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Mount Kilimanjaro seen from Honeybadger Lodge, Moshi, Tanzania

The glacier at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, one of three glaciers in Africa, is expected to be deglaciated by the 2040s. (Photo: Koen Muurling/Flickr/cc)

Africa's Disappearing Glaciers Signal 'Irreversible' Threat to Earth System: Report

The authors of a U.N. report urge greater investment in climate adaptation and weather services on the continent.

Julia Conley

A new United Nations-backed report reveals the extent of Africa's "disproportionate vulnerability" to the climate emergency, with the continent's three glaciers expected to disappear entirely in the next two decades as the population faces the increasingly dire effects of the heating of the planet.
 
"Total deglaciation" of the glaciers of the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is expected by the 2040s, while the Mount Kenya massif could lose its ice caps a decade sooner, "which will make it one of the first entire mountain ranges to lose glacier cover due to human-induced climate change," according to the State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 3% by 2050."

 
The loss of the three glaciers in East Africa, which are retreating at faster rates than the global average, "signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system," said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
 
"Administrative barriers" currently put long term observation efforts at the mountains' summits at risk of being abandoned, according to the report by the WMO, the African Union Commission (AUC), the Economic Commission for Africa, and other agencies—but the authors noted that "investing in climate adaptation, early warning systems, and weather and climate services can pay off."
 
"In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 3% by 2050," wrote Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, commissioner for rural economy and agriculture at the AUC. "This presents a serious challenge for climate adaptation and resilience actions because not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing."
 
While the loss of the three glaciers could have significant adverse effects for tourism revenue, investing in climate adaptation would cost $30 to $50 billion annually over the next decade, or 2% to 3% of the GDP, while sparking economic development and generating "more jobs in support of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic."
 
As African nations' economies face long-term threats from the climate emergency, the report notes that millions of people's lives are already being upended on the continent by the effects of the warming planet.
 
More than 800,000 people were affected by severe flooding in the Sudan last year; 155 deaths were reported there and 285 were reported in Kenya due to the flooding, which scientists have linked to heavier rainfall resulting from the warming atmosphere.
 
South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Chad were among several countries that reported significant displacement due to drought, flooding, and other climate crisis impacts last year, while in Madagascar, as Common Dreams reported in August, "famine-like conditions have been driven by climate change."
 
With each flood or drought in sub-Saharan Africa, said the WMO, food insecurity increases by 5% to 20%.
 
 
Central African countries reported extreme events including landslides and heavy rainfall which led to economic losses and the collapse of Palar Bridge in Cameroon.
 
While Africa's 54 countries are responsible for less than 4% of fossil fuel emissions, the report estimates that by 2030, up to 118 million people on the continent will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat fueled by the continued extraction of oil, gas, and coal advanced by the Global North.
 
"This will place additional burdens on poverty alleviation efforts and significantly hamper growth in prosperity," the report said.

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