The Future of Climate Change in Africa

In December 2015, the international community gathered in Paris for the twenty-first yearly Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The first universal agreement was signed that ‘all parties’ (not just the developed countries or historic emitters) would take action to achieve the global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions, and pursue measures which would hold global temperature rises to 1.5°C. As Simon Chin-Yee writes in April’s briefing, the agreement has particular significance for Africa.

When we think of the impact of climate change on Africa, naturally we think about the environmental impacts. The scientific consensus, as reported in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report (2013-4), is that the impacts of climate change will affect food security, water availability, and human health in Africa significantly. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods will become more frequent and more intense. According to climate models the estimated yield losses for food crops by 2050 are 22% across sub-Saharan Africa, with yield losses for South Africa and Zimbabwe in excess of 30%. Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century (under all emissions scenarios) to levels which could threaten coastal settlements, economies, cultures and ecosystems in Africa. Severe climatic impacts are predicted on migration, disease patterns, biodiversity, and ecosystems.

Less frequently considered are the political effects of climate change, the consequences of the need to mitigate and adapt to a climate changed future. The Paris Agreement was based on all countries – including African states – submitting intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to tackling climate change. Libya was the only African state not to submit an INDC prior to the conference. According to Climate Action Tracker, the INDCs of Ethiopia, Morocco and the Gambia were rated as sufficient with the level of global action needed for global average temperature rise to stay below 2°C. Morocco was praised for putting forward an economy-wide target to reduce emissions by 13% below business-as-usual in 2030, whereas Ethiopia pledged to reduce emissions at least 64%. In contrast, South Africa’s pledge to reduce emissions by 34% in 2020 and 42% in 2025 was rated as ‘inadequate’ by Climate Action Tracker. This takes into account the overall carbon intensity of South Africa’s coal-reliant economy, and the fact that its overall emissions are expected to increase by 110% and 141% in 2020 and 2025 respectively compared to 1990 levels.



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