Climate crisis in Ethiopia


Ethiopia aspires to a promising future, but a complex web of factors, including the impact of Arctic warming on Ethiopia’s climate, poses a multifaceted challenge to the nation’s sustainable growth and development.


by Damilola Adeyanju, Arctic Basecamp



Ethiopia aspires to a promising future, but a complex web of factors, including the impact of Arctic warming on Ethiopia’s climate, poses a multifaceted challenge to the nation’s sustainable growth and development. Ranked among the top 10 nations most vulnerable to climate disasters, Ethiopia finds itself at a crossroads, tasked with both addressing climate risks and reviving progress across 11 of its stagnated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a global blueprint for bolstering social welfare, targeting 17 vital areas, including education, health, gender equality, and social inclusion. The 2023 Sustainable Development Report underscores the distance that remains to be covered, with Ethiopia currently scoring 54.50 percent and ranking 144 out of the 166 countries tracked by the SDG Index.    

Within this complex context, there looms a lesser known but profoundly impactful factor: the far-reaching consequences of Arctic warming. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there. Around the world, a warming Arctic triggers extreme weather events. These effects are also felt in Ethiopia, exacerbating heat stress, food and water insecurity, and prolonged droughts. Beyond the immediate impacts on the local climate and ecosystems, the repercussions of Arctic warming threaten Ethiopia’s economic growth and sustainability. The futures of Ethiopia and the Arctic are intrinsically linked. However, with informed action, Ethiopia can course-correct and achieve a world of health, progress, and opportunity as envisioned by the SDGs. 

The Link between Arctic Change and Ethiopia’s SDGs Progress  

The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world, which disrupts global weather patterns. If the Arctic loses its sea ice and snow cover, global warming could accelerate by 25-40%, driving risks elsewhere, including Ethiopia. Nine of the 16 climate tipping points are in the polar regions with five out of nine already close to tipping. While Arctic shifts aren’t the sole culprits for Ethiopia’s climate challenges, they play a significant role. Melting Arctic ice, coupled with increased solar energy absorption and altered jet streams due to varied warming rates, modulate Ethiopia’s weather patterns. This leads to intensified heatwaves, persistent droughts, crop damage, and floods. Among these,  drought is Ethiopia’s primary climate-related concern. Climate projections suggest that by the 2050s, an average monthly temperature increase of 1.8°C is anticipated, soaring to an alarming  3.7°C by 2100 under high-emission trajectories.

Addis Ababa is among Africa’s fastest-growing cities, and its current metropolitan population of around 5.4 million is anticipated to reach almost 9 million by 2035. The city’s rising population will primarily find its place in informal settlements, the main destination for most migrants. Residents of these settlements will bear the brunt of the more frequent heatwaves, droughts and flooding that soaring temperatures will bring about over the next years. Higher temperatures will threaten health, ecosystems, livelihoods, infrastructure and food supplies (Prevention Web). 


Ethiopia’s resilience against these looming threats is frail. A combination of factors such as inadequate infrastructure, strained water resources, and economic constraints, coupled with institutional bottlenecks and prevalent unawareness, lowers the country’s adaptive capacity. Such diminished adaptive abilities amplify uncertainties for pivotal sectors and Ethiopian livelihoods, casting doubts about its SDG achievements. As such, understanding and proactively addressing the vast implications of Arctic warming emerges as a pressing mandate to secure Ethiopia’s sustainable trajectory.  

Climate Crisis Amplified by Arctic Melting: A Socioeconomic Risk for Ethiopia 

Businesses play a pivotal role in pursuing economic growth and societal well-being. However, Ethiopia’s key sectors agriculture, water, infrastructure, forestry and public health, are substantially vulnerable to the climate emergency, which can result in broader socioeconomic consequences.   

