African Climate Burning

Temperatures in Africa have been rising in recent decades at a rate comparable to that of most other continents and thus somewhat faster than global mean surface temperature, which incorporates a large ocean component.
The year 2019 was among the three warmest years on record for the continent.

Annual rainfall exhibited sharp geographical contrasts in 2019, with totals remarkably below long-term means in Southern Africa and west of the High Atlas Mountains and above-average rainfall recorded in other areas, in particular in Central and East Africa.

There is significant regional variability in sea-level trends around Africa. Sea-level increase reached 5 mm per year in several oceanic areas surrounding the continent and exceeded 5 mm per year in the south-western Indian Ocean from Madagascar eastward towards and beyond Mauritius. This is more than the average global sea-level rise of 3–4 mm per year.

Africa was severely hit by extreme weather and climate events in 2019, including Tropical Cyclone Idai, which was among the most destructive tropical cyclones ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. Tropical Cyclones Idai and Kenneth resulted in severe humanitarian impacts, including hundreds of casualties and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons.

The areas most severely affected by drought in 2019 were in Southern Africa and were many of the same areas that were also affected by a protracted drought in 2014–2016. In contrast, a dramatic shift in conditions was experienced in the Greater Horn of Africa, from very dry conditions in 2018 and most of 2019 to floods and landslides associated with heavy rainfall in late 2019. Flooding also affected the Sahel and surrounding areas from May to October 2019.

In addition to conflicts, instability and economic crises, climate variability and change are among the key drivers of the recent increase in hunger on the continent. In the drought-prone sub-Saharan African countries, the number of undernourished people has increased by 45.6% since 2012 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The state of the climate in Africa in 2019, as depicted in this report, was characterized by continued warming temperatures, rising sea levels and impacts associated with extreme weather and climate events. It constitutes a snapshot within a continuum of rapidly rising longer-term climate-related risks associated with global warming. Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy and accounts for the majority of livelihoods across the continent. Africa is therefore an exposure and vulnerability “hot spot” for climate variability and change impacts. Projections under Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 suggest that warming scenarios will have devastating effects on crop production and food security.

Post-2015, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement have become the main instrument for guiding policy responses to climate change. The African countries have submitted their first NDCs and are in the process of submitting revised NDCs in 2020. Africa and the small island developing States are the regions facing the largest capacity gaps with regard to climate services. Africa also has the least developed land-based observation network of all continents.

The poor are highly affected by extreme weather and climate events and are often overrepresented in the number of individuals displaced by these events. One promising approach throughout the continent to reducing the impacts of these events has been to reduce poverty by promoting socioeconomic growth, in particular in the agricultural sector.
In this sector, which employs 60% of Africa’s population, value-addition techniques using efficient and clean energy sources are reported to be capable of reducing poverty two to four times faster than growth in any other sector. Solar-powered, efficient micro-irrigation, for example, is increasing farm-level incomes by five to ten times, improving yields by up to 300% and reducing water usage by up to 90% while at the same time offsetting carbon emissions by generating up to 250 kW of clean energy.

Women constitute a large percentage of the world’s poor, and about half of the women in the world are active in agriculture – in developing countries, this figure is 60%, and in low-income, food-deficit countries, 70%. Reducing poverty by means of growth in Africa’s agricultural sector is therefore of particular benefit to women. It also may be the case that in some instances, women do not have access to weather and climate services; it is important that all individuals be provided with access to these services in order to enhance their individual resilience and adaptive capacity.

Lessons learned highlighted in the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019 also show that efforts need to be pursued to build resilience against high-impact events through effective Multi-hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS) and appropriate prevention and risk management strategies. MHEWS should be based on risk knowledge, detection, monitoring and forecasting, communication of actionable warnings, and preparedness at all levels and should complement other long-term prevention and resilience activities. Clearer roles and responsibilities should be defined for National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and other government agencies responsible for different aspects of disaster risk management and response.