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Combatting Global Warming on All Fronts



In 2015, the COP 21 climate conference brought about a strong wave of public awareness, made official by commitments from a number of stakeholders with one major objective: limit global warming to less than 2° C by 2100. Achieving such an ambitious task means leveraging all available resources. By 2035, our ambition is to have close to 20% of our portfolio made up of low-carbon businesses, while maintaining profitable growth in these areas. The TotalEnergies Corporate Foundation, for its part, is a committed supporter of projects that preserve coastal areas and oceans.

Arona Diedhiou Peter Kristensen Françoise Gaill
 >  Climate >  Coastal Areas >  Oceans


Key Figures

Africa’s coastline is 26,000 km long


20 meters of coastline are lost every year in West Africa
Half of the West African coastline is classified “at risk of erosion”

Africa is responsible for 3.7% of worldwide GHG emissions while hosting 15% of the world’s population. 55282.jpg

7 major African cities threatened to be submerged by rising oceans by 2100 such as Abidjan, Alexandria, Lomé or Cape Town 
(Study published on May 21st, 2019, by the American Academy of science)

The ocean absorbs close to 30% of all CO2 emitted as a result of human activities. Above all, it stores 92% of the heat released by these emissions.




Director of Ifri’s Center for Energy & Climate Research Interests Marc-Antoine Eyl Mazzega believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has only temporarily curbed climate change. He is campaigning for aid on a mass scale for African states and a new form of governance.

Where are we currently at with respect to global warming, in Africa particularly?

Despite Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korea and China signing up to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the world is currently experiencing global warming of around 2.7° C. The Paris Agreement pledges to maintain this figure below 2° C. Yet we now know that the temperature to aim for is 1.5° C. This would require an 80% drop in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The African continent is only responsible for 3.7% of these emissions, despite being home to 15% of the world population. Alongside these efforts to mitigate global warming, Africa’s need to adapt to global warming is emerging as a matter of urgency. Temperature rises on the continent are set to be 1.5 times higher than the global average. Climate degradation may heighten instability there and hinder implementation of sustainable development goals.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a downturn in human activity around the world: did this impact on the climate? 

Emissions plummeted in 2020, but not enough to mark a shift towards an 80% decrease. For this to happen, we would probably need two near-global lockdowns every year. That gives you an idea of the scale of work to be done! Emissions began rising again from late 2020 on, primarily driven by coal-fired electricity and transport. This is worrying, because we need to initiate a significant, continuous decline in emissions as a matter of urgency. The longer we leave it, the harder the uphill battle, and the worse the deterioration and destabilization.

What role will scientists need to play in the post-Covid world? What about our young people?

Scientists have consistently offered up their knowledge on the climate and its links to biodiversity. They need to look at adaptation and offsetting strategies and their long-term impact and effectiveness. Young people in wealthy nations have applied significant pressure on governments and companies, fostering a collective spirit. Many politicians have been caught out. It is now impossible to win an election without an ambitious climate policy! The next step will be to legislate for the climate emergency, as political will be generally not enough.

What high-impact global warming initiatives are being rolled out in Africa?

The continent needs to widen access to clean, cheap electricity, and put adaptation measures in place. This involves looking at resilient agriculture, water management, fishing, forest preservation, anti-desertification measures, and transforming cities from suffocating hubs into places where people are able to live and breathe. Lots of small-scale activities are being deployed in this direction. But it still is not enough. Other projects, such as the Great Green Wall, are too ambitious to ever happen. These mitigation and adaptation challenges require hefty investment. Sustainable development is always more effective when backed by international institutions. African states now know that receiving aid will be dependent on them meeting environmental criteria. They are also expecting wealthy nations to pay out the $100bn per year pledged to support emerging countries in tackling global warming. This vital support must go hand in hand with governance reform in a great many Sub-Saharan states. Private capital must also be raised. And we must put an end to imported deforestation and illegal fishing, a double penalty imposed by wealthy countries…

"We need to initiate a significant, continuous decline in emissions as a matter of urgency."
Marc-Antoine Eyl Mazzega, director of Ifri’s Center for Energy & Climate Research Interests



The point of view of a specialist in the African climate system

Arona Diedhiou is Director of Research at the French public research institution (IRD) and Co-director of the NEXUS Climate, Water, Agriculture and Energy International Laboratory. In 2018 he was the lead author of the special report IPCC11 on the effects of a global warming of 1.5° C and will be the reviewer-editor of the next report in 2023.

How do you see the interaction between the climate, the coastal regions and the oceans?