Global climate risk, amplified by Arctic melt, threatens Ethiopia’s pursuit of the SDGs—a pursuit deeply intertwined with its socioeconomic landscape. The impacts on three factors required for sustainable growth – infrastructure, human capacity, and standard of living are assessed below:  

Infrastructure: A Foundation for Growth and SDG Progress: 

Ethiopia’s road networks are vital to its growth and commerce but are vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns. Urban and rural areas face significant threats, especially flooding, which often goes unnoticed in reports. Rural regions heavily rely on roads, as over 90% of the nation’s exports and imports are transported this way. Floods and droughts can critically damage roads, bridges, and other essential structures. Damaged road links in regions with fewer roads, such as rural locations, can isolate vast areas, cutting off people’s access to markets, basic services, and supply chains. This can cause business disruptions, potentially hindering growth and economic progress. 

msafari2425, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2020, floods impacted nearly a million Ethiopians, displacing about 300,000 and leading to 288 deaths. The World Bank estimates that these floods caused a staggering US$358 million in damages, affecting properties, infrastructure, and farmlands, further worsening an already dire humanitarian situation. 

Standard of Living: A Key to Sustainable Growth in the Face of Climate Challenges: 

The standard of living reflects a nation’s socioeconomic health, influencing citizens’ purchasing power, the potential returns on business investments and job market growth. In Ethiopia, agriculture is a key sector, contributing 40% of the nation’s GDP, accounting for 80% of its exports and providing employment for roughly 75% of the population.  the drought that has devastated the Horn of Africa since 2020 has profoundly impacted millions of people in Ethiopia’s southern and eastern regions. Consequently, as of 2023, over 20 million Ethiopians are grappling with food insecurity due to crop failures, pasture degradation, livestock deaths, depletion of water reservoirs, and rising human conflicts. This alone is already costing Ethiopia US$1.1 billion per year 

Drought in Ethiopia due to rains unrealised.

Oxfam East Africa, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific analyses point to climate change as the primary driver of the prolonged drought, suggesting that global warming increases the probability of such catastrophic droughts by a hundredfold. The severe impacts of climate change have caused Ethiopia and neighbouring Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan 7.4 billion in livestock losses This has led to decreased agricultural productivity detrimental to sustaining a source of income for a large portion of its citizens dependent on agriculture. This has resulted in reduced agricultural productivity, posing a significant challenge to sustaining a vital source of income for a large segment of the population that is reliant on agriculture.  

As climate change accelerates, exacerbated by the effects of Arctic warming, Ethiopia’s ambition to elevate its standard of living faces serious challenges. This has the potential to further slow progress in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). 

Human Capital: The Backbone of Growth and SDG Advancement: 

Robust human capital plays a pivotal role in driving socioeconomic growth. With a population of over 120 million, Ethiopia showcases enormous potential for socioeconomic advancement. Yet, around 20 million Ethiopians currently require humanitarian assistance, reducing a significant portion of the nation’s productive capacity. Compounding this issue, droughts, floods, and other climate-induced challenges have erased many of Ethiopia’s developmental gains, leading to forced migration of over 4 million Ethiopians from climate-induced conflict. A looming concern is the projection that by 2080, the mortality rate from extreme heat will triple, attributed to an added 50 extremely hot days annually. Such challenges could profoundly debilitate productivity and human resources, dimming the prospects for socioeconomic growth. 

Education, a crucial avenue to safeguard Ethiopia’s future and enhance socioeconomic prosperity, is under threat. The climate crisis, marked by severe droughts, has exacerbated food insecurity, forcing numerous students to abandon their studies. The number of out-of-school children in Ethiopia surged from 3.1 million to 3.6 million within 6 months by end of 2022, further stagnating progress on SDG 4 (Quality Education).   


Zelalemgizachew, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While local climatic challenges are pressing, external factors like Arctic warming magnify these concerns, introducing broader socioeconomic risks. The repercussions of such distant environmental shifts underscore the interconnectedness of our global ecosystem. If these converging challenges remain unaddressed, they threaten to erode Ethiopia’s human capital, escalate its socioeconomic vulnerabilities, and hinder its progress towards realising the SDGs. 


Ethiopia is struggling to revive its stagnated SDG targets. The unexpected complications from a climate crisis amplified by Arctic warming further exacerbate the challenge. The profound socioeconomic risks presented by Arctic warming jeopardise the nation’s progress towards its SDG ambitions. To grasp the implications of these distant Arctic risks, Ethiopia needs to consider a comprehensive perspective on global climate dynamics when crafting its climate solutions and strategies. By understanding and navigating the complexities of Arctic warming, Ethiopia can steer towards a future that harmonizes economic growth with sustainable and resilient development amidst escalating climate challenges. 

For more information about how the Arctic affects Africa please click HERE.