The geographic position and enormous size of the African continent have endowed it with an abundance of rich, diverse ecosystems ranging from the snow and ice fields of Kilimanjaro to the lush, tropical rain forests near the equator to the dry, imposing Sahara. Africa has the lowest per capita fossil energy use of all the major world regions, relying mainly on primitive fuels such as wood. In contrast, however, Africa is one of the most vulnerable areas on Earth to the negative effects of global warming because its widespread poverty severely limits its ability to adapt to climate change. Because of this, the impacts from global warming that are already under way are being felt, crippling a region unable to fight back. Already the effects of global warming are hitting Africa hard, such as the spreading of disease to populations; the melting of glaciers in the mountains, eliminating a much-needed water source; warming temperatures in drought-prone areas, leading to lack of water resources and contaminated water, and resulting in widespread illness; sea-level rise and the resulting flooding of coastal villages, leaving residents homeless; and the bleaching of coral along the coastlines, destroying fragile marine ecosystem habitats.
As outdoor adventurer Vince Keipper climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2003, he was shocked by what he witnessed on the way up the mountain's Western Breach. "The sound brought our group to a stop. We turned around to see the ice mass collapse with a roar. A section of the glacier crumbled in the middle, and chunks of ice as big as rooms spilled out on the crater floor."
"Just connect the dots," says Ohio State University geologist Lon-nie Thompson. "If things remain as they have, in 15 years Kilimanjaro's glaciers will be gone."
Oceania is the world region that encompasses the lush tropical rain forests of Indonesia and the region including New Zealand and the interior deserts of Australia. This area of the world is subject to the effects of El Niño and other ocean phenomena. The small island nations and coastal regions—where most of the population of this region is located—are very vulnerable to the increasing coastal flooding and erosion due to rising sea level as a result of global warming. In addition, warming ocean temperatures in the past few decades have damaged many of the region's fragile coral reefs, putting some of the Earth's most diverse, delicate ecosystems at risk.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, human-induced global warming was a key factor in the severity of the 2002 drought in Australia. Higher temperatures caused a drastic increase in the evaporation rates from soil, rivers, and vegetation. As a result, the higher temperatures and resultant drier conditions created a greater brush fire danger than previous droughts. Drought severity also negatively affected Australia's agricultural production as daytime maximum temperatures from March through November averaged 2.7°F (1.6°C) higher than normal.
Professor David Karoly, a professor of meteorology at Monash University, remarked: "The higher temperatures experienced throughout Australia in 2002 are part of a national warming trend over the past 50 years which cannot be explained by natural climate variability alone." He also points out that the current trend in Australian temperature since 1950 is matching the climate model studies of how temperatures respond to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He believes that this is the first drought in Australia in which the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed.
Anna Reynolds, World Wildlife Fund's Australia Climate Change Campaign manager, says, "Most of this warming is likely due to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activity such as burning fossil fuels for electricity and transport and from land clearing."
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense, National Environmental Trust, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund have identified the following global warming impacts in this region:
• Kenya: To date, 92 percent of Mount Kenya's largest glacier, Lewis Glacier, has melted in the past 100 years.
• Mount Kilimanjaro: The glacial ice is projected to disappear by 2020. Since 1912, 82 percent has already disappeared, with about one-third of it melting in just the last dozen years.
• Senegal: Sea-level rise is causing the loss of coastal land at Rufisque on the south coast of Senegal.
• Kenya: Hundreds of people died from a malaria outbreak in the summer of 1997 in the Kenyan highlands, where the population had previously been unexposed.
• Indian Ocean, Seychelles Islands, and Persian Gulf: Extensive coral reef bleaching is destroying this fragile ecosystem at an alarming rate.
• South Africa: In January 2000, South Africa experienced one of the driest Decembers on record, and temperatures rose more than 104°F (40°C). These conditions fueled extensive fires along the coast in the Western Cape Province.
• New Zealand: The warmest February on record occurred in 1998 with temperatures near 67°F (19.4°C). In addition, the average elevation for glaciers has shifted upslope by more than 300 feet (91.4 m) over the past 100 years.
• American Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, the Indian Ocean, and Australia's Great Barrier Reef: These areas are victims of extensive coral bleaching due to warming ocean waters.
• Indonesia: Wildfires burned 2 million acres (809,371 hectares) of primary forest, including critical areas of the Kalimantan orangutan habitat in 1998.
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