Across Africa, changing precipitation patterns, rising temperatures, and more extreme weather contributed to mounting food insecurity, poverty, and displacement during 2020, compounding the socio-economic and health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic*

The State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report provides a snapshot of climate change trends and impacts, including sea level rise and the melting of East Africa’s iconic glaciers. It highlights Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability and shows how the potential benefits of investments in climate adaptation, weather and climate services, and early warning systems far outweigh the costs involved.

“During 2020, the climate indicators in Africa were characterised by continued warming temperatures; accelerating sea-level rise; extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, landslides, and droughts; and associated devastating impacts,” says World Meteorological Organization secretary-general, Professor Petteri Taalas. “The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system.”

Only three mountain ranges in Africa are currently covered by glaciers: the Mount Kenya massif, the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, and Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Although these glaciers are too small to act as significant water reservoirs, they are of eminent touristic and scientific importance. Their current retreat rates are higher than the global average and, if this continues, it will lead to total deglaciation by the 2040s. Mount Kenya, meanwhile, is expected to be deglaciated a decade sooner, which will make it one of the first entire mountain ranges to lose glaciers due to human-induced climate change.

Africa’s temperatures have also warmed faster than the global average over land and ocean combined. The 30-year warming trend for 1991 to 2020 was higher than for 1961 to 1990 in all African subregions and significantly higher than the trend for 1931 to 1960, while 2020 ranked between the third and eighth warmest year on record for the continent, depending on the dataset used.

“Africa is witnessing increased weather and climate variability, which leads to disasters and disruption of economic, ecological, and social systems,” explains Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, commissioner for rural economy and agriculture at the African Union Commission. “By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people (living on less than US$1,90/day) will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa if adequate response measures are not put in place. This will place additional burdens on poverty alleviation efforts and significantly hamper growth in prosperity.”

The compounded effects of protracted conflicts, political instability, climate variability, pest outbreaks, and economic crises – exacerbated by the impacts of the coronavirus disease pandemic – were the key drivers of a significant increase in food insecurity. A desert locust invasion of historic proportions, which began in 2019, continued to have a major impact in East Africa and the Horn of Africa in 2020.

Food insecurity increases by five to 20% with each flood or drought in sub-Saharan Africa, while associated deterioration in health and children’s school attendance can worsen longer-term income and gender inequalities. In 2020, there was an almost 40% increase in people affected by food insecurity compared with the previous year.

“Along with Covid-19 recovery, enhancing climate resilience is an urgent and continuing need. Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water, and climate observing systems,” says Taalas.

*These issues were highlighted in a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization – a specialised agency of the United Nations and its voice on weather, climate, and water. Other contributors include the African Union Commission and the Economic Commission for Africa through the Africa Climate Policy Centre, as well as United Nations agencies and international and regional scientific organisations.  

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