The ocean covers 70% of the earth’s surface. This is something we often forget, but the ocean plays a major role in regulating the climate and life on earth. It is easier to understand this concept when we realize that the oceans emit 50% of the oxygen we breathe and capture 90% of the excess heat generated by human activities! Their role, however, is under increasing pressure, as is demonstrated by the rising water temperature and changing sea level. Global warming, which is expected to reach between 1.5° and 2° C between 2030 and 2050, will have multiple consequences, including on coastlines already affected by erosion. This is particularly relevant to Africa because the sea is eating away at the coastline between Nouakchott and Lagos at the rate of 1% to 3% per year. It is important to note that all of West Africa’s capital cities are located on this coast.

To what degree is Africa being impacted by climate change?

Most climate models estimate that a global rise in temperature of 2° C would translate in an even higher rise in Africa. The consequences of that will however not be uniform from one region to another, due mainly to the diversity of the vegetation. Therefore, the presence of dense vegetation in the Congo Basin is likely to mitigate the rise in temperature, as opposed to what we anticipate in dry or desert areas. Around Senegal for example, we would expect to see rainfall decreasing significantly and crop yields being halved if nothing is done to reverse the trend. There is more uncertainty about the central Sahel region, but we can probably expect an increase in heavy rainfall and landslides. In North Africa, it is a question of both increased heavy rainfall and longer periods of drought.

What levers do you think Africa should apply to avoid this situation?

I think that above all, Africa must move from the status of a victim to that of a player! It is our responsibility to protect our environment. Aging motor cars, the use of wood fires and deforestation are all problems we have to deal with. That will come about through education, amongst other things. It will also come about through the participation of African researchers in the worldwide reflection on the climate. Although the IPCC has begun to address the situation recently, I note that it still includes too few African researchers. It is my dream to organize a local IPCC committee. It is vital that our know-how and realities are taken into account. To take a simple example: the manner in which maps show the vegetation in Africa is too crude. We need to make an effort to take a genuine inventory of soils so that these maps provide an accurate representation of our actual situation. But obviously, resources and the accuracy of data are still problematic. Africa lacks the supercomputers needed to manage this data. So it is now important to tackle the green fundamentals and accelerate the transfer of technical solutions to Africa so that we can come up with African answers to African problems.

"Aging motor cars, the use of wood fires and deforestation are all problems we have to deal with."
Arona Diedhiou, director of Research at the French public research institution (IRD) and Co-director of the NEXUS

                                                                                                                                        Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo


Coastal Areas seen by Peter Kristensen

Lead Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Peter Kristensen has over 25 years of experience in coastal-marine environmental management, climate change, and biodiversity. He has been the Program Manager for the West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA) since 2018.

How do climate, coastline, and oceans interact?

Climate change is set to aggravate the erosion problems West Africa’s coastal areas are currently experiencing. It triggers a rise in sea levels and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, with devastating storms battering the coast. A drop in rainfall could also reduce river flows, resulting in a decrease in sediment deposition. In addition, the combined effect of higher temperatures and heightened salinity in estuaries and groundwater will intensify the biophysical changes of coastal resources.

What is the current situation?

Over the past few decades, we have seen rocketing population counts and migration towards coastal areas, as well as urbanization and economic development that have exacerbated coastal erosion in West Africa, a region with loose, sandy shorelines that are highly vulnerable. These coastal areas are home to a third of the region’s population and generate 56% of its GDP.

Artificial stabilization, deteriorating natural formations, the building of new infrastructure such as ports and hydroelectric dams, and the dredging and extracting of raw materials have all combined to significantly deprive these areas of important sediment intakes. Mangrove forest destruction is accelerating the process. This erosion triggers a huge amount of damage. Up to 20 meters of coast are lost every year: beaches are washed away, with hundreds of buildings and thousands of hectares of farmland vanishing. Infrastructure is in a state of never-ending disrepair. Coastal destruction in Benin, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Togo cost $3.8bn in 2017 alone (5.3% of the GDP of the four countries). Pollution paints an even darker picture. In West Africa, most wastewater is discarded off the coasts. Plastic waste also eats away at the shoreline, as does the wastewater from abandoned oil rigs that were never dismantled.

What is your solution?

The solution to reinforcing communities’ and coastal resources’ resilience lies in a sustainable approach to coastal management. This is rooted in governance and 360-degree spatial and environmental planning for coastal and marine areas, involving all stakeholders and reconciling economic interests, natural habitat preservation, and respect for local communities. This is what the West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA) sets out to achieve. Launched by the World Bank in 2018 in partnership with the region’s countries and local economic and environmental institutions, this partnership initiative harnesses these joint efforts to improve coastal resource management and reduce risks for local populations.
WACA promotes transfer of knowledge and access to technical expertise via a platform that pools state-of-the-art know-how backed by public and private-sector funding. We take an inter-state regional approach to the work we carry out. Togo and Benin, for example, embark on shared works to protect their cross-border coastline from erosion. Since it was launched, the program has spearheaded 22 projects in six different countries. A total of 17 countries will reap the rewards of these projects. WACA gets local communities and young people involved in its initiatives, giving them the opportunity to support the projects and make them their own. Private stakeholders must also lead by example. We collaborate with the region’s major ports association to set standards in how they should manage sediment, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. With various interests at play, acting for coastal resilience remains challenging in West Africa, but is nevertheless crucial if we are to save its coastline.

