OPINION– A report after assessing the Anthropogenic Climate Change across Sub-Saharan Africa
Anthropogenic climate change represents a multidimensional challenge that both industrialized and non-industrialized countries must address during the twenty-first century. It results in increased incidences of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, and heatwaves.
High levels of greenhouse gas emissions produced from industrial and consumptive activities warm the global average atmospheric temperature and alter hydro-climatic patterns. Developing countries are especially susceptible to climate change impacts due to limited resources, capacity, and infrastructure. They remain economically dependent on subsistence agriculture like Uganda.
Most countries across this region are dependent on subsistence agriculture for economic growth and employment. And yet are susceptible to climate change because climatic variability impedes sustainable crop yields. Climate change exacerbates food insecurity, water scarcity, and poverty. It also limits the traditional pathway to development.
All countries that successfully industrialized and experienced sustained economic growth utilized fossil fuels to expand industrial and consumptive activities. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that aim to transition from subsistence agriculture to industrialization must now develop alternative methods to transition to a low-carbon economy.
In this paper, I explore the connection between economic development, poverty reduction, and anthropogenic climate change. How can Sub-Saharan Africa transition to a low-carbon economy without further exacerbating global carbon emissions? I argue that Sub-Saharan Africa must adopt sustainable agricultural practices that mitigate climate change impacts to achieve some degree of economic growth.
International institutions such as the World Bank must provide the region with finances necessary to develop and transition to a low-carbon economy. Finally, individuals in the Global North must decrease their extent of consumption to allow those in this region to evade widespread poverty.
Impacts and Causes of Anthropogenic Climate Change Globally. In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPCC provides objective scientific information regarding anthropogenic climate change. In 2014, the IPCC released its Fifth Assessment Report assessing sea-level rise and cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since pre-industrial times (UN website).
The Report also provides a carbon dioxide budget for future emissions to limit global average temperature warming to below 2 oC. It concluded that due to climate change, the last three decades were warmer than at any time since 1850 (IPCC 2014, 2).
The period between 1983 and 2012 was likely the warmest thirty-year period in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 1400 years. Between 1880 and 2012, the global average of both land and ocean surface temperature increased 0.85 oC (IPCC 2014, 2). Oceans store most of the increased energy present in the climatic system, which warms ocean temperatures (IPCC 2014, 4).
The IPCC determined that higher levels of carbon dioxide stored in oceans results in increased acidification of ocean waters (IPCC 2014, 4). Climate change also impacts ocean temperatures. Between 1971 and 2010, for example, the upper 75 m of oceans warmed on average 0.11 oC (IPCC 2014, 4). Regions of high salinity, with high levels of evaporation, became increasingly saline (IPCC 2014, 4).
Regions of low salinity, with low levels of precipitation, became less saline (IPCC 2014, 4). In its Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC concluded that human impact on planetary systems is unequivocal since current levels of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions are the highest in history. Earth’s atmosphere is clearly warming and many observed changes in climatic systems have not occurred in millennia (IPCC 2014, 2).
The IPCC confirms that the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases is directly linked to average global temperature. Thus, after more than a century of industrialization, deforestation, and large-scale agriculture, the extent of greenhouse gases present in Earth’s atmosphere exceed levels seen in more than three million years.
The Report concludes that increased greenhouse gas emissions increase the extent of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide present in Earth’s atmosphere to levels not attained in roughly 800,000 years (IPCC 2014, 4). Greenhouse gases are extremely likely to be the main cause of global average temperature warming observed since the mid-twentieth century (IPCC 2014, 4).
Emissions generated from combusting fossil fuels during industrial and consumptive activities contributed 78% to total greenhouse gas emissions between 1970 and 2010 (IPCC 2014, 5). Economic and population growth are the principal factors that increase overall anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC 2014, 4). Additional factors that increase emissions include lifestyle, technology, energy use, and land use patterns (IPCC 2014, 8).
They increase the extent of fossil fuel combustion and overall greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized countries contribute most to global greenhouse gas emissions due to their economic dependence on fossil fuels. Nonetheless, non-industrialized countries are especially susceptible to climate change impacts despite emitting relatively low levels of greenhouse gases.
Sub-Saharan Africa lacks the resources, capacity, and infrastructure necessary to respond to climate change (Taylor 2018, 351). Moreover, this region remains economically dependent on subsistence agriculture, a sector particularly prone to climatic variability.
Physical and Social Consequences of Climatic Variability on Sub-Saharan Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa possesses extensive ecological, climatic, and cultural diversity. By 2050, this region’s total population is expected to reach two billion. Despite being relatively underdeveloped, it has experienced some degree of economic growth. In 2012, SSA’s total GDP grew at 3.7% and in 2013 its total GDP grew at 4.7%. Nonetheless, this region possesses the largest proportion of individuals living in chronic poverty. Half of all individuals residing in SSA live on less than $1 USD per day (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1586).
Roughly 40% of individuals residing in SSA live in arid, semi-arid, or dry conditions. During the past century, Africa’s average temperature increased 0.7 oC and is expected to increase between 0.2 oC and 0.5 oC during each subsequent decade (Adenle, Azadi, and Manning 2018, 424). If the global average temperature rises 2 oC above pre-industrial levels, Africa’s summer temperature will increase 1.5 oC by 2050.
