper air network stations are in a similar state.

With a view to the climate change conference in Nairobi, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said: "Activating the adaptation agenda is critical. It is time to move from establishing the principles to real action on the ground."

Fighting climate change must be a two-tier attack. Adaptation is important - but it is also critical that greenhouse gas emissions are cut by an eventual 80 per cent in order to stabilize the atmosphere for current and future generations.

weakened animals
weakened animals
People bringing their weakened animals to an Oxfam destocking programme. Photo: Jane Beesley, Oxfam.
The new report has been prepared with the help of a team led by Dr. Baglis Osman Elasha, Senior Researcher in the Climate Change Unit of the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources in the Sudanese Ministry of the Environment.

"We are already seeing climate related changes in my country. The Gum Arabic belt, an economically important crop, has shifted southwards below latitude 14 degrees north, and the rains which used to occur from mid-June to the end of August now start in mid-July until the end of September with important ramifications for agriculture and livelihoods," she said.

Key findings: Sea levels

  • Sea levels could rise by 15 to 95 cm by 2100, according to some estimates. The number of people at risk in Africa from coastal flooding will rise from one million in 1990 to 70 million by 2080.

  • An estimated 30 per cent of Africa's coastal infrastructure could be at risk including coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, the Gambia, and Egypt.

  • Along the East-Southern African coast cities at risk include Cape Town, Maputo and Dar Es-Salaam.

  • A one-metre rise in the Atlantic will lead to part of the economic capital of Nigeria, Lagos, disappearing. Alexandria in Egypt could also be severely impacted costing that country over $30 billion a year in lost land, infrastructure and tourist revenues.

  • A sea level rise of 50 cm would inundate 2,000 square km of land in Tanzania costing around $50 million.

Biodiversity and ecosystems

  • One study, examining over 5,000 plant species in Africa, has concluded that around 80 to well over 90 per cent of species' suitable habitats will decrease in size or shift due to climate change.

  • By 2085, between 25 per cent and over 40 per cent of species' habitats could be lost altogether.

  • Shifts in rainfall patterns could affect the fynbos and karoo in southern Africa by altering the fire regime critical for their regeneration.

  • Wetland ecosystems such as the Okavanga Delta and the Sudd area could be impacted by decreased run-off.

  • The coastal zones are also likely to be impacted by climate change with reduced fish productivity, coral bleaching, salt water intrusion, loss of beach facilities and tourism revenues.

Agriculture, water supplies and land

Woman collecting water, Tanzania. Photo: WaterAid/Jim Holmes
Woman collecting water, Tanzania. Photo: WaterAid/Jim Holmes
Woman collecting water, Tanzania© WaterAid/Jim Holmes
  • Over 95 per cent of Africa's agriculture depends on rainfall. Models indicate that 80,000 square km of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa currently deemed constrained will improve as a result of climate change.

  • However, 600,000 square km currently classed as moderately constrained will become severely limited.

  • Experts estimate that cereal crop yields will decline by up to five per cent by the 2080s. There will be a general decline also in most subsistence crops such as sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan and groundnuts in the Gambia.