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In Africa, temperatures rise, but adaptation lags on West’s funding failure

  • Last year was the third-warmest year for the continent, tied with 2019, with warming more pronounced here than the global average.
  • The annual temperature in 2021 was 1.33°C (2.39°F) above average for the continent, with West and North Africa seeing an unusually warm year.
  • Extreme events and long-drawn catastrophes are taking a toll and sapping resilience, while adaptation efforts are failing due to planning gaps and financing woes.
  • Committed finance for adaptation is pegged at $2.7 billion to $5.3 billion annually, but the estimated cost of coping with climate impacts is almost double that.

For Africa, 2021 was the third-warmest year on record, tied with 2019. Even as the continent clocks record-breaking temperatures, adaptation efforts are failing to keep pace, marred by planning gaps and financing woes.

Just six years ago, the continent, like the rest of the world, sweltered through its hottest year on record. The planet itself is at its warmest in 2,000 years, owing to an unprecedented buildup of greenhouse gases. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels today are the highest levels in 4 million years.

Globally, 2021 was the sixth warmest year, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with temperatures 0.84° Celsius (1.51° Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century normal. However, in Africa, this trend is more pronounced. In 2021, the annual temperature was 1.33°C (2.39°F) above average for the continent.

Image courtesy of NOAA.
Image courtesy of NOAA.

West Africa experienced some of its highest annual temperatures yet, particularly in Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Benin, Togo and Nigeria. In the north, parts of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco also faced record-breaking temperatures.

It isn’t just the heat alone that’s the problem; shifts in regional and global climatic phenomena are taking a toll. When Eloise, a Category 2 tropical cyclone, hit Mozambique last January, it dumped a month’s worth of rain on the coastal city of Beira in a single day.

The country was still recovering from Cyclone Idai that crashed into its coast in 2019, one of the worst storms to hit Southern Africa. That year, for the first time in recorded history, two powerful cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, struck Mozambique in the same season.

At the same time, long-drawn catastrophes — from droughts to desertification to sea-level rise — are sapping resilience. A dozen countries from Angola to Zimbabwe are currently experiencing drought conditions, with millions affected in 2021 and the misery persisting into the new year.

Costs from these sudden-onset and long-drawn disasters have augmented over the years. In the past 40 years, climate-linked disasters affected more than 150 million people in Southern Africa, left about 3 million homeless, and led to economic damages of more than $14 billion.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

The U.N.’s “Adaptation Gap Report 2021” found that adaptation hasn’t been a priority for many countries on the continent. North Africa is one of the regions where national planning on adaptation is sorely lacking, it found. Countries like Libya, Chad and South Sudan had no adaptation policies in place as of August 2021.

Existing climate funding is insufficient, with adaptation efforts remaining vastly underfinanced. Most African countries depend on financing pledged under climate accords to address adaptation challenges.

At the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, richer countries, responsible for the majority of historical emissions, pledged that by 2020, they would make $100 billion available every year for developing countries identified under the IPCC framework. In 2019, the most generous estimates put the realized figure at $80 billion.

Most of Africa’s climate funding is earmarked for mitigation activities to limit greenhouse gas emissions rather than coping with the consequences. The imbalance is greatest for Northern Africa, where 83% of funding pledged by bilateral and multilateral donors is for mitigation efforts between 2014 and 2018, according to a study published last year.

This is despite Africa contributing the least to historical emissions (less than 5%); even today the continent has a very small carbon footprint. Per capita emissions from the U.S., historically the biggest polluter, are 15 times those from Africa.

Committed finance for adaptation is pegged at $2.7 billion to $5.3 billion annually, but the estimated cost of adaptation is almost double that.

See related: COP27 must deliver climate finance where it is needed most

Image courtesy of Savvidou, G., Atteridge, A., et al.

The vulnerability of countries does not appear to determine where the money goes, an analysis by the Institute for Security Studies, an African nonprofit, found. Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk index found that Mozambique and Zimbabwe were the first- and the second-most impacted countries in 2019. But in the ranking of countries receiving climate finance, they were ranked at 32nd and 108th respectively.

Africa leaders and negotiators have pushed for greater focus on coping with consequences in the future and, at the same time, demanded recompense for harm that has already happened. At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, developing countries, including African nations, called for more money for loss and damage, emphasizing that loss and damage and adaptation should be treated as distinct.

However, pushback from the EU and the U.S. prevented a separate mechanism for loss and damage finance from being included in the final agreement in Glasgow.

Banner image: Heavy rains in Somalia, coupled with recent disputes between clans, has forced people to move out to seek refuge. Image by The African Union Mission in Somalia via Rawpixel.


NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (2022). State of the Climate: Global Climate Report for Annual 2021. Retrieved from

Savvidou, G., Atteridge, A., Omari-Motsumi, K., & Trisos, C. H. (2021). Quantifying international public finance for climate change adaptation in Africa. Climate Policy, 21(8), 1020-1036. doi:10.1080/14693062.2021.1978053

NOAA National Centers for Environmental information (2022). Climate at a Glance: Global Time Series. Retrieved from

Timperley, J. (2021). The broken $100-billion promise of climate finance — and how to fix it. Nature598(7881), 400-402. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-02846-3

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