Oct 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

UN: Africa's glaciers to disappear by 2040s from climate change

Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania partially covered by clouds in December 2009.

Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania partially covered by clouds in December 2009. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Glaciers capping three of Africa's iconic mountains — Mount Kenya in Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — will likely disappear over the next two decades because of human-induced climate change, the World Meteorological Organization's estimated in a new report Tuesday.

Why it matters: The WMO warned that glacier loss is just one effect climate change will have on the continent, as rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather will also likely exacerbate food insecurity, economic and political instability and population displacement.

  • It is a harsh reminder that though African countries account for less than 4% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, they may face some of the most severe repercussions of climate change.
  • The report was the result of a collaboration among WMO, the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa, international and regional scientific organizations and other United Nations agencies.

The three glaciers are too small to serve as major water reservoirs for the countries, they are key tourist attractions and scientific subjects.

  • They have been decreasing in size since around 1880 because of altered sea-surface temperatures and reduced snowfall amounts and frequency.
  • The WMO estimated that they will be gone by the 2040s, with the glacier atop Mount Kenya disappearing a decade earlier than the others — possibly becoming the first mountain range to lose glaciers from climate change.

What they're saying: "During 2020, the climate indicators in Africa were characterized by continued warming temperatures, accelerating sea-level rise, extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, landslides and droughts, and associated devastating impacts," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas wrote in the foreword of 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 added.

In 2020, flooding extensively affected parts of East Africa, where 285 deaths were reported in Kenya, and 155 deaths were reported in Sudan.

  • Over 1.2 million people were displaced from climate-induced disasters that year, and almost 500,000 people were forced to flee from conflicts.
  • Higher-than-normal precipitation caused flooding in the Sahel, the Rift Valley, the central Nile catchment and northeastern Africa, the Kalahari basin and the lower course of the Congo River.
  • Dry conditions struck the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea and in northwestern Africa and along the southeastern part of the continent, while drought in Madagascar triggered a humanitarian crisis.

What's next: The WMO published the report before the UN climate conference in Scotland, which starts Oct. 31.

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