Time is running out to stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, and Africa, which could suffer devastating impacts, lacks adequate data to monitor the trend and the ability to fund research to mitigate its impacts.
In a new report issued last Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the United Nations, notes the world’s climate was changing at ‘unprecedented’ levels, adding that humans are to blame.
The report also notes that if nations start by sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.
Human activities including burning coal, oil, and gas for energy since the 19th Century have heated up the planet by 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
The consequences of this can be felt in blistering heat waves, which have killed hundreds of people, floods, and wildfires that have ravaged places from Turkey to California. Africa could also suffer some of the worst impacts but is disadvantaged in comparison with others.
“All of Africa, in general, is vulnerable, given the level of development. The entire continent is highly exposed to climate extremes, at a relatively high level of vulnerability, which amplifies the problems that the continent is experiencing, including poverty, limited infrastructure, conflicts and urbanization in development,” Youba Sokona, vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told Africanews.
Africa’s problem is not just global warming but also an absence of adequate data to map the impacts. In the IPCC report, there was only a two-page fact sheet on observed and projected climate trends in Africa, but the paucity of data is inescapable in the maps.
Of the nine African sub-regions, the IPCC in the report notes it has observed an increase in extreme rainfall for just two – Western and Eastern Southern Africa.
For the other seven, it says, “Limited data and/or literature” were available.
Only half of the sub-regions provided sufficient data to determine an increase in rates of drought.
“People in Africa are certainly aware of the overwhelming heat, rising seas and extreme weather on the continent, but if they are not being recorded by scientists it will be much harder for African voices to be heard in the climate debate to tackle it,” Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa, told AFP.
While Africa is most climate-vulnerable, it is virtually blameless for the emissions that are driving ever more extreme weather. Worse still, it is also producing the least scientific research, which is hurting the region’s ability to adapt.
“We need to urgently address this and ensure researchers and funders come together and invest in filling these glaring gaps in climate research,” Adow said.
Beyond Africa, the report presents a bleak future. The scientists concluded that even if nations started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.
The impact of 1.5 degrees of warming will be devastating. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide could suffer heatwaves, hundreds of millions could struggle for water because of severe droughts. Some animal and plant species alive today will be gone, Coral reefs that sustain fisheries for large swaths of the globe will die off.