Record-breaking climate extremes in Africa under stabilized 1.5 °C and 2 °C global warming scenarios

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Anthropogenic forcing is anticipated to increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme events1, the impacts of which will be particularly hard-felt in already vulnerable locations such as Africa2. However, projected changes in African climate extremes remain little explored, particularly in the context of the Paris Agreement targets3,4. Here, using Community Earth System Model low warming simulations5, we examine how heat and hydrological extremes may change in Africa under stabilized 1.5 °C and 2 °C scenarios, focusing on the projected changing likelihood of events that have comparable magnitudes to observed record-breaking seasons. In the Community Earth System Model, limiting end-of-century warming to 1.5 °C is suggested to robustly reduce the frequency of heat extremes compared to 2 °C. In particular, the probability of events similar to the December–February 1991/1992 southern African and 2009/2010 North African heat waves is estimated to be reduced by 25 ± 5% and 20 ± 4%, respectively, if warming is limited to 1.5 °C instead of 2 °C. For hydrometeorological extremes (that is, drought and heavy precipitation), by contrast, signal differences are indistinguishable from the variation between ensemble members. Thus, according to this model, continued efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C offer considerable benefits in terms of minimizing heat extremes and their associated socio-economic impacts across Africa.

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Fig. 1: African climate extremes under a changing climate.
Fig. 2: Changes in the likelihood of extreme events in Africa.
Fig. 3: Southern African drought under a changing climate.
Fig. 4: Model ensemble mean ENSO conditions associated with extremely hot southern African summers.


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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under grants nos. 41330423 and 41420104006.

Author information

T.Z. designed the research. S.N. analysed and drafted the changes in record-breaking climate extremes in Africa under various levels of climate change. S.H. performed the analysis of ENSO conditions associated with extreme hot southern African summers, and B.W. wrote the draft. W.Z. analysed and drafted the probability changes in extreme events in Africa. L.Z. helped organize and revise the draft. D.L. helped derive the data. The whole manuscript was polished by T.Z., N.S. and W.Z. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results and improvement of the paper. Special thanks go to L. Ren and K. Khumalo for discussions. Thanks also go to NCAR for the release of the CESM low warming experiment products.

Correspondence to Tianjun Zhou.

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Nangombe, S., Zhou, T., Zhang, W. et al. Record-breaking climate extremes in Africa under stabilized 1.5 °C and 2 °C global warming scenarios. Nature Clim Change 8, 375–380 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0145-6

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