If it rises 4 oC above pre-industrial levels, Africa’s summer temperature will increase 5 oC by 2100. Temperature increase across SSA remains rather uniform across much of the continent, although inland regions in the subtropics will warm the most (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1586).
This region is also projected to experience heat extremes as a result of climate change. Between 2071 and 2099.
Climate change is projected to alter precipitation patterns across Sub-Saharan Africa with increased precipitation in wet regions. Eastern tropical Africa will likely experience a 50% to 100% increase in precipitation and Western tropical Africa will likely experience a 30% to 70% increase in precipitation (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1587-8). Regions along the west coast of southern Africa will likely experience a 30% decrease in precipitation, causing increased dry conditions.
Additionally, the extent of evapotranspiration is projected to increase in areas with high precipitation such as southern Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa may experience widespread water shortages as a result of climate change. Generally, this region has low permeability and few aquifers. Only the Democratic Republic of the Congo, parts of Angola, and southern Nigeria possess larger aquifer systems.
Groundwater remains the only source of safe drinking water throughout much of rural SSA. Its recharge rates are projected to decline between 30% and 70% in southern Africa and projected to increase by roughly 30% in parts of East and southeastern Africa (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1590). Water stress caused by climate change will impact river runoff and increase demand for irrigation water. Shallow groundwater may also become contaminated following intense rainfall.
Anthropogenic climate change will also negatively impact human health and wellbeing across much of SSA. Extreme weather events will increase the extent and severity of natural disasters such as flooding and landslides. These extreme weather events will inflict fatalities and injuries. Outbreaks of transmittable diseases, both food and water-borne, may also occur following extreme weather events.
Cholera outbreaks, for instance, previously occurred after heavy rainfall (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1594). Climate change impacts on agriculture will undermine the affordability and availability of nutritious food. Food availability will likely decline by 21% by 2050, causing individuals to consume roughly 500 calories less per day (Adenle, Azadi, and Manning 2018, 426).
Anthropogenic climate change will exacerbate the extent of climate refugees and internally displaced persons in Sub-Saharan Africa (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1594). The majority of migration in response to environmental change is projected to occur within country borders. Internally displaced persons will migrate from rural to urban areas. Migrants typically experience extensive poverty and unemployment, particularly unskilled subsistence farmers that migrate to urban areas.
These changes strain government resources, subsequently decreasing a country’s quality and extent of healthcare and education. These environmental impacts negatively impact human development outcomes and impede gender equity.
The IPCC predicts an indirect causal connection between poverty, economic shocks, climate change, and intra-state violence and Climate refugees may increase tension between ethnic groups as well as competition for limited access to land and resources. Uneven access to resources encourages competition between ethnic groups and heightened threat of conflict (Serdeczny et al. 2017, 1595).
The breakdown of governance systems due to civil war exacerbates poverty and collapses ecosystem conservation arrangements, eventually increasing natural resource exploitation. These observations reflect the interrelated nature of climate change impacts across Sub-Saharan Africa. SSA’s agricultural sector is perhaps most susceptible to climatic variability since reduced agricultural yields limit the region’s employment, economic growth, and development prospects.
Climate Change, Agriculture, and Development across Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that this region is most susceptible to climate change due to extensive poverty, poor infrastructure, and limited physical and human capital. These factors constrain the region’s ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts. Climate change will exacerbate food insecurity as well as adversely impact energy production, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and economic growth (Adenle, Azadi, and Manning 2018, 424).
Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector is most at risk due to anthropogenic climate change. Crops are highly dependent on sustained precipitation levels and are sensitive to heat waves during the growing season, this is due to its economic dependence on rain fed agriculture, a sector especially susceptible to climatic variation.
Rain fed agriculture accounts for 96% of the region’s overall crop production and subsistence agriculture drives the region’s economic development, industrial growth, and global trade. This sector accounts for 32% of the region’s total GDP and employs roughly two-thirds of the labor force.
Increased manufacturing capacity and productivity from agriculture generate sustained economic growth and these structural economic changes provide national governments the ability to invest in and expand existing welfare programs such as healthcare and education. These investments increase a country’s human capital by producing skilled professionals to work in government and private enterprise.
Governments can invest more in physical capital to improve infrastructure and technology. Poverty reduction results from industrialization and sustained economic development.
To date, all industrialized countries used fossil fuels to adopt structural economic changes. Fossil fuels enable industrialization by providing the means for electricity generation for both industrial and consumptive purposes (Taylor 2018, 352). Fossil fuels also provide the energy necessary to sustain manufacturing sectors as well as transport goods and services.
Conventional development now exacerbates greenhouse gas emissions and fosters an economic dependence on fossil fuels. Climate change constrains non-industrialized countries from undergoing industrialization. Most countries in this region have not industrialized and remain economically dependent on subsistence agriculture. Development challenges the confines of ecological sustainability since existing development strategies are carbon-intensive and exacerbate overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change constrains the fundamental notion of economic development, making development increasingly untenable (Taylor 2018, 357).
Conclusion. In sum, this region must adopt sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate climate change impacts and achieve some degree of economic growth. International institutions such as the World Bank should provide the region the finances necessary to develop and transition to a low-carbon economy.
Finally, we can achieve greater environmental and social equity between industrialized and non-industrialized countries by reducing high per-capita consumption in the Global North and addressing patterns of globalized commodity production.