ECSP Weekly Observatory | May 20 – 24

A window into what we’re reading in the Wilson Center’s Safety and Environmental Change Program

Drought in southern Africa offers a window into the region’s climate future

Southern Africa has been hit by one of the worst droughts in decades, and this calamity highlights the vulnerability of smallholder farmers who depend on rainfed agriculture. For the first time, farmers like Esnart Chogani, who works on a farm outside the Zambian capital, Lusaka, were unable to harvest a crop. The region is usually a major exporter of corn, but has now begun importing it to meet demand.

This new drought, driven by El Niño and climate change, has raised temperatures significantly above average and altered rainfall patterns, and is now pushing southern Africa to its limits. The result has been food shortages, rising food prices and millions of people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Faced with crop failure and rising food prices, some farmers and villagers have resorted to cutting down trees to produce charcoal. They see it as a means of survival, despite the environmental damage and illegality of this action.

Future droughts magnified by the double impact of climate change and the El Niño cycle will likely make things worse in regions such as southern Africa, promising the most extreme impacts of climate change: less rainfall, increased average droughts, and the possibility of more intense tropical storms. storms. This situation underscores the urgent need for climate-resilient agricultural practices and support systems to ensure food security in the face of extreme weather events.

READ | The “fuel of the future” and water insecurity in South Africa’s platinum belt

UN chief analyzes impact of global trends on developing countries

Hamid Rashid, Head of the UN Economic Monitoring Branch, highlighted the impact of inflation, ongoing conflicts and emerging investment areas in developing countries in a new interview. Although inflation has declined since 2022, he insisted it remains a major concern, particularly affecting living standards and economic stability in developing nations. High inflation in developing countries leads to reduced spending, which slows economic growth. “It all comes down to standard of living,” Rashid said. “If prices rise faster than wage growth, you are effectively worse off in real terms.” And in many developing countries, that is the case.

Other issues also become important. While the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have caused initial spikes in grain and oil prices, global markets have effectively adapted by finding alternative shipping routes. However, the restriction of the Red Sea trade route and broader geopolitical risks have raised freight costs, leading to lower economic growth forecasts for many African countries.

As investment increases in new sectors, such as critical minerals, there is growing concern that a new “resource curse” may emerge. The transition to a green economy requires careful management to avoid this pitfall by adding value to raw materials through innovation and investments in manufacturing. Rashid emphasized the need for mineral-rich countries to take ownership of manufacturing processes that use these minerals as inputs.

READ | Do you want to beat global warming? Overcome global debt first

A victory for small island states in Ocean Court

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has ruled that greenhouse gases absorbed by the oceans are classified as marine pollution. Despite being only an “advisory opinion,” this ruling marks significant new legal recognition and sets a precedent for future legal cases worldwide.

The ruling requires that countries must exceed the requirements of the Paris Agreement, with a legal obligation to monitor and reduce emissions based on the best available science. This raises the bar for environmental impact assessments and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The ITLOS decision is a victory for small island nations vulnerable to climate change and highlights their long-standing concerns about inadequate global action. It also underlines the potential influence of this ruling on future climate cases in international courts, where new efforts will be made to pressure major polluters to account for their contributions to climate change.

READ | China’s growing environmental footprint in the Caribbean

Sources: NASA, Yale 360, FEWS, AP News,, UN, TIDM, UNFCCC