Climate change is a global phenomenon from the point of view of its geographical spread and accompanying effects. Although Africa is not one of the parties most responsible for this phenomenon—it produces 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions—it is one of the parties most harmed by the negative effects and repercussions of climate change at various levels, in a manner that directly affects the reality of nation states and the African continent’s aspirations related to Agenda 2063. Africa has a promising opportunity to crystallize its position and demands regarding climate change, especially since Egypt is hosting COP27, the Conference of the Parties that are signatories to the UN Convention on Climate Change, in Sharm El-Sheikh this coming November.
Recently, there has been a set of indicators of the worsening conditions in Africa due to climate change, represented by the following:
1. Steady temperature increases: Temperatures in Africa continue to increase, with an estimated average growth of 0.3+ degrees Celsius per decade from 1991 to 2021. This is faster than the warming rate from 1961 to 1990, which was 0.2+ degrees Celsius per decade. The year 2021 was the third warmest year on record in Africa, and all of Africa’s subregions recorded temperature increases from 1991 to 2021, compared to the period from 1901 to 1930. North Africa recorded a greater increase in temperatures compared to other regions: 0.41 degrees Celsius per decade between 1991 and 2021, which is double the warming rate of 0.19 degrees Celsius per decade between 1961 and 1990.
2. Rising sea levels: The rate of sea level rise along the African coast is higher than the global average, especially the Red Sea and the southwest Indian Ocean, where it approaches 4 millimeters per year, followed by the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique and the eastern coast of South Africa, where the sea level is rising by more than 3.9 millimeters per year. At an average of 3.9 millimeters per year, the sea level rise along the western coast of South Africa and Namibia is much higher than the global average. Along the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, from Gabon to Angola and Somalia, sea levels are rising an average of more than 3.6 millimeters per year, while the coast of West Africa is seeing an average sea level rise of 3.3 millimeters per year. The relative rise in sea level is likely to continue, which may contribute to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying cities and along sandy coasts, as well as higher groundwater salinity.
3. Rainfall disruptions: Unstable rainfall is another indicator of the climate crisis in Africa. In 2021, the continent experienced below normal rainfall rates in most parts of North Africa, particularly in the coastal regions of Morocco, Tunisia, and northwest Libya. In the West African regions, the start of the rainy season was delayed, with most of the rain falling during the months of July and August. In southern Africa, there is a notable rainfall deficit of more than 160 millimeters across eastern Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, central Mozambique, and along the southern coast of Africa. In East Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, and parts of South Sudan, southern Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania recorded drier than usual conditions.
4. Water level change in the Great Lakes: This phenomenon is directly linked to climate change in Africa. Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake on the continent, stretching across parts of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, receives 80% of its water from direct rainfall and only 20% from the drainage basin. Thus, changes in the lake’s water level are a direct reflection of rainfall patterns. The lake has seen major variations in water level, with sharp increases in rainfall from 1997-1998 and 2019-2021, compared to a decrease from 1998-2006.
Similarly, the total surface area of Lake Chad, which is located near the Sahara Desert on the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger, has decreased from 25,000 square kilometers in the 1960’s, to 1,350 square kilometers at the beginning of the 21st century, where it has remained stable until the present. This can be explained in light of the combined effect of climate change, on the one hand, and severe human pressure on water resources, on the other hand. In turn, this has already resulted in reduced land suitable for farming and grazing, declining fish production, and the loss of biodiversity.
As a whole, the many and varied repercussions of climate change in Africa affect the reality and course of sustainable development in Africa, as provided in the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063, and threaten the domestic stability of African nations. The most important repercussions include the following:
1. Growing waves of population migration: This is one of the most significant impacts of climate change in Africa. Flooding, recurring droughts, rising sea levels, and extreme weather are major factors affecting patterns of displacement within and across national borders. These climate conditions seriously affect those living in areas more prone to conflicts. Refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa are on the front lines with regard to the impact of climate emergencies. For example, in 2021, about 14.1 million people were internally displaced in sub-Saharan Africa, 11.5 million of them due to conflict and violence and 2.5 million to disasters. Most of them live in hot climates and usually lack the resources needed to adapt to the existing climate conditions, which may make them increasingly destabilized.
