Climate change redraws map of Africa

The UN has published an African atlas showing how the changing climate and conflict are carving the continent a new face.

Shifting weather patterns and more immediate human impacts such as population growth, war and demand on natural resources are all shaping the African environment.

The atlas, which charts changes through satellite images, was launched by South African premier Thabo Mbeki as he hosted the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Johannesburg this week.

Issues laid bare by the report include melting glaciers, vanishing lakes, desertification and unsustainable logging.

It also highlights some successes achieved in spite of the commercial and climactic pressures on many African countries, including progress made on tree planting and farming practices.

Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment features over 300 satellite images taken in every country in Africa in over 100 locations. The before-and-after photographs, some of which span a 35-year period, offer striking snapshots of local environmental transformation across the continent.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP executive director, said: “As shown throughout the atlas, there are many places across Africa where people have taken action – where there are more trees than thirty years ago, where wetlands have sprung back, and where land degradation has been countered.

“These are the beacons we need to follow to ensure the survival of Africa’s people and their economically important nature-based assets.”

“The atlas also however clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of people in the region to forces often outside their control, including the shrinking of glaciers in Uganda and Tanzania and impacts on water supplies linked with climate change.

“These underline the urgent need for the international community to deliver a new climate agreement by the climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen in 2009; one that not only delivers deep emission reductions but also accelerates the flow of funds for adaptation and the climate proofing of economies.”

Sam Bond

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