The disastrous cost of global warming on Africa’s poor is pointing to worse time ahead

Nii Ntreh Oct 2, 2019 at 12:00pm

October 02, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

October 02, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Opinions & Features

In September 2019, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg made headlines on major news platforms after speaking to world leaders on feet-dragging their way to confronting the climate crisis.

Thunberg accused the most powerful people in the world of not caring enough even though over three decades of climate science has proven that human actions quickened the warming of our planet.

The young Swede also reminded the leaders who the devastation of the earth would most affect.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood”, Greta said in an Independent report. “But I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”

Greta is right. She is one of the lucky ones. Because Africa’s poor are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and the signs are pointing to worse time ahead.

Often when we talk about climate change, there is the tendency to talk about it in terms of a future tense. But we are severely mistaken.

According to the Mail & Guardian of South Africa, the climate crisis cost South Africa 10% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The Mail & Guardian report was informed by a research carried by Stanford University. The report stated that poor tropical countries would have been, at least 24% better off in productivity if it were not for global warming.

Most of the tropical countries are in Africa, the world’s poorest place where over 50% of the global poor lives.

Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, would have been almost 30% more productive if it were not for the global warming of the last few decades, according to the Stanford research.

All of this is because the world is 1°C hotter than it was a century ago. So in what terms are Africa’s poor the most affected?

According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation report of 2003, about 60% of Africans work in and around agriculture. We are talking about everything from farmers to food processors.

Most farmers in Africa plant on a subsistence basis to feed themselves and immediate families. Transporters of food to bigger cities from the countrysides are the biggest business partners of poor farmers.

It is only a very small percentage of agriculture in Africa that is mechanised. The vast majority of the hundreds of millions in agriculture on the continent are agrarian, relying on rainfall and extensive human labour.

As rainfall patterns become increasingly difficult to predict, farmers cannot successfully track yields. Farmers will miss out on the opportunity to grow certain crops.

According to the UN-empowered Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rising temperatures will affect rice production in Guinea; palm oil and coconut in Benin and Cote D’Ivoire; mangoes and cashew nuts in Kenya as well as shallots in Ghana.

That IPCC report was from 2007, and it has been more or less proven right.

With climate change, droughts will increase and bring with them attendant famines.

One estimate says that arid lands in Africa will reach 90 million hectares by 2080. To put things in context, 90 million hectares is 45 times the size of the United States.

As the world witnessed in Somalia and Ethiopia in the late 1980s and early 90s, drought and famine force a huge migration of peoples. Kenya played host to some of these people.

Ghanaians are also having to take in climate refugees (as well as war refugees) from countries such as Chad, Mauritania, and Niger.

Ways of lives are being destroyed by the climate crisis. The sadder aspect of this is that the destruction is not just limited to agriculture.

Over 50% of exports from Africa are from agricultural produce. As this is sure to take a hit, African governments will have to expect a decrease in one major source of revenue.

It then follows that poor people will be denied the social welfare and amenities they need more than anyone else.

The fates of their schools, health clinics, water, roads and communication facilities all rest on the volume of poisonous gases pumped into the atmosphere by factories thousands of miles away from them.

The climate activism waged by Greta Thunberg and the thousands like her have to do with corporations and their factories. Far back in 2013, The Guardian reported that just 90 companies were producing two-thirds of the harmful gases destroying our planet.

Climate activists are asking governments to force corporations to desist from spoiling the planet for the billions of others who are not enjoying the return on their investments.

Corporations are being asked to diversify the means of energy from fossil fuels to safer alternatives such as wind, solar and nuclear.

But these businesses are weighing up the destruction of the planet as against the pinch to their pockets and currently do not feel the need to change course.

The most bizarre thing is if there is any temporary protection against the harm of global warming, it is these captains of corporations who can afford it.

The poor in Africa have clearly been shown they are worth sacrificing.

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