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According to a study, the heatwave in West Africa was intensified by the effects of the climate crisis.
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According to a study, the heatwave in West Africa was intensified by the effects of the climate crisis.

A study has revealed that the intense heatwave that swept through West Africa in February was amplified by 4 degrees Celsius and increased 10 times in likelihood due to human-induced global warming.

The heat affected millions of people but the number of early deaths or cases of illness are unknown, due to a lack of reporting.

The region is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, and farmers said the heat weakened their trees, which were already damaged from extreme rainfall in December. Prices for cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, have soared in recent years due to climate-related damage to the crops, and the latest heatwave adds further pressure.

A group of scientists from World Weather Attribution conducted a study that revealed the occurrence of a heatwave would have been extremely rare, happening less than once every hundred years, in a world unaffected by climate change. However, due to climate change, it was a more frequent event, happening roughly once every ten years, and averaging 1.2C of global warming over the past four years.

According to scientists, if we do not quickly decrease emissions from burning fossil fuels, and the Earth’s temperature increases by 2C compared to pre-industrial levels, we can expect heatwaves to happen every other year.

The extreme heat conditions were observed during the period of 11 to 15 February, with temperatures exceeding 40C and averaging at 36C. The humidity levels were also significant, making it difficult for individuals to find relief through sweating. The heat index, which takes into account both temperature and humidity, reached 50C. According to Izidine Pinto of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, this poses a great risk to human health.

According to Wasiu Adeniyi Ibrahim from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the heatwave in February occurred earlier than usual, catching many people off guard. As the global temperature continues to rise, each small increase will result in even more intense heatwaves.

This February marked the highest global temperature ever recorded and continues the streak of record-breaking months, now at nine. The rise in carbon emissions and the reappearance of El Niño are major factors contributing to this trend.

The meteorological agencies in Nigeria and Ghana issued early alerts about the intense heat, but several other impacted countries did not prepare for the potentially hazardous conditions.

According to Maja Vahlberg, an expert from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, high temperatures are often underestimated but can be deadly for certain groups of people, including the elderly, those with pre-existing health issues, and outdoor workers. Additionally, a large portion of the west African population resides in makeshift homes, putting millions at risk for extreme heat.

In February, farmers in Ivory Coast expressed concerns about the negative impact of hot weather and insufficient rainfall on their harvests. According to Reuters, major cocoa processing plants in Ivory Coast and Ghana halted or decreased operations in March due to financial constraints in purchasing cocoa beans. The cost of cocoa beans has risen to record levels, surpassing $8,000 per tonne, which is more than triple the price from March of last year.

According to Pinto, it is likely that the heat had an impact as it caused increased evaporation, resulting in the crops being left without sufficient moisture in the soil.

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According to Amber Sawyer from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in the UK, farmers in West Africa who produce the key ingredient for Easter eggs are facing difficulties due to extreme weather conditions. While wealthier countries like the UK can offer assistance to developing nations, ultimately we must all work towards achieving net zero emissions. It is also important to recognize that there are limitations to the environments in which crops can thrive.

According to the United Nations, developing nations will need between $215 billion and $387 billion to adapt to the effects of the climate crisis. However, in 2021, the international community only provided $21 billion in funding.

The high temperatures occurred during the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Ivory Coast, where players were granted additional cooling pauses during matches for their well-being.

The report from WWA utilized climate models and weather data to compare the intensity and frequency of the current heatwave to one that would occur in a non-warming world. This approach is commonly used in numerous studies to date.

The area under examination was located in the southern region of West Africa, which experienced the highest levels of heat. This included the countries of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Source: theguardian.com