Global Warming Effects Around the World

Etosha National Park, Namibia

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Ecosystems (Land)

Other Impacts

Temperature (Air)

People (Costs)

This black rhinoceros in Etosha National Park, Namibia, is one of several species endangered by hotter and drier conditions

The ecosystem of Namibia's Etosha National Park harbors one of the largest populations of the critically endangered black rhinoceros. Rhinos are protected from poaching in Etosha, but global warming is adding to stress on biodiversity in Africa, and could put game-spotting tourism in Namibia at risk.1

Key Facts

Etosha National Park in northern Namibia, one of Africa's major wildlife sanctuaries,2 is home to the critically endangered black rhinoceros.5,6 Climate change threatens biodiversity in the park and elsewhere in Africa,11 and a warmer, drier climate in Namibia could put tourism at risk.10

  • Game spotting draws the majority of tourists to Namibia,7 and national parks generate N$1 billion to $2 billion (U.S. $130 to $265 million) in income annually.8
  • Temperatures in Namibia have been rising at three times the global average rate for the twentieth century, and scientists expect the climate to continue to become hotter and drier—which could reduce the range and number of wildlife supported by Etosha.9
  • If we do nothing to reduce our heat-trapping emissions,12 Etosha faces a net loss of around eight species of mammals by 2050.13


Namibia's Etosha National Park, designated as a game reserve in 1907, is one of Africa's major wildlife sanctuaries.2 It centers around a huge, parched depression of silver-white minerals—the Great White Place or Place of Dry Water for which the park is named.3 This ancient, evaporated lake deposit of salt minerals fills with water only after heavy rains.4 The park harbors more than 100 types of mammals, including rare and endangered species such as the black rhinoceros, black-faced impala, tssesebe, and gemsbok.2 Etosha is also home to more than 300 species of birds and more than 100 species of reptiles.4

The black rhino, brought to the brink of extinction by poaching, has been listed as critically endangered since 2001.5 Namibia has one of the largest remaining populations of black rhinos, and roughly three-quarters of the national rhino population can be found in Etosha—where successful conservation policies have virtually eliminated poaching.6

The opportunity to spot game such as rhino, along with other nature-based tourism, are the main reasons most people cite for visiting Namibia7—and tourism is growing.8 Some 600,000 people visited the country each year in the mid-2000s.8 National parks contribute some N$1 billion to N$2 billion (U.S. $130 to $265 million) annually to the economy.8

However, temperatures in Namibia have been rising at three times the global average rate for the twentieth century.9 A warmer, drier climate could threaten the country's valuable tourism sector.10

What the Future Holds

Scientists expect Namibia's climate to continue to become hotter and drier, with a projected temperature increase of 3.6-10.8° F (2-6° C) by the end of this century.9 Lower and more variable rainfall is projected. And even if rainfall decreases only slightly from today's levels, evaporation typically increases as temperatures rise, so Namibia is likely to become even drier.9 As water becomes scarcer, the range and number of wildlife supported by Etosha and other national parks could decline.9

Climate change is one of several stresses putting biodiversity in Africa at risk.11 For example, large herds of migratory mammals such as rhinos and elephants are a distinguishing ecosystem characteristic of the continent.11 The combined pressures of global warming and changes in land use may prevent these animals from migrating between critical dry-season and wet-season grazing areas.11

The future impacts of climate change depend largely on the choices we make today: whether to curb, maintain, or increase heat-trapping emissions. According to one recent study, if our heat-trapping emissions continue to rise at current rates,12 and wildlife are confined within game reserves, around 15 percent of mammalian species in Africa are likely to be critically endangered or locally extinct by mid-century, and roughly 40 percent by late this century.13 If the animals are free to migrate, about 20 percent risk being critically endangered or locally extinct by late in the century.13

In southern Africa, scientists expect a migration of species toward cooler and moister areas.13 If we do nothing to reduce our emissions,12 Etosha faces a net loss of around eight species of mammals by 2050.13 Unless we take meaningful action today, climate change could render Etosha and other national parks in dry or desert regions unable to fulfill their mandate: to protect mammalian biodiversity.13



  1. Photograph used by permission, Frank Vassen
  2. Etosha National Park. 2008. Etosha National Park: One of Africa's greatest and most intriguing wildlife sanctuaries. Namibia. Online at Accessed May 10, 2010.
  3. 2009. Namibia deserts and wildlife. Online at namibia-etosha.htm. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  4. Cardboard Box Travel Shop. 2010. Etosha National Park: Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia. Online at travel/ namibia/ etosha.htm. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  5. Smith, D.M. 2008. Endangered black rhinos in Africa. Online at article.cfm/ endangered_black_rhinos_in_africa. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  6. United Nations Environment Programme. 2008. Africa: Atlas of our changing environment. Nairobi, Kenya: Division of Early Warning and Assessment. Online at africa/ africaAtlas/ PDF/ en/ Africa_Atlas_Full_en.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  7. Social Impact Assessment and Policy Analysis Corp. 2003. Visitor exit survey: Final report for the Directorate of Tourism, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia. Cited in: J. Turpie, G.-M. Lange, R. Martin, R. Davies, and J. Barnes. 2005. Namibia's protected areas: Their economic worth and the feasibility of their financing. Directorate of Environmental Affairs Research discussion paper 73. Windhoek, Namibia. Online at data/ RDPs/ RDP73.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  8. Ministry of Environment and Tourism. 2007. Namibia: Background—Etosha centenary. Windhoek, Namibia. Online at intradoc/ groups/ public/ documents/ cpsi/ unpan039019.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  9. Reid, H., L. Sahlén, J. MacGregor, and J. Stage. 2007. The economic impact of climate change in Namibia: How climate change will affect the contribution of Namibia's natural resources to its economy. Environmental Economics Program discussion paper 07-02. London: International Institute for Environment and Development. Online at pubs/ pdfs/ 15509IIED.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  10. Midgley, G., G. Hughes, W. Thuiller, G. Drew, and W. Foden. 2005. Assessment of potential climate change impacts on Namibia's floristic diversity, ecosystem structure and function. Cape Town, South Africa: South African National Botanical Institute.
  11. Desanker, P.V. 2002. Impact of climate change on life in Africa. Washington, DC: World Wildlife Fund. Online at climate/ Publications/ WWFBinaryitem4926.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  12. The emissions scenario referred to here is the high-emissions path known as A2 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  13. Thuiller W., O., Broennimann, G. Hughes, J.R.M. Alkemade, G.F. Midgley, and F. Corsi. 2006. Vulnerability of African mammals to anthropogenic climate change under conservative land transformation assumptions. Global Change Biology 12:424-440.
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