Melting glaciers and global warming in Africa

Climate change is undoubtedly the most important challenge that humanity must necessarily face in this century. Given the current state of our planet, it is very likely that a response from us will have to arrive before the end of this decade. That climate change is rapidly affecting various areas of the planet is certainly not news of the last hour, but the report published by the United Nations on the environmental situation in Africa has shown significant cracks, even from a symbolic point of view.

Indeed, The State of the Climate in Africa Report 2020, published by the UN in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), highlights not only the trends and impact of climate change in Africa, but also a symbolic aspect to absolutely take into consideration: the rapid melting of the iconic African glaciers. A phenomenon that at this rate, following the trends highlighted in the report, could occur in about two decades. The three glaciers in question are in Mount Kenya (Kenya), in Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and in Ruwenzori Mountains (on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The former appears to be melting at an even faster rate and should only take a decade to finally disappear. A forecast that would therefore make Mount Kenya one of the first great mountain ranges in the world to be 'deglacised' due to global warming.

The three iconic African glaciers that are melting at a faster rate than the world average are endowed, according to experts, with considerable scientific and tourist importance. The report says 2020 in Africa was characterized by higher and higher temperatures, rising sea levels, and extreme weather and climate phenomena, such as droughts or floods. As for the latter, the report cites as an example the heavy rainfall that occurred in the Sahel, in the Rift Valley or along the course of the major rivers (the Nile and Congo), in addition to drought in the regions of north-west Africa and the South West Africa.

The indicators detected show that in the African continent there is a more significant increase in temperatures compared to the global average, underlining how the trend of the thirty-year period 1991-2020 was significantly warmer than the previous one. 2020 was the third warmest year on record, with the regions of the Horn of Africa, Northwest Africa and West Equatorial Africa having suffered the greatest anomalies in terms of temperatures. At the same time, sea level rise is also a problematic phenomenon, especially with regard to the coasts bordering the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, where an increase of 3.6mm and 4.1mm per year respectively testify a much higher trend than other seas and oceans. The rise in the level of the Mediterranean Sea is, on the contrary, one of the lowest, with an increase of 2.9mm.

When we talk about climate change and global warming we are referring to a phenomenon that has a multilateral impact on society, with the possibility of seriously affecting a multitude of sectors: the environmental, social, economic and in some cases even the geopolitical one. In the "best case scenario", the damage inflicted has a long-term impact, but in the worst one it can even be irreversible. In the case of Africa, we refer to a continent where the phenomenon of food insecurity is still today one of the most important issues and which arouses great concern on an international level also and above all for the problematic climate evolution. The report by WMO and UN underlines how, in this regard, the situation has definitely worsened in the last two years due to a multitude of social, political and economic factors. The WMO and UN report underlines how, in this regard, the situation has definitely worsened in the last two years due to a multitude of social, political and economic factors. These include the economic crisis due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the political instability of many nations or the persistence of military conflicts to which the complex environmental situation is also added. The fact that last year the African population in conditions of food insecurity has increased by 40% fits into this scenario.

As David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Program pointed out last month, Africa "is an area of the world that has contributed very little to climate change but is now paying the highest price." In this sense, the image presented by the report seems particularly self-explanatory. In 2030, in fact, more than 118 million people living on less than $ 1.90 a day (the extreme poverty line) will be exposed to climatic phenomena such as drought, flooding and extreme temperatures. To understand therefore how the environmental phenomenon is closely linked to geopolitical and social events, it is enough to cite two examples. The first is Madagascar: one of the areas that is actually experiencing what is described as the first "climate famine"; while the second is the area of Tigray where the conflict that has been waging for more than a year between the separatist forces and those of the Ethiopian government is starving more than 500,000 people. In general this is a rather complex situation. The estimated costs for adapting to climate change are between 30 and 50 billion dollars per year, figures that will inevitably have to be accompanied by the political will of individual countries towards a strategic turning point with regard to environmental policies. Even if these are not very significant water resources, scientists consider the rapid melting of glaciers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania a rather clear and incontrovertible symbol of the effects of climate change, which in Africa are already beginning to be seen also on the socio-economic plan.

Translated by Simona Taravella

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  • L'Autore

    Giulio Ciofini

    Laureato in Scienze Internazionali e Diplomatiche all'Università di Bologna

    Autore, Framing The World, Mondo Internazionale


From the World Sub-Saharan Africa Sections Environment & Development 2030 Agenda Fight against climate change Framing the World


climate change Africa global warming climate Sub-Saharan Africa glacier Melting glaciers insecurity food security

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