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Under-Reporting Adds to Climate Impacts in Africa


Media myopia and scientific uncertainty created by “noise” in the climate system are contributing to a “chronic” and dangerous under-reporting of extreme weather events in Africa. 

“While science shows that heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense across Africa, such events still go unreported in some parts of the continent,” writes The Independent. They are also being under-reported globally, with the International Disaster Database (the world’s largest) making note of 83 heat waves in Europe since the turn of the 20th century, but just two being in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Those gaps in reporting have dire consequences. Luke Harrington, senior climate research fellow at Victoria University of Wellington, told The Independent that an ongoing failure to identify “when heat-related extremes actually take place in different parts of sub-Saharan Africa” means failing to accurately assess mortality levels, which in turn hampers policy-makers from making astute decisions about how best to respond, with both adaptation and mitigation strategies.

While western media did report on Algeria’s wildfires and the famine still gripping Madagascar, it was largely silent about the severe flooding experienced by Uganda and Nigeria this summer. But even where a degree of reporting takes place, efforts to formally assess the role of the climate crisis in the continent’s rising toll of drought and flooding are still thin on the ground.

Such research gaps owe in part to the fact that “many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are also affected by complex drivers of variability in the climate,” Harrington said. He cited El Niño, which typically brings more rain to the east and less to the south and west, as one example.

Many other such drivers exist, Harrington added, “each of which can raise or lower the chances of seeing a drought or flood in a particular region, depending on what phase they are in.” Asa result, “any signal of climate change will be harder to detect in these regions because there is so much ‘noise’ in the climate system to overcome,” he explained.

Overall, though, there is evidence that flood trends across Africa are being affected by human-caused climate change, The Independent writes. “The IPCC’s recent assessment concluded that increases in flooding have occurred in many parts of Africa, including western and eastern regions, as the world has warmed.”

Data gaps are also hampering Africa’s efforts to mobilize its financial sector to climate action, along with generally poor access to information and the absence of a regulatory framework, says a recent op-ed from CNBCAfrica. 

“Many banks still don’t understand how climate change could provide an opportunity, and because of that they are not lending to impact investors who want to invest in that space,” writes Iftin Fatah, senior investment officer at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.

The financing is urgently needed, she adds, with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) calculating that Africa “requires an annual investment of US$70 billion in renewable energy projects until 2030 for a clean energy transformation to take place.”

And Africa stands ready: “IRENA estimates that renewable energy capacity in Africa could reach 310 GW by 2030, which would put the continent at the forefront of renewable energy generation globally.”