Life, Environment

Africa's last remaining glaciers will melt soon, warns new report

Rising temperatures, extreme weather spurred poverty, displacement in Africa in 2020, says multiagency report

Peter Kenny   | 19.10.2021
Africa's last remaining glaciers will melt soon, warns new report


Glaciers found on only three mountains in Africa – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, and the Rwenzori Mountains – are expected to melt entirely in the near future, according to a new UN-backed report released on Tuesday.

Changing rainfall patterns, rising temperatures, and more extreme weather contributed to mounting food insecurity, poverty, and displacement in Africa in 2020, compounding the socioeconomic and health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, said a multiagency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report provides a snapshot of climate change trends and impacts, highlighting the continent’s disproportionate vulnerability and showing how the benefits of investments in climate adaptation, weather and climate services, and early warning systems far outweigh the costs.

“The figures in it are for 2020, but we are obviously seeing those impacts of climate change of extreme weather continuing in 2021,” Clare Nullis, a WMO spokeswoman, said at the launch.

“At the moment, there are only three mountains in Africa that host glaciers … In contrast to places in other parts of the world, they are too small to act as significant water reservoirs, but obviously they are iconic. They’re very symbolic,” she said.

Climate indicators in Africa during 2020 “were characterized by continued warming temperatures, accelerating sea-level rise, extreme weather and climate events, such as floods and droughts, and associated devastating impacts,” WMO head Petteri Taalas said in the report.

“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 warned, stressing that enhancing climate resilience is an urgent need along with the COVID-19 recovery.

He said investments are needed for capacity development and technology transfer, as well as enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water and climate observing mechanisms.

The WMO, the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) through the Africa Climate Policy Center (ACPC), international and regional scientific organizations, and other UN agencies collaborated to produce the report, which has been released ahead of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

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

“By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people (i.e. living on less than $1.90 a day) will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa.”

Sacko warned that if adequate response measures are not put in place, there will be additional burdens on poverty alleviation efforts that will significantly hamper growth.​​​​​​​

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