This not-so-positive prediction will focus on African geopolitics as it relates to climate change between the years 2040 and 2050. As you read on, you’ll see an Africa that’s devastated by climate-induced droughts and food shortages; an Africa that’s overwhelmed by domestic unrest and swept up in water wars between neighbours; and an Africa that’s turned into a violent proxy battleground between the US on one side, and China and Russia on the other.
But before we begin, let’s be clear on a few things. This snapshot—this geopolitical future of the African continent—wasn’t pulled out of thin air. Everything you’re about to read is based on the work of publicly available government forecasts from both the United States and the United Kingdom, a series of private and government-affiliated think tanks, as well as the work of journalists like Gwynne Dyer, a leading writer in this field. Links to most of the sources used are listed at the end.
On top of that, this snapshot is also based on the following assumptions:
Government investments to seriously and sizably limit or reverse climate change will remain moderate to practically non-existent.
Between 2040 and 2050, climate change will have progressed to a stage where greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in our atmosphere exceed 450 parts per million. In this scenario, the world is now at least two degrees Celsius warmer, probably more.
You read our intro to climate change and the not-so-nice effects it‘ll have on our drinking water, agriculture, coastal cities, and plant and animal species, if no action is taken against it.
Now, let’s get right into it.
Africa, brother against brother
Of all the continents, Africa may be one of the worst affected by climate change. Many regions are already struggling with underdevelopment, hunger, overpopulation, and over a half dozen active wars and conflicts—climate change will only worsen the general state of affairs. The first flashpoints of conflict will arise around water.
By the late 2040s, access to freshwater will become the foremost issue of every African state. Climate change will warm entire regions of Africa to a point where rivers dry out early in the year and both lakes and aquifers deplete at an accelerated rate.
The northern chain of African countries—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt—will be hit the hardest, with the collapse of freshwater sources wiping out their agriculture and severely weakening their few hydroelectric power installations. The countries on the west and south coasts will also feel similar pressures to their freshwater systems, thus leaving only a few central and eastern countries —namely Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania—to remain relatively spared from the crisis thanks to Lake Victoria.
With the freshwater losses outlined above, giant swaths of arable land across Africa will become unfarmable as climate change burns the soil, sucking out any moisture left hidden beneath the surface. What’s more, studies have indicated that a temperature rise of two to four degrees Celsius could result in a minimum 20-25 percent loss of harvests in this continent. Food shortages will become almost inevitable and the projected population explosion from 1.1 billion today (2015) to over two billion in the 2040s is sure to exacerbate the problem.
When you have a massive and hungry population, not to mention governments that are prone to wars over borders and resources, the challenges brought on by climate change can only make things worse. Aside from the violent civil unrest stemming from the skyrocketing price and dwindling availability of food, governments across Africa will have to deal with emerging conflicts over rights to water.
For example, a serious dispute will likely arise over rights to the Nile river, whose headwaters originate in both Uganda and Ethiopia. Due to the freshwater shortage mentioned above, both countries will have a vested interest in controlling the amount of freshwater they allow downstream out of their borders. However, any efforts to build dams within their borders for irrigation and hydroelectric projects can only lead to less freshwater flowing through the Nile into Sudan and Egypt, both of whom will have already faced serious water shortages. As a result, should Uganda and Ethiopia refuse to come to an agreement with Sudan and Egypt over a fair water-sharing deal, war could be unavoidable.
With all the challenges Africa will face in the 2040s, can you blame some Africans for trying to escape the continent altogether? As the climate crisis worsens, fleets of refugee boats will travel from the Maghreb countries north toward Europe. It will be one of the biggest mass migrations in recent decades, one that’s sure to overwhelm the southern European states.
In short order, these European countries will recognize the serious security threat this migration poses to their way of life. Their initial attempts to deal with the refugees in an ethical and humanitarian manner will be replaced with orders for the navies to send all refugee boats back to their African shores. In the extreme, boats that don’t comply would be sunk into the sea. Eventually, the refugees will recognize the Mediterranean crossing as a death trap, leaving the most desperate to head east for an overland migration to Europe—assuming their journey isn't stopped by Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and finally Turkey.
An alternate option for these refugees is to migrate to the central and east African countries less affected by climate change, particularly those nations bordering Lake Victoria, mentioned earlier. However, an influx of refugees will eventually destabilize these regions as well, as their governments won’t have enough resources to support a ballooning migrant population.
Unfortunately for Africa, during these desperate periods of food shortage and overpopulation, the worst is actually yet to come (see Rwanda 1994).
As climate-weakened governments are struggling across Africa, foreign powers will have a prime opportunity to offer them support, presumably in exchange for the continent’s natural resources.
By the late 2040s, Europe will have soured all African relations by actively blocking African refugees from entering their borders. The Middle East and the majority of Asia will be too caught up in their own domestic chaos to even consider the outside world. Thus, the only resource-hungry global powers left with the economic, military, and agricultural means to intervene in Africa will be the US, China and Russia.
It’s no secret that for decades, the US and China have been competing for mining rights across Africa. However, during the climate crisis, this competition will escalate into a micro proxy war: The US will try to curb China from getting the resources it needs by winning exclusive mining rights in a number of African states. In return, these nations will receive a massive influx of advanced US military aid to control their populations, close borders, protect natural resources, and project power—potentially creating new military-controlled regimes in the process.
Meanwhile, China will partner with Russia to provide similar military support, as well as infrastructure aid in the form of advanced Thorium reactors and desalination plants. All of this will result in African countries lining up on either side of the ideological divide—similar to the Cold War environment experienced during the 1950s to 1980s.
One of the saddest parts of the African climate crisis will be the devastating loss of wildlife across the region. As farming harvests spoil across the continent, hungry and well-meaning African citizens will turn to bushmeat to feed their families. Many animals that are currently endangered will likely go extinct from excessive poaching during this period, while those currently not at risk will fall into the endangered category. Without substantial food aid from outside powers, this tragic loss to the African ecosystem will become unavoidable.
Reasons for hope
Well, first, what you just read is a prediction, not a fact. Also, it’s a prediction that’s written in 2015. A lot can and will happen between now and the late 2040s to address the effects of climate change, much of which will be outlined in the series conclusion. And most important, the predictions outlined above are largely preventable using today’s technology and today’s generation.
To learn more about how climate change may affect other regions of the world or to learn about what can be done to slow and eventually reverse climate change, read our series on climate change via the links below:
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11