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Climate crisis will push 720 million people into poverty, many in Africa

Nick Bridge
By Nick Bridge
UK Special Representative for Climate Change

Posted on Friday, 26 July 2019 13:33

Flooded fields are seen from the air near Beira, Mozambique, in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The continent is on the frontline of climate change. And action is required today.

Nearly everything has changed over the past 100 years – and nowhere more so than across the African continent. From the emergence of new cities and countries, to new industries and technologies, Africa is a continent that is alive with rapid change – but not all change is welcome.

Scientists estimate that over the past 100 years, temperatures across Africa have increased by an average of 0.5 – 2 degrees. It may not sound significant, but the impacts are life-changing. From changing weather patterns that reduce crop yields in Malawi, to natural disasters which threaten lives in Southern Africa, or the 2018 crisis that saw Cape Town facing ‘Day Zero’ without water, the fall-out of changing climate is evident across this continent.

We know that climate change hits the most vulnerable first and hardest. Worldwide 100 million people are already at risk of being pushed into poverty by climate change by 2030 – particularly across Sub Saharan Africa – and 720 million by 2050. 65% of the African population is likely to be impacted by the consequences of climate change – despite the fact that African nations are responsible for just 2-3% of global emissions.

  • Communities around the world are waking up to the scale of this climate disaster – in recent months the UK has passed a landmark piece of legislation, becoming the first major economy to write into law a commitment to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

It is right that the UK makes big changes domestically, but given the global scale of the challenge it is also right that we work together with our global partners.

The UK’s former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart was recently in Kenya, where he has seen first-hand how the UK is working with the Kenyan government, institutions and civil society to tackle both the causes and consequences of changing climates across East Africa – and announced the UK’s single largest direct aid investment in climate and environment across Africa, with £250 million of transformative funding.

And in Kenya he saw some brilliant success stories, including the largest on-shore wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa, which – with support from UK businesses and UK aid – is providing approximately 17% of the country’s installed power capacity.

  • Almost three-quarters of Kenya’s electricity comes from renewable sources – it is home to hydro, wind and solar energy production, making the most of the country’s fantastic natural resources.

This is exciting for two reasons. Firstly, because it showcases how the continent can embrace innovative, low-carbon and efficient technologies, leapfrogging over dirty energy sources. What’s more, it demonstrates the potential for clean economic growth and job creation in this cutting-edge sector – at the same time, helping protect the environment for the majority of Kenyans who rely on agriculture and predictable rainfall for their livelihoods.

There’s more that can be done. At the G20 earlier this month the former British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that all UK aid investments will consider the risks and opportunities posed by climate change. This makes the UK the first major economy to combine a legally-binding aid spending target with a commitment to align support for developing countries with the Paris Agreement.

  • The world is currently on course to warm by more than 3 degrees by the end of the century. This need to advocate for urgent international climate action is why the UK has bid to host COP26 in partnership with Italy in 2020.

We cannot allow increasing temperatures and extreme weather to continue having a profound and devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of communities across Africa.

Climate change is happening – and the UK is committed to acting with our partners across Africa to tackle this generation-defining challenge.

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