AFRICANGLOBE – Climate change means rain is returning to previously drought-stricken areas of Africa 30 years after a biblical famine a new study has revealed.
A severe lack of rainfall during the 1970s and 80s led to a persistent drought and famine, killing more than 100,00 people in countries such as Ethiopia.
But now research by scientists at Britain’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, has shown how increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have caused climate change, have triggered a return of crucial seasonal rains to the Sahel region.
The researchers used a supercomputer climate simulator to study different influences on North African rainfall.
And when they examined the increases in rainfall since the 1980s, they found around three-quarters of the additional rain was caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations.
Professor Rowan Sutton, who led the research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said: ‘Scientists often study how greenhouse gas levels in the future will influence the climate.
‘These findings show how even the greenhouse gases already emitted by humans, while only a fraction of those projected for the future, have nevertheless affected rainfall on a continental scale.
‘This shows how climate change can hit specific countries and regions in a much more complicated way than the simple idea of “global warming” might suggest.
‘In particular, we are beginning to discover how climate change is influencing rainfall patterns. What we are learning shows that human activity is already having a major impact.’
But despite the beneficial impact of global warming on Africa, the scientists have warned that the long term impacts will be very differenct as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.
It comes as the latest UN assessement of climate change impacts, shows Africa will face increased risk from heatwaves, sea level rises, flooding and drought, leading to potential crop failures and water shortages.
Professor Sutton added: ‘These positive short-term impacts were accidental. No-one was trying to bring them about.
‘Nevertheless, such major changes show that by continuing to emit greenhouse gases, we are seriously upsetting a natural system that we don’t even fully understand, and this system is our home.
‘Our new study shows that our activities are not just causing problems for future generations. They are causing major changes now.
‘Continuing on the current path of greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more serious and widespread impacts.
‘I trust the governments meeting later this year in Paris will appreciate the gravity of this message.’
By: Jennifer Newton