Climate Change: What the Latest IPCC Report Means for Africa

The scientific body which advises the UN on climate change – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – has released the final chapter of its most comprehensive review of the climate crisis. We explore what it means for Africa.

The report is a summary of six IPCC reports published over the past five years. It includes three special reports on 1.5C, land and the cryosphere and the three volumes of the IPCC’s sixth assessment of humanity’s understanding of climate change.

Such comprehensive assessments are only compiled every six to seven years. This means this is the last such IPCC report until around 2030. By then, there will be clarity on whether governments heeded scientists’ call for rapid, deep and sustained emissions cuts this decade for a chance to limit global heating to 1.5°c

What does the report mean for Africa?

The IPCC is clear: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

Climate action is reducing emissions, but it is not happening at the scale or pace needed. As a result, there is very little chance of preventing the world from warming beyond 1.5°c – a threshold above which more severe climate impacts will compound Africa’s challenges to meet development goals.

Without urgent carbon-cutting and adaptation action, Africa will suffer worsening climate impacts, which will result in increasing loss of life and livelihoods, damage to infrastructure and the displacement of people within countries and beyond borders.

More frequent heatwaves, droughts, excessive flooding and tropical storms as well as sea level rise are already hindering the continent’s efforts to meet development objectives.

Climate and extreme weather events have reduced food and water security for millions. Increased temperatures have slowed agricultural productivity, for example, a trend which additional warming will make worse.

People who lack access to basic needs and services, such as food security, clean water and social protection measures, are more vulnerable to climate risks and face a greater risk of mortality. Small-scale farmers, who represent around 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, and low-income households living in informal settlements, are among those hardest hit.

Cities and towns are projected to be home to half of Africa’s population by 2050. Yet, hot extreme have intensified in urban areas, compromising human well-being.

Africa has the youngest population in the world. Around 60% of the population is under the age of 25 and will be reaching 70 years old around 2070. The world it will live in depends on how African nations and the international community respond to climate change this decade.

How should the continent respond?

The IPCC emphasises that governments must integrate climate action into the development agenda.

Scientists found that doing so will increase the pace and scope of emission reductions and help deliver Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adaptation solutions will be more effective when they cut across sectors, address social inequities and are included in long-term planning.

This linkage between the climate and development agendas defines the African Climate Foundation’s (ACF) work. The ACF builds movements and grassroots coalitions that link climate issues with broader social justice, human rights and inequality issues.

The IPCC says that prioritising equity, inclusion and climate and social justice through redistributive policies that shield the poor and vulnerable enables climate resilient development.

Around 600 million people in Africa don’t have access to electricity and many have to do with expensive and unreliable energy sources.

The IPCC shows that solar and wind energy not only have the largest mitigation potential but offer an affordable solution to eradicate energy poverty without increasing emissions. In fact, in some instances, maintaining energy systems based on fossil fuels may be more expensive than transitioning to clean energy, the report states.

However, such transitions are disruptive to economic systems and people’s livelihoods. Minimising their adverse effects requires integrating climate action with economic diversification, job creation and social protection measures, the IPCC says.

This goes to the core of the ACF’s work. Yet, for these transformations to happen, much more finance is needed than is currently reaching Africa.

The IPCC notes that public grants are a cost-effective way of financing energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa and have high social returns. Yet, in 2020, loans accounted for 61% of climate finance to the continent.

There is sufficient global capital to close the investments gaps, the report adds, but structural and political barriers need to be overcome. By mobilising public and private investments, the ACF strives to do just that.

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