IPCC 2022 report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability: What’s at stake for Africa?
On 28th February 2022, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released Working Group II’s contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) dubbed ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. The report which has since been described by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as ‘an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership’ is drawn from 34,000 studies, involving 270 authors from 67 countries.
The report paints a troubling picture on the implications of a changing climate on marginalised communities’ and also sheds light on the grip climate change has on the African continent. Africa, the least historical global greenhouse gas emission contributor is projected to continue experiencing severe damage as a result of climate change. Although the global impacts have been felt gradually with 1.1 degrees temperature rise due to the anthropogenic change, there is a growing concern on the implications of a changing climate on Africa’s ecosystem with multiple countries in Central, West and East Africa being considered the most vulnerable.
With conviction, the authors state that anthropogenic climate change is responsible for the current harsh climatic conditions. With just 1.1 degrees of warming, climate change is causing widespread disruption such as withering droughts and floods which ultimately threaten food security for millions across Africa. According to the report, the total growth productivity on the continent has declined by 34% since 1961 as a result of extreme climatic events. Between 2015 and 2019, 62 million people in East and Southern Africa and 45.1 million in the Horn of Africa, required humanitarian assistance for climate-related food emergencies. These agricultural disruptions are closely intertwined with extreme rainfall variabilities.
Agricultural production is projected to worsen due to shortening of growing seasons, mid-season dry spells, intermittent rainfall and intensifying water stress. According to the report, approximately 250 million people could experience high water stress by 2030 across Africa. Additionally, yield declines will be partially offset by the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which increase the rate of photosynthesis, spurring crop growth. However, this opposing effect will be immaterial with 2°C of warming, which will result in critical yield reductions in staple crops. In the event of 2°C of warming, maize yields in West Africa are predicted to decline by 20-40% while if we reach 1.5°C of global warming, the catch potential of fisheries is projected to decrease by up to 40% in tropical Africa; this would leave almost 300 million people at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, especially children and pregnant women.
Since IPPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2014 it is evident that exposure to climate impact rose dramatically in cities. The growth in vulnerability occurred across informal urban settlements, where lack of proper housing, limited access to basic services and resources impedes resilience building efforts. This challenge is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60% of the urban population lives in informal settlements.
Following the 2021 COP26 conversations held in Glasgow, at least 170 countries’ climate policies now include adaptation, however many are yet to move into implementation. The IPCC also finds a huge financial gap between current adaptation levels and those needed. The IPCC further estimates that adaptation needs will reach $127 billion and $295 billion per year for developing countries alone by 2030 and 2050, respectively. At the moment, adaptation accounts for just 4 to 8% of tracked climate finance, which totalled $579 billion in 2017-18.
The 2022 COP27 summit which will be held in Egypt, presents a crucial opportunity for African governments to make progress and for developed countries to demonstrate their solidarity with vulnerable nations. The next few years present a narrow window to realize a sustainable future for all. Changing course will require immediate collaborative efforts to lower emissions, build resilience and increase finance for adaptation. In the words of the IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”