Furthermore, assessments indicate that mounting water strain is affecting 250 million people in Africa and is expected cause the displacement of up to 700 million people by 2030. Climate migration is likely to lead to higher population density, overcrowded areas, and more informal settlements. As a group, these factors increase the risk of ethnic tensions and conflicts, possibly worsening pre-existing tensions between communities that rely on scarce resources and deepening existing inequality, especially gender equality. These factors also further entrench poverty, which greatly harms the achievement of Africa’s sustainable development goals.
2. Declining levels of food security: Food security is yet another aspect of climate change in Africa. Rising temperatures have contributed to reducing agricultural production in Africa by 34% since 1961, more than any other part of the world. For example, in East Africa, sharply rising food prices are hampering the ability to provide and obtain food, and more than 58 million people are living in conditions of acute food insecurity due to the effects of cumulative failed rainy seasons, growing waves of conflicts endemic to the region and the subsequent displacement of residents, Coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and the effects of the Ukrainian-Russian war that began in late February of 2022.
This trend is expected to continue into the future, increasing the risks of acute food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, along with a 9% decrease in the maize harvest in West Africa, a 20-60% reduction in wheat production in southern and northern Africa, and a more than 12% decrease in fisheries in many West African countries. Climate change will also have serious effects on jobs and productivity in the agricultural sector, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where 55-62% of the labor force works in agriculture, the ability to work in agriculture is expected to decrease by 30-50% compared to the time between 1986 and 1995, accompanied by an estimated global warming of 3 degrees Celsius.
3. Threat to stability of water resources: This climate change effect in Africa leads to instability and increased fluctuations in lake water levels and affects river drainage and groundwater recharge rates. In West Africa, the long-term drop in the flow of river water has been attributed to rising temperatures, drought, and increased water demand. Naturally, this situation has serious consequences for water-dependent sectors, such as hydropower, farming, and health, and for access to safe drinking water.
The scarcity of water resources is a major source of conflict in Africa, as the continent continues to face many ability gaps in the fields of high-quality and reliable water-related climate services. Only about 27% of African countries—22 countries—offer water-related climate services, such as forecasting or drought prediction services. The current difficulty is reinforced by the fact that 418 million people still lack basic drinking water services and 779 million lack sewage services, while 27 African countries lack the ability to effectively implement elements of integrated management of water resources, according to the State of the Climate in Africa 2021 report.
4. Elevated risks in cities and coastal settlements: High population growth and rapid urbanization in Africa have increased the vulnerability of citizens and infrastructure to climate risks. About 108-116 million people in Africa are expected to be affected by rising sea levels by 2030, which in turn will lead to more coastal flooding, coastal erosion, and soil salinity due to seawater seepage, posing greater risks to coastal settlements, economies, and ecosystems. The damage from rising sea levels in sub-Saharan African countries may reach 2-4% of GDP by 2030.
5. Escalating political and security unrest: The issue of climate change in Africa is inseparable from political and security turmoil, as the effects of climate change result in new societal demands that pressure governing regimes and demand a rapid response. Many reports show that climate change phenomena like desertification and drought trigger the outbreak of local conflicts between farmers and herders over resources and suitable pastureland, leading to more security and political exposure in African nations.
A vision for the future suggests the need to adopt a set of proposed ways to activate Africa’s response to climate change in a manner that minimizes the scope of its negative repercussions, most notably the following:
1. Strengthening the Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (MHEWS): This important mechanism gathers and analyzes data on various hazards and threats associated with climate change in Africa and identifies the best possible and potential ways to effectively address them.
2. Accelerating the creation and activation of National Frameworks for Climate Services (NFCS): This will help promote the involvement of various stakeholders and the development and distribution of climate services in order to support governmental climate change policies and strategies.
3. Adopting a scientific approach to climate adaptation in Africa: This includes strengthening the ability of African nations to analyze the climate, provide climate services via relevant national institutions, identify and select priorities for climate action, and implement national climate policies, including the most sensitive climate goals among Africa’s sustainable development goals.
4. Providing financial support from the international community: It is necessary to promote the capacity of African countries to fully implement their specific contributions at the national level. This support can be realized through several sources, possibly including capacity-building, technology transfer, grants, and soft loans.
In conclusion, it can be said that facing the effects of climate change in Africa requires movement on three parallel tracks: (1) the national track of adopting relevant national plans and policies, whether adapting to climate change or mitigating its attendant risks and threats; (2) the adoption of joint African arrangements and policies based on inter-coordination to respond to climate change, whether under the umbrella of the African Union or sub-regional associations; and (3) the support of various international frameworks concerned with combatting climate change and coordination with various international parties on this issue.