NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s rare glaciers may vanish in the next two decades as a result of climate change, according to new research released Tuesday amid dire predictions for the continent that contributes the least to global warming but will bear the brunt of the consequences.
The research, issued before the United Nations climate summit in Scotland, which begins Oct. 31, is a sobering reminder that Africa’s 1.3 billion people remain “particularly vulnerable” as the region heats more rapidly than the world average. Despite this, Africa’s 54 countries account for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The melting glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda are cited in the latest study as emblems of the coming rapid and widespread changes. “They are retreating at a faster rate than the rest of the world.” If current trends continue, complete deglaciation would occur by the 2040s, according to the report.
Massive displacement, starvation, and growing climate shocks like droughts and flooding are all on the horizon, but a lack of climate data in areas of Africa is “having a big impact” on catastrophe alerts for millions of people, according to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
Climate change’s economic consequences are estimated to differ throughout the African continent, but “climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa might further decrease gross domestic product by up to 3% by 2050,” according to one estimate. The African Union Commission’s Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko writes in the report. “Not only are the physical circumstances deteriorating, but the number of individuals impacted is also rising.”
If sufficient reaction measures are not put in place by 2030, up to 118 million extremely poor people, or those living on less than $1.90 per day, “would be susceptible to drought, floods, and excessive heat throughout Africa,” according to Sacko.
The United Nations has already warned that climate change is causing “famine-like circumstances” in Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. It also claims that flooding in portions of South Sudan is at its worst in over 60 years.
Despite the dangers that face the African continent, Africans have been underrepresented at global climate meetings and among the writers of critical Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific reports. According to Future Climate for Africa, a multi-country research initiative, African involvement in IPCC reports has been “very low.”
The expenses that lie ahead are enormous. “By 2030, Africa would require over $3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation expenditures to achieve its (national climate plans), necessitating large, accessible, and predictable inflows of conditional financing,” said Taalas of the World Meteorological Organization.
“Even assuming worldwide efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the cost of adapting to climate change in Africa will climb to $50 billion per year by 2050.”