Home Climate Change Parts of East Africa likely to be uninhabitable as global temperatures rise

Parts of East Africa likely to be uninhabitable as global temperatures rise

Once global warming shoots beyond 1.5°C, the report said, weather disasters will become more extreme – so much that people will no longer be able to adapt.

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Northern Tanzania has seen more prolonged dry spells in the recent past. Once global warming shoots beyond 1.5°C, the report said, weather disasters will become more extreme – so much that people will no longer be able to adapt. Photo: Gilbert Mwijuke
Northern Tanzania has seen more prolonged dry spells in the recent past. Once global warming shoots beyond 1.5°C, the report said, weather disasters will become more extreme – so much that people will no longer be able to adapt. Photo: Gilbert Mwijuke

By Gilbert Mwijuke

As the window to tackle climate change is rapidly closing, millions of East Africans will continue to be exposed to food insecurity as a result of prolonged and more frequent droughts while some areas will become uninhabitable and some populations will have to migrate, experts have warned.

The sixth synthesis report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released on March 20, warned that if we continue with business as usual, the world is likely to surpass its target of limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C by the start of the next decade.

Once global warming shoots beyond 1.5°C, the report said, weather disasters will become more extreme – so much that people will no longer be able to adapt.

“An increment of more than 0.4 °C is a lot. Most pastoral communities, like the Karamojong in Uganda and Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania who are already facing severe droughts would most likely run out of options and migrate to other areas in search of water and pasture, which would likely lead to conflicts between the immigrants and host communities,” said Dr Collins Okello, a climate change researcher and lecturer at Gulu University in Uganda.

According to IPCC scientists, every increment of warming automatically leads to escalating extreme weather events, which translates into more risks for human lives and livelihoods. And people in regions such as Africa, which are highly vulnerable to climate change, will be hit the hardest even though they have contributed the least to the crisis.

While countries in the global north are largely responsible for the current climate crisis due to their historic burning of large amounts of fossil fuels, it is countries in the global south that are largely bearing the brunt of a changing climate.

In the recent past, climate catastrophes such as severe droughts and fatal floods have increased in regions such as Africa. Most recently, a tide of death swept through southern Africa when Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi were hit by Cyclone Freddy, which left a total of 522 people dead and hundreds of properties destroyed.

Away from southern Africa, international aid agencies recently said that at least 21 million people in eastern Africa are facing hunger due to failed crop yields as prolonged dry spells increase in intensity and frequency.

In the recent past, floods have also frequently ravaged the region, destroying cropland and homesteads and causing deaths of hundreds of people, especially in Uganda, the DR Congo and South Sudan. 

“Wealthy nations responsible for high greenhouse gas emissions need to revise their climate targets to ensure significant emission cuts and commit to delivering climate finance to enable the climate vulnerable nations adapt to climate change,” said Landry Ninteretse, a Burundian climate expert and regional director at 350Africa, a grassroots climate change advocacy organisation.

Mr Ninteretse added that loss and damage financing will be required to support communities suffering impacts beyond the limits of adaptation.

Window of opportunity

But there is hope. During the launch of the IPCC report, scientists said that the world still has multiple, feasible and effective options to avoid pushing the climate crisis to a point of no return.

“It is not too late to control the scope of climate impacts: every tenth of a degree counts. This decade is crucial in the fight against climate change and our window of opportunity is closing,” Mr Ninteretse said.

According to the IPCC, keeping warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels requires deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors. The IPCC has indicated that emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C.

“This synthesis report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable, sustainable future for all. Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee during the launch of the report in Interlaken, Switzerland.

In the first IPCC synthetic report that was launched in 2018, scientists warned that the scale of the challenge required to keep global warming within 1.5°C was unprecedented, but five years later the challenge has become even bigger as people continue to burn more fossil fuels.

And to make matters worse, the latest report found that the pace and scale of what the world is currently doing to curtail global warming – and the plans in place – are not sufficient to tackle climate change.

“Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C,” the IPCC said in a statement after the launch of its latest report.

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