SADC Chairperson, President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi, has issued a stark warning about the impact of climate change on Southern Africa and the entire continent, saying rising temperatures mean only one thing: death.
In an interview with ITV ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Scotland from November 1 to 12, President Chakwera called on a genuine international co-operation on climate change.
“Already we have suffered a great deal. People dying. Crops destroyed. In some places, flooding. In other places, drought. If things cannot be mitigated, that’s more death and more unpredictability… If you have more floods, that’s more death. If we have more droughts, that’s more death. If we have cyclones, it’s more dead. So it’s death, death, death,” he said.
President Chakwera’s remarks resonate with a new World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report which says an African continent responsible for just four percent of greenhouse gas emissions is warming up faster than the global average temperature rise over land and ocean combined. China, the European Union and the United States are responsible for more than 40 percent of total global greenhouse gases.
The report (“State of the Climate in Africa 2020”) says 2020 was between the third and eighth hottest for Africa on record. The report was produced in partnership with the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa and other researchers.
The WMO says climate change will expose up to 118 million extremely poor Africans to drought, floods and extreme heat by 2030 if not addressed urgently.
Such projections are particularly dire for a Southern Africa region that is historically one of the world’s most vulnerable to the effects of droughts. According to some calculations, droughts alone have cost Southern Africa nearly US$4 billion since 1980, and the region is only expected to get hotter and drier.
The WMO report finds that changing precipitation patterns, rising temperatures and extreme weather triggered by climate change are happening globally, but notes these events are occurring with greater frequency and intensity in Africa.
WMO Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas, said Africa was being hit by higher temperatures, a rise in sea levels and extreme weather and climate events such as floods, landslides and droughts.
He added that East Africa’s glaciers are shrinking rapidly and are expected to melt entirely “in the near future.” This, he said, “signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system”.
“The glaciers have shrunk to less than 20 percent of their size since 1880. The three glaciers: Mount Kenya Massif in Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania are of eminent touristic and scientific importance and if the current trends continue, we will not see any glaciers in Africa in the 2040s.”
The report estimates that African nations have already spent significant sums – between two and nine percent of their GDP on adapting to climate change and the cost will rise to US$50 billion a year by 2050 even if global warming is kept below an additional 2°C.
Higher-than-normal precipitation – accompanied by flooding – predominated in the Sahel, the Rift Valley, the central Nile catchment and north-eastern Africa, the Kalahari basin and the lower course of the Congo River.
Ms Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission, said weather and climate changes were disrupting lives and economies.
“In Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to three percent by 2050. This presents a serious challenge for climate adaptation and resilience actions because not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing.”
A new approach
The disproportionate impact of climate change on Africa, and unfulfilled pledges of financial support from the very countries most responsible for the scourge, have seen a growing lobby for a change in approach by Africa.
Ahead of the Scotland climate summit, AU Chair and President of the DRC Félix Tshisekedi said Africa was “tired of waiting” and had come up with a homegrown plan “radically different to anything we have tried before”.
“Our way out is to strengthen our ability to respond and adapt to climate change. That’s why the African Union, working with the Global Centre on Adaptation, the African Development Bank and other partners, is endorsing the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Programme.
“The programme aims to spend US$12.5 billion over five years, in addition to the US$12.5 billion already pledged by the African Development Bank, on climate-proofing, creating new jobs and modernising key economic sectors to support upstream efforts to integrate climate adaptation investments at the national level. We know that US$25 billion over five years is not enough to fully adapt. But it is a start.”
Among areas with great potential to ease the burden us that of digital technologies and services for farmers.
“The African Development Bank has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average of 60 percent through applying digital technology. Scale up these services quickly and Africa will be able to feed its 2.5 billion people safely and sustainably by 2050,” President Tshisekedi said in an op-ed published by Financial Times.
He added: “New financial instruments such as green bonds could help support investment in resilient infrastructure. With most of Africa’s infrastructure yet to be built, making the continent’s infrastructure resilient adds only an average of three percent to total costs.
“Yet every dollar spent on infrastructure could yield US$4 of broader economic benefit. It is simply good maths.
“In the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, some of the world’s wealthiest nations are promising to make good their 2009 pledge to spend US$100 billion a year mitigating climate change in the developing world. We know they have many options, but the African Union urges them to consider funding our adaptation programme first.
“Because it is Africa’s plan, and because its aims are realistic, necessary and achievable. US$5 billion a year is a small change — the world spent US$20 trillion to fight COVID-19 — but the key is that this initial capital will help Africa to create much more, through new financial instruments and by de-risking resilience projects to attract private investors.”
He said to successfully fight climate change, there must be a clear plan to harness and deploy resources. “The African Union sees the adaptation plan as central to this. What it requires is global actions and firm resource commitments.
“Let us remember that Africa’s ecosystems provide free crucial services to the world. African forests and oceans serve as natural carbon sinks. It is time for Africa to be compensated — for the good of the continent and the planet. We have waited long enough.”
SADC forging ahead
In the Southern Africa region, SADC member states have been pressing ahead with efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.
In a recent report, the Sri Lanka based International Water Management Institute said it was working with SADC’s 16 members and the World Bank on a multi-year drought resilience advisory services and analytics initiative.
“The Southern African Drought Resilience Initiative (SADRI) provides early warning of drought and a preparedness strategy for farmers,” Amarnath Giriraj, a disaster risk management and climate resilience researcher at the institute said.
The report says despite the severity of past droughts and the likelihood of future ones, many countries still had not invested sufficiently in early warning systems, adding that the focus in the region is often on crisis management and humanitarian interventions after and during disasters.
In another recent report, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Witwatersrand, Jennifer Fitchett, said Southern Africa was experiencing an increase in the severity and frequency of heatwaves.
Prof Fitchett also highlighted the threat posed by tropical cyclones that form in the Mozambique Channel.
“Over recent decades, tropical cyclones in the Southwest Indian Ocean have increased in intensity; the first category 5 tropical cyclone for the sub-ocean basin was recorded in 1994. Tropical Cyclone Idai, which bordered in intensity between categories 3 and 4 on landfall, provides stark evidence of the damage wrought by high intensity tropical cyclones in populated areas,” said Prof Fitchett.
She said with mitigation and adaptation strategies and policies, Southern Africa could reduce the impacts of climate change on livelihoods.
“It is important at this stage to invest in adaptation to reduce the impacts of climate change, and to make every effort to reduce our reliance on carbon to slow down climate change,” said Fitchett.
Reporting by Bright Mpepe in Lilongwe & Mpho Tebele in Gaborone