Global Warming Hits Africa Hard

Global warming may be hitting Africa harder than any other continent despite the fact that emissions generated elsewhere are primarily responsible for it. Daniel Foster, FlickrCC.

Dear EarthTalk: What have been the most dramatic effects of global warming on Africa and what do longer-term climate projections foretell for Africa’s future?

—William C., Raleigh, NC

Global warming has already had profound impacts on Africa, which is already grappling with many environmental and socio-economic challenges. The most dramatic effects observed so far include increased temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and a rise in extreme weather events—all of which have far-reaching consequences for the environment, agriculture and human livelihoods.

Temperatures across Africa have risen significantly in recent decades, with some regions experiencing increases twice the global average rate. This exacerbates existing problems, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. Prolonged heat waves and severe droughts have become more frequent, threatening water supplies and agricultural productivity.

Changes in precipitation are another significant impact. Some regions have seen decreased rainfall, while others face more intense and erratic rainfall. The Sahel, a semi-arid region south of the Sahara Desert, has experienced both prolonged droughts and intense rainfall, leading to flash floods. These shifts disrupt farming practices, erode soils and reduce crop yields, exacerbating hunger and poverty.

Extreme weather events ever more frequent and severe. Southern Africa, particularly Mozambique, has faced devastating cyclones like Idai in 2019, which caused extensive damage, and displaced or killed thousands. Flooding destroys homes and crops and facilitates waterborne diseases.

Long-term climate projections for Africa paint a grim picture. By the end of the 21st century, average temperatures are expected to increase, leading to more severe heatwaves and droughts. Water scarcity will intensify, particularly in North and Southern Africa, where river flow and groundwater recharge rates are projected to decline. Agriculture, which employs a large portion of the population, faces dire challenges. Staple crops such as maize, sorghum and millet are expected to see reduced yields, a productivity decline that threatens food security and could increase dependence on food imports, straining economies further.

Coastal areas are at risk, too, from rising sea levels. Cities like Lagos, Nigeria and Alexandria, Egypt are particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding. Mangrove ecosystems, vital for coastal protection and fisheries, are also threatened by sea level rise and changing salinity patterns. Biodiversity loss is another critical concern. Many of Africa’s unique ecosystems, such as the Congo Basin rainforests and the savannas, could be drastically altered. Species that cannot adapt to rapidly changing conditions face extinction, disrupting ecological balances and affecting livelihoods dependent on natural resources.

“Africa is responsible for less than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says the World Meteorological Organization’s Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “But it is the continent which is the least able to cope with the negative impacts of climate change.” Promoting resilient infrastructure, sustainable agriculture and regional cooperation are crucial to a sustainable future for its people.


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