Africa’s rare glaciers ‘expected to melt entirely in the near future’

Melting of iconic African glaciers ‘symbolises changes to Earth system’

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Wednesday 20 October 2021 14:00 BST
Endangered species – an elephant in front of the glaciated cap of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Endangered species – an elephant in front of the glaciated cap of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (Getty)

The worsening climate crisis is causing a broad range of ill effects on countries in Africa, including worsening poverty, food security and forcing people to leave their homes, according to a major assessment of how the issue is impacting the continent.

Changing precipitation patterns, rising temperatures and more extreme weather are all compounding the socio-economic and health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has warned.

The organisation’s report – the product of international collaboration across the continent – provides a snapshot of climate crisis impacts, including sea level rise and the melting of what it described as “the continent’s iconic glaciers”, such as those on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.

It also highlighted “Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability” and the authors said it shows how the potential benefits of investing in climate adaptation, weather and climate services and early warning systems far outweigh the costs.

In his foreword to the report, WMO secretary-general Professor Petteri Taalas said: “During 2020, the climate indicators in Africa were characterised by continued warming temperatures, accelerating sea-level rise, extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, landslides and droughts, and associated devastating impacts.

“The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system.”

He added: “Along with Covid-19 recovery, enhancing climate resilience is an urgent and continuing need. Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water and climate observing systems.”

The melting snows of Kilimanjaro, seen from the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellite in August 2021 (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery)

The report comes ahead of the UN’s Cop26 climate summit, and the authors said it should add to the scientific evidence about the urgency to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and serve to increase the level of climate ambition and financing.

Josefa Sacko, the commissioner for rural economy and agriculture at the African Union Commission, which contributed to the report, said: “Africa is witnessing increased weather and climate variability, which leads to disasters and disruption of economic, ecological and social systems.

“By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people [those living on less than $1.90 a day] will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat in Africa, if adequate response measures are not put in place.

“This will place additional burdens on poverty alleviation efforts and significantly hamper growth in prosperity.”

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