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"We need to boost coastal resilience in West Africa."
Peter Kristensen, lead environmental specialist at the world bank

                                                                                                                                                                           Dakar, Senegal


Oceans seen by Françoise Gaill

After her training in animal biology, Françoise Gaill joined the CNRS (France’s national scientific research center) and specialized in research into deep-sea environments and adaptation to extreme conditions. She was the Director of the CNRS’s Environment and Sustainable Development department, and then of the Institute of Ecology and Environment. She is the scientific coordinator of the Ocean and Climate international platform, whose actions help ensure that oceans are included in climate change solutions. She also contributes to the United Nations’ research into the state and status of the planet’s oceans.


How do climate, coastline, and oceans interact?

Our oceans are intrinsically bound up with the climate and coast. The ocean occupies a central role within the climate system, serving as a ‘carbon pump’ that absorbs close to 30% of all CO2 emitted as a result of human activity. Most importantly, oceans store 92% of all heat generated by these emissions, thereby shielding us from radical climate change. Climate change’s first knock-on effect is the rise of sea temperatures. This has a direct impact on humankind, causing sea levels to rise, and prompting shoreline recession and coastal deterioration.

Why are oceans so crucial to our planet ?

Oceans are what make our planet habitable. They also play a key role in the water cycle. Ocean currents help regulate the climate by stocking and transporting heat, carbon, nutrients, and freshwater across the globe. Without this complex ecosystem, there simply would not be any life on Earth. This natural reserve of incredible energetic, mineral, and living resources nevertheless remains something of a mystery: less than 20% of ocean depths have been mapped. And yet, this is essential: our ability to anticipate climate change is dependent on our knowledge of the oceans. In terms of time spans, we’re talking centuries, in a scale completely removed from human lifespans. Until now, our oceans’ inertia has allowed to cushion the blow of climate change, but we don’t know how much longer they will be able to regulate the climate by simultaneously absorbing CO2 and human-generated heat energy. If the oceans are no longer able to fulfil this role, we will struggle to survive on Earth…

The rise in sea temperatures causes the ocean to dilate and triggers ice melt, meaning a rise in water levels and a drop in salinity, throwing entire ecosystems off kilter. This increase in temperature reduces ocean mixing, slamming the brakes down on renewal of oxygen and triggering an increase in anoxic zones, where no form of life is possible. With differences in temperatures between the tropics and the poles abating, this thermohaline circulation may also potentially come to an end one day. In another hand, the CO2 absorption process accelerates ocean acidification, potentially leading to a drop in crustacean and mollusk shell calcification.

What are the consequences of global warming on the oceans of Africa?

The shared heritage that is our oceans is now a climate emergency. Africa is at higher risk than any other region in the world, a continent where the vast majority of the shoreline is sand, making the coasts supremely vulnerable. Entire swathes of land are going to become uninhabitable, leading to displaced coastal communities, drastic changes to lifestyles, and more. One consequence of ocean warming in Africa will be a significant drop in living resources. Fish, for example, may potentially migrate to regions where conditions are more favorable to life, impacting on fishermen and fisheating communities.

By the time we reach the last two decades of this century, entire regions of Africa will experience a 2° C temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels according to forecasts from the fifth IPCC report, and by the end of the century, decreased rainfall is likely to happen in Northern Africa and the south-western parts of Southern Africa.
If we succeed in reining in climate change by 2030, keeping global warming at below 2° C, time lag and acidification will occur, with ocean warming and deoxygenation only declining at the end of the century. However, sea levels may rise up to a meter if we exceed the 3° C mark. This means the West must act now as a matter of urgency to reduce emissions. Western countries must also support emerging countries dealing with the effects of climate change. And yet the Green Climate Fund promised during the 2015 COP 21 has yet to materialize. Our oceans are a shared treasure and resource, belonging to all of humankind. It is up to us to take responsibility and care for them. The new generations are extremely sensitive to these challenges. Young people raising their awareness and choosing to empower themselves through knowledge is the way forward to change mindsets and take lasting action.

"We need to protect our oceans to prevent radical climate change."
Françoise Gail, scientific coordinator of the Ocean and Climate international platform at CNRS