Climate change made the dangerous heatwave in West Africa 10 times more likely

Climate change made the dangerous heatwave in West Africa 10 times more likely
Cocoa has dramatically risen in price because of damage to crops from climate-related temperature hikes / King Bangaba
By Roberta Harrington in Los Angeles March 27, 2024

The recent humid heatwave in southern West Africa was 10 times more likely due to human-induced climate change, according to a team of top climate researchers from the World Weather Attribution group.

The study suggests that without swift action to move away from fossil fuels, such heatwaves could occur approximately once every two years in the region if global warming reaches 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Creating heat action plans could mitigate the impact of these dangerous heatwaves on vulnerable populations in West Africa, the researchers advise. In February, an exceptionally intense humid heatwave struck West Africa, bringing temperatures typically not seen until later in the year.

Medical professionals in Nigeria noted an uptick in patients suffering from heat-related illnesses, while individuals reported discomfort due to hot nights. National meteorological agencies in Nigeria and Ghana issued several warnings about the extreme heat. Additionally, during the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in Côte d'Ivoire, players took extra breaks to cool down amid the oppressive conditions.

February 2024 marked the hottest February on record globally, extending a streak of consecutive record-breaking months. The escalation of heatwaves worldwide is attributed to climate change driven by the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation.

To assess the impact of climate change on West Africa's hot and humid conditions, scientists compared current climate data with pre-industrial levels using rigorous methods. Their analysis focused on a region encompassing several West African nations, including Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and parts of Guinea and Cameroon.

The researchers found that climate change had amplified the heatwave's intensity by approximately 4°C and increased its likelihood by tenfold. Previously rare events, such as these humid heatwaves, are now occurring more frequently due to global warming.

Without significant emissions reductions, West Africa will face even more severe and frequent heatwaves in the future. If global warming exceeds 2°C, such events could occur roughly every two years, with temperatures rising by an additional 1.2-3.4°C.

Despite potentially affecting millions across the region, there were relatively few reports of heat-related impacts, indicating a need for improved awareness and detection of heat impacts. Many countries in the region lack adequate planning and early warning systems for extreme heat events.

Investment in Africa is crucial to enhance resilience to dangerous heatwaves. However, financial pledges from wealthy nations to support adaptation efforts in developing countries have fallen short of what is needed.

Wasiu Adeniyi Ibrahim, from NiMet in Nigeria, emphasised the urgency of addressing climate change, warning that with each incremental rise in global temperatures, heatwaves in West Africa will become increasingly severe.

He said: “The February heatwave happened early in the year, meaning many people wouldn’t have been acclimatised to the heat.

“It is clear climate change is bringing more and more dangerously hot days to West Africa. “With every fraction of a degree of global warming, heatwaves like the one we experienced in February in West Africa will become even hotter.”