Glaciers in Africa are few and far between, but they’re important to the continent, both as important water storage and as a barometer of climate change. Africa as a whole is warming and becoming arid faster than the global average. A new report from the World Meteorological Organization, released in advance of the U.N. climate conference in November, predicts that under current climate trends, no glacier in Africa will last past 2040.

The report tracks the receding rate of the glaciers in Africa, on Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. Kilimanjaro in particular is nearly bald, with its meager glaciers not expected to survive the summer of 2022. These glaciers feed important river systems which nourish hundreds of thousands of square miles of both wilderness and cropland.

“Their current retreat rates are higher than the global average. If this continues, it will lead to total deglaciation by the 2040s,” reads the report, which was partially written by Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko of the African Union Commission.

Africa, where 54 countries hold 1.3 billion people or over 16 percent of the total world population, generates less than 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But with hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty (<1.9USD/day), its population is going to be particularly susceptible to the consequences of climate change.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to 3% by 2050,” reads the report. “Not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing.”

Physical conditions so far have included extreme heat waves, the worst flooding Sudan has seen in over 60 years, and famine in Madagascar. The costs of mitigation are already estimated in excess of $3 trillion, and rising by approximately $50 billion per year, even if international goals of keeping global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The damage is done.

Photo: An African savanna, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. Credit: Shutterstock