The latest UN data shows the world will be home to 9.7 billion people by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa alone will see its population swell by 81%, up to 2.2 billion, with Nigeria set to become the world’s 4th most populated country by mid-century, behind only India, China and the United States. The question is whether the continent can sustain such growth.
Figure 1: Africa will account for a quarter of the global population by 2050
The region’s burgeoning population will undoubtedly come with some benefits. An increasingly African world will mean greater prominence for the continent on the international stage, for example. But it also threatens to add further strain to Africa’s food infrastructure, which is already being battered by the impacts of rising temperatures and more extreme weather.
Indeed, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 16 of the 20 highest risk countries on our Food Security Index. It also accounts for 16 of the 20 highest risk countries on our Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which measures a population’s susceptibility to climate extremes over the next three decades, with the region’s agrarian economies particularly exposed to rising heat stress, droughts and floods.
The tight link between these issues has been demonstrated in the Horn of Africa this year, where the region’s worst drought in four decades has pushed more than 37 million people towards famine. Elsewhere, intense floods damaged more than a million hectares of farmland across Nigeria, Niger and Chad between June and October.
Figure 2: Fast-growing African states sit at the crossroads between climate change and food insecurity
The combination of population growth and exposure to the immediate impacts of climate change will create a perfect storm that could tip millions more Africans towards hunger. And as highlighted by our research on cascading climate risks, the resulting fallout – including increased civil unrest, supply chain disruptions and rising migration – will be felt the world over.