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Africa To Bear Brunt Of Global Warming

In sub-Saharan Africa, between 25 and 40 percent of animals in national parks will become endangered, with a knock-on effect of reducing tourism.
by Marlowe Hood
Paris (AFP) March 30, 2007
Global warming threatens to unleash a greater concentration of human misery in Africa than on any other continent, the UN's top climate experts say in a massive report to be unveiled next week.

Even under optimistic scenarios, hundreds of millions more Africans are "very likely" -- a 90 percent certainty -- to face severe shortfalls in food and drinkable water by 2080, probably sooner, because of rising temperatures, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns.

Warming is a global phenomenon, and other regions will suffer its ravages too. But Africa is especially vulnerable, the experts say, because existing crises -- endemic poverty, disease and conflict -- severely weaken the continent's capacity to adapt.

The report, which deals with the impacts of global warming and how to cope with it, is the second volume in a three-volume review of the evidence for climate change, the first since 2001.

A draft of the 1,400-page document obtained by AFP says that even if dramatic measures are taken to reduce output of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that drives warming, temperatures worldwide will continue to climb for decades to come, unleashing unwelcome changes across the planet.

And if nothing at all is done to mitigate climate change, the impact in some regions could be catastrophic by century's end.

By 2080, the report says, it is likely that 1.1 to 3.2 billion people worldwide will experience water scarcity, 200 to 600 million will suffer from hunger, and each year an additional two to seven million people will be victims of coastal flooding.

The predictions vary according to the temperature increases that are forecast and the capacity to adapt.

But many parts of Africa, the world's poorest continent and the least to blame for the fossil-fuel pollution that powers global warming, will be the hardest hit under almost any scenario.

Climate change will shorten growing seasons and render swathes of land unusable for agriculture, with yields declining by as much as 50 percent in some countries, the report says.

Food security will be "severely compromised," with an additional 80 to 200 million people at risk of hunger by 2080. By that date, sub-Sahara Africa may account for 40 to 50 percent of the world's undernourished, compared with about 25 percent today, in large part due to warming.

In parallel, half a billion Africans will face acute scarcities of drinkable water if average global temperatures rise only 2 C (3.6 F) compared to 1990 levels.

In the first volume of its report, issued in February, the IPCC predicted that world temperatures would go up 1.8 C to 4.0 C (3.2-7.2 F) by 2100, depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted into the atmosphere.

A third volume, issued at the end of April, will look at ways of reducing those emissions.

The report to be released next week notes that "climate-induced diseases" are already a reality, and predicts increases in the frequency and toxicity of cholera outbreaks, along with meningitis and dengue fever.

The malarial footprint is also very likely to expand as the mosquitoes that carry the disease move into areas once too cold for them to survive.

As with the low-lying "mega-river deltas" of Asia, Africa's major river estuaries, including the Nile, will suffer flooding and economic disruption caused by rising sea levels.

In the Brussels meeting, the document will be issued Friday after delegates hammer out an all-important "summary for policy makers," distilling in a couple of dozen pages their most crucial findings.

The process is often contentious, with sharp disagreements on some scientific questions, and on which conclusions should drive policy decisions.

Some participants complained that the summary, as currently written, does not adequately highlight the fact that those least able to adapt -- poor people -- will be the hardest hit.

"The message that is missing is the vulnerability of certain developing nations," said a Western delegate from a non-European country.

The draft summary concludes that global warming is "unequivocal," that human activity is the main driver, and that "changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent."

Besides the human impact, numerous ecosystems and other living organisms are threatened by global warming.

Across the planet, 20 to 30 percent of animal and plant species face extinction if temperatures rise 1.5 C to 2.5 C (2.7-4.5 F).

In sub-Saharan Africa, between 25 and 40 percent of animals in national parks will become endangered, with a knock-on effect of reducing tourism.

Increases greater than 4 C (7.2 F) above 1990-2000 levels would lead to "major increases in vulnerability" that would exceed "the adaptive capacity of many systems," the report says.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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