Despite contributing only a minute amount of global greenhouse gas emissions, the African continent suffers the deleterious effects of climate change to a disproportionate degree.
The heavy carbon emitters, like China and the United States, have a moral obligation to help the nations of Africa, particularly the rural areas of these countries, mitigate the impact of climate change, not just to help Africa, but to help the rest of the world.
The data tells a chilling story that should make everyone–including the leaders of the major polluting nations and donor countries, as well as the leaders of African nations–commit to implementing policies, allocating resources, and taking the necessary actions to address the situation. Increased temperatures cause deadly heat waves. Varying rainfall leads to flooding in some areas and droughts in others, both of which reduce agricultural production, increase food insecurity and food prices, and cause dislocation of poverty-stricken rural populations to already overcrowded urban areas that are ill-equipped to accept them, or to other nations, including those outside Africa, that are wrestling with their own climate-related problems. The ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) should specifically address the climate change impact on Africa or failing that the African Union (AU) should call for an Africa-specific conference to address this issue.
Climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of over 100 million in extreme poverty. Global warming is expected to melt Africa’s remaining glaciers in the next few decades, and the reduction in water essential to agricultural production will create food insecurity, poverty, and population displacement. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the gross domestic product (GDP) could be reduced by up to three percent by 2050. Even without the deleterious impact of climate change, global poverty is one of the world’s worst problems. It is estimated that one in three Africans, or over 400 million people, live below the global poverty line, which is defined as less than $1.90 per day. The world’s poorest people are often hungry, have less access to education, have no light at night, and suffer from poor health.
Agriculture is critical to Africa’s economic growth. Climate change could destabilize local markets, increase food insecurity, limit economic growth, and increase risk for agriculture sector investors. African agriculture is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because it is heavily dependent on rainfall, and climate change has seriously affected rainfall throughout the continent. The Sahel, for instance, is largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and it is already hit regularly by droughts and floods, both of which kill crops and reduce yield. With temperatures expected to increase 1.5 times higher than the rest of the world by the end of the 21st century, African countries will see shorter wet spells (leading to droughts) or heavier rains (causing floods), leading to reduced food production because they lack the infrastructure and support systems present in wealthier nations. By 2030, crop yields across the continent are projected to decrease by varying amounts depending upon the region. Southern Africa, for example, is expected to experience a 20 percent decrease in rainfall.