FEELING THE HEAT

Rising global temperatures will cool Africa’s economic growth than anywhere else

Devastating impact.
Devastating impact.
Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings
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The impact of climate change is already putting a massive strain on Africa’s cities, resources, and natural landscape. And as a new study shows, the continent is set to also bear the most economic damage from rising temperatures over the next three decades.

Intensifying heat levels will impact worker productivity and affect sectors ranging from agriculture and mining to oil, gas, and manufacturing, claims new research from risk consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft.

The spike in temperatures coupled with increasing urbanization and growing populations will also put a strain on electricity infrastructure and the need for air conditioning. Between 2026 and 2045, companies on the continent are also set to face soaring operational costs stemming from greater energy demand and risks of power outages.

Of all the regions the report identifies, West Africa will be the most vulnerable. Countries in the region including Nigeria have already experienced heavy rains and thunderstorms, while lower rainfall and increased desertification in other areas have been blamed for unrest and killings.

Yet key exports including extractive activities in Nigeria, fishing in Senegal, and cocoa farming in Ghana are threatened by heat stress—which occurs when strenuous activity is undertaken above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). And given the labor-intensive nature of the extractives and agricultural sectors in West Africa, the impact of rising temperatures on labor capacity is expected to have particularly negative impacts of about 11% on the region’s total export value.

As temperatures rise, Verisk notes that firms will also face an average of eight power outages a month. This will put supplies at risk and undermine government efforts to strengthen energy infrastructure. This will also definitely exacerbate the electrification problem the continent already faces: more than 600 million people in Africa still lack electricity, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for the lowest household electrification rate in the world.

The researchers say that both companies and governments will need to take specific measures to reduce the financial toll of rising temperatures. These include developing off-grid renewable energy systems, economic diversification, besides improving work patterns. Yet low income African nations might find it hard to mobilize such immense resources to face this dire future. And because of this, the study’s authors say “The future impacts of rising heat stress on global export markets thus remains an ongoing uncertainty.”