Before the question in the title of this post is answered, for the skeptics out there, I have to answer it before I begin my commentary.
So what exactly is climate change? It can be defined as change(s) within the climate system that occur due to natural processes (such as volcanic eruptions) and or anthropogenic happenings (such as carbon emissions). This is different from the popular used term, “global warming” which references the increase of regional or global surface temperatures as a result of human induced processes.
Therefore, it can be said that climate change is indeed real and happening, whether due to solar and earth variation or the burning of fossil fuels. However, climate change prompted by natural factors is evident over an evolutionary time scale, so basically over a very long, long, long time. The changes in climate experienced in several parts of the world since the introduction of fossil fuel burning during the Industrial Revolution, occurred on a much smaller time scale. As a result, this lead to the (mostly) general consensus that the emission of greenhouse gases are largely responsible for the average increase of global surface temperatures and the other effects of climate warming.
Now that majority of the world’s climate scientists (about 97%) have determined that conclusion, it should make sense that industrialized nations, which are typically larger contributors of global greenhouse gas emissions, would be the most affected.
However, climate vulnerability, the degree to which societies are highly susceptible to or incapable of coping with the hostile impacts of climate change, reveals that Africa, although a minor contributor to global carbon emissions will be heavily impacted by climate change. More specifically, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average increase of surface temperatures by 1.5 to 3.0 degrees celsius on the continent will lead to sea-level rise, reduction in agricultural productivity, water scarcity, extreme weather events, and rising energy demands.
For more details about the potential impacts, you can access the fact sheet compiled by the AMCEN secretariat, Climate Change in Africa FACT SHEET .
These impacts are based on the high vulnerability of the continent, due to the geographical location of Africa, the lack of adaptive capacity and relevant development. (IPCC). Changes in the form of implementation of sustainable practices, mitigation and adaptive strategies would need to be made to avoid the social, economical and environmental consequences.
Interestingly, a 2014 satellite image of average global carbon concentrations shows that increasing biomass burnings have raised the continent’s level of carbon emissions. The image also shows that Africa’s carbon concentrations are on the higher end of the scale in comparison to developed nations such as the U.S and parts of Europe, which in past years had significantly higher concentrations. This can be seen in the figure below.
This is an issue that should be of extreme priority, and in the area of energy development, investment of low-carbon and sustainable technologies (such as solar, wind, geothermal, etc) are strongly encouraged, in collaboration with adaptive policies to keep Africa a minimal contributor of global carbon emissions and to ensure the survival of African communities that are highly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.
I have attached a short Powerpoint I presented for my global change class in which this post was based on, titled Climate Change: A First World Problem? I briefly discussed the potential impacts of climate change on the continent. Climate Change – A First World Problem
Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, Report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society, available at Climate Change: Evidence and Causes Report .
My Global Change Research paper on the impacts of climate change on the African continent.