United Nations Report Documents Climate Change Vulnerabilities in Africa

In yet another report warning of the likely repercussions unleashed by climate change, the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released a study indicating that Africa’s vulnerability is even more acute than had previously been assumed. The report was designed as input to an African regional workshop on climate change adaptation, held in September in Accra, Ghana. Its public release coincided with the opening of a new round of climate change talks in Nairobi, and it comes on the heels of a British government report that warned of dramatic economic costs of global warming.

Climate-related changes in Africa are already becoming more and more visible:

  • The runoff from Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro is important for water supplies, yet their glaciers and snow caps are receding.
  • The Gum Arabic belt in the Sudan, an economically important crop, has shifted southwards below latitude 14 degrees north and the arrival of the June-August rains now occurs about a month later, affecting agriculture and livelihoods in the region.
  • An average 25 per cent decrease in rainfall has occurred over the Sahel during the past 30 years. Precipitation has fallen by up to 2.4 percent per decade in tropical rainforests regions of Africa since the mid-1970s.

The UNFCC report (PDF) includes the following findings:

Sea Level Rise

  • The number of people at risk from coastal flooding due to sea level rise in Africa will rise from 1 million in 1990 to 70 million by 2080.
  • Some 30 percent of Africa’s coastal infrastructure could be inundated, threatening such cities as Alexandria, Lagos, Cape Town, Maputo and Dar Es-Salaam.

Biodiversity and Ecosystems

  • A study that examined over 5,000 plant species in Africa, concluded that 80-90+ percent of species’ suitable habitats will decrease in size or shift due to climate change. By 2085, 25-40+ percent of species’ habitats could be lost altogether.

Agriculture, Land, Water Supplies

  • Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change because its regional climates are already highly variable; about half its cultivable land is arid and semi arid and more than 95 percent of the continent’s agriculture depends on rainfall; 70 percent of the total population and nearly 90 percent of the poor primarily work in agriculture.
  • Cereal crop yields will decline by up to 5 percent by the 2080s, with subsistence crops—such as sorghum, maize, millet, and groundnuts—also suffering climate-linked falls.
  • While future rainfall patterns are not clear cut, in general extreme events including droughts and floods are expected to increase.
  • By 2025 approximately 480 million people in Africa could be living in water scarce or water stressed areas.

The UNFCC report stresses the need to boost Africa’s climate and weather monitoring capabilities, improve climate forecasting for the continent, and establish better links between climate research and policy-making.