Africa is extremely vulnerable to climate variability and climate change. Climate variability means the seasonal and annual variations in temperature and rainfall and their distribution within and between countries. Climate change refers to long-term changes in global weather patterns resulting from changes in the composition of the atmosphere brought about by emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).
Figure 2s.1: Atmosphere issues for Africa
Africa's climate is characterized by considerable variability and by extreme climatic events such as droughts, floods, and cyclones. These have particularly serious consequences for Africa because of the difficulties experienced in the region in predicting their occurrence and in mitigating their effects, and also because many African countries lack the financial resources to make adequate and timely recovery before the next climatic event. The countries of the Horn of Africa and the Sahel are most prone to drought; those of Western and Central Africa experience flooding periodically. Cyclones occur regularly in the islands of the Western Indian Ocean.
Climate change is likely to bring increased frequency and severity of flooding and drought to those areas already experiencing variability in rainfall. Additional concerns are increased risk of desertification in Northern Africa and on the southern border of the Sahel, and reduced availability of freshwater in Southern Africa, resulting in lowered food security and the spread of infectious diseases (notably malaria) to new areas. The islands and low-lying coastal areas of Central and Western Africa are most vulnerable to the sea level rise resulting from climate change. Coral bleaching due to sea temperature rise is the biggest threat to the Western Indian Ocean Islands and to the coasts of the countries of Eastern Africa.
Africa's contribution to global GHG emissions is negligible, with the exception of emissions from South Africa and the countries of Northern Africa, which together account for the majority of the Africa region's GHG emissions. However, activities such as deforestation, inappropriate coastal development, and poor land management throughout Africa contribute to worsening of possible impacts of climate change such as drought, desertification, flooding, and sea level rise.
Low air quality is also emerging as an issue in many African countries, particularly the more urbanized and industrialized. In large cities, populations are at risk from respiratory infections caused by emissions from industry and vehicles and—in both urban and rural areas—from the use of wood, coal, oil, paraffin and other such fuels used for domestic consumption, and creating unhealthy indoor conditions.
Urgent action is required to develop alternative, clean, and renewable sources of energy for Africa to avoid increasing GHG emissions and to stem widespread deforestation. The Kyoto Protocol makes provision for funding streams to facilitate such development. Figure 2s.1 shows the major issues relating to atmosphere for Africa.