Heat Waves in Southern West Africa Attributed to Climate Change

According to a rapid analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution group, human-caused climate change made the humid heat waves in Southern West Africa during February ten times more likely.

The study further revealed that if humans do not rapidly move away from fossil fuels causing global warming to rise to 2 Degrees above preindustrial levels, West Africa will experience similar heatwaves about once every two years.

February this year was the hottest February on record globally and the ninth consecutive month in a row that a hottest month record was broken. The most severe heat occurred from February 11-15 with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. In Nigeria and Ghana, the National Meteorological Agency issued several warnings about the heat, with doctors reporting an increase in patients presenting for heat-related illnesses.

Climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal, and deforestation, has made heatwaves more frequent, longer, and hotter around the world. To quantify the effect of climate change on the hot and humid temperatures in West Africa, scientists analyzed observed weather data and climate models to compare how the event has changed between today’s climate with approximately 1.2 Degrees Celsius of global warming, and the cooler pre-industrial climate, using peer-reviewed methods.


It is important to note that before humans started burning fossil fuels, similar heat waves used to be rare events, occurring once every 100 years. However, in today’s climate, with 1.2 degrees of warming, similar humid heatwaves occur about once every 10 years. In the study done in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and small parts of Guinea and Cameroon, the researchers found that climate change made the heatwave as measured by the heat index about 4 degrees Celsius hotter and ten times more likely.

The heat index, also known as apparent temperature, is a measure that combines temperature and humidity to reflect how heat feels to the human body because higher levels of humidity make it harder for humans to cool down.

While the average air temperature in West Africa was above 36 degrees Celsius, the heat index for the same period was about 50 degrees Celsius, reflecting the combination of humidity and high temperatures caused dangerous conditions. Global warming is expected to reach 2 degrees Celsius in the 2040s and 2050s unless emissions are rapidly halted.


Therefore, there is an urgent need to move away from fossil fuels and invest massively in green energy, sustainable livestock farming, and other mitigation actions to avoid hotter and more humid heat waves. Moreover, governments need to create awareness of the crisis on a larger scale and develop an extremely effective heat action plan.

The United Nations has estimated that the cost of adaptation for developing countries is between US$215-387 billion per year this decade. However, rich countries haven’t yet met the financial promises they have made to help developing countries become more resilient to the growing risks of climate change. In addition, these commitments fall drastically short of the finance required. In 2021, the global community delivered just US$21 billion to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

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