PSU-led study highlights climate change risks in Africa with 1.5°C global warming
Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Posted: April 24, 2018

A Portland State University researcher suggests in a new study that any increase in current global temperatures could exacerbate the risks already faced by climate-vulnerable cities in Africa such as storms, floods, droughts, and heat waves.

Idowu Ajibade, a geography professor in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a co-author of the study, said African cities are already feeling the effects of climate change and the problem may only become worse.

The study, which was published in the April issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, focused on seven cities: Lagos, Nigeria; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Cape Town, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Niamey, Niger; Dakar, Senegal; and Karonga, Malawi.

The study said that prolonged droughts, high heat and unpredictable rains can cause trouble for farmers and city dwellers alike and trigger food and water shortages, drier and hotter weather can increase malaria-carrying mosquitos and other disease vectors, and rising sea levels will cause frequent flooding that damages homes, roads and other key infrastructure.

Ajibade said that countries across the globe have to work together to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — the ambitious target set by the 2015 Paris climate accord.

"We need to ensure that the climate system is stabilized at 1.5 degrees Celsius so that all countries, cities and people can have the kind of the life they want and can sustain their lives in ways that do not lead to a rise in health problems and diseases, mass migration, social conflicts and poverty," she said.

The study found that countries can lessen some of the harms from climate change by monitoring risks, ensuring preparedness and addressing existing vulnerabilities.

Among the study's recommendations: 

  • Data collection on sea level rise and other hazards needs to be improved and made readily available to city officials to help them make better decisions on how to prepare for and adapt to climate change
  • City governments should work collaboratively with civil society organizations to reduce the risks that a changing climate poses 
  • Risk management is not just a technical issue, but a socio-cultural issue as well, and as such, cities must prioritize the poor in their planning and infrastructure efforts

"The culture of building infrastructure such as dykes, levees or new urban enclosures at the expense of the poor needs to change," said Ajibade, who is also a faculty fellow in PSU's Institute for Sustainable Solutions. "You need to think about who is most at risk and develop engineering solutions in ways that will help reduce risks for the poor and vulnerable as a primary focus, while addressing protection for everyone else in the city."

The study also found that reducing poverty, ensuring people have access to adequate housing and infrastructure, and improving land tenure system are keys to cities reducing vulnerability to climate change. 

The study's other authors came from research institutions in the U.K, South Africa, Uganda and Niger.

Photo caption: A look at the destruction from flooding in Lagos, Nigeria. (Courtesy of Idowu Ajibade)