Climate Change and Africa: Valuing the Voices of the Most Vulnerable
Global warming looms large as one of the factors set to negate the progress many African countries have made over the years towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Crop failures and declining agricultural production due to drought, floods, or unpredictable and untimely rainfall have exacerbated the continent’s food security crisis. In many countries on the continent dwindling essential resources such as water reserves have heightened fears of an unprecedented outbreak of disease and death. Climate change is no longer only about the rise in the earth’s temperature; in Africa it has also become a paramount development issue.
The sustainable livelihood of millions of Africans is at risk. Under these critical circumstances, it should now be the mandate of the world’s leaders to protect their communities and all the world’s citizens. This is not only a call for Africa’s leaders to galvanize their efforts in addressing the ramifications of climate change in their countries, but also for the developed countries to ensure that African leaders are given the necessary consideration and platform to voice their opinions in the debate on global climate change.The 2009 Copenhagen Summit, with its non-legally binding ‘Copenhagen Accord’ and a fading pledge by developed countries to jointly mobilize $100bn a year by 2020, has reignited the fear that climate change will persist with little action. The ‘blame game’ between rich and poor countries continues to be a sore point in trying to establish a unified global leadership agenda against this phenomenon. According to the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, “Africa generates but a small fraction, estimated at 3 percent, of the global community’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet it suffers the effects of this pollution disproportionately.” How can developing countries effectively grow their economies and manage their resources to meet their development needs, and at the same time absorb the costs of a problem they did little to create?
Many African leaders are working to mitigate the effects of climate change. They remain committed to taking advantage of the potential opportunities for sustainable ‘green gold’ economic development. These leaders are convinced that economic growth and environmental protection should not be incompatible. In 1999 seven Central African nations, hosted by Cameroon’s Biya, produced an agreement over the proper management and stewardship of one of Africa’s most fragile ecosystems and the world’s second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin Region, to minimize the effects of polution and climate change. Throughout the continent there is growing recognition among Africans that their region needs to chart its own course in protecting itself against the threat of environmental and economic degradation. As recent climate talks have faltered, leaders from Africa and the developing world agree that the 2011 talks in South Africa need to produce a binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases and to help poor countries cope with climate change. But Africa cannot go it alone, as Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union noted in recent talks with senior White House officials, “the AU's 53 member states face issues which are global problems, which can only be solved globally.”
As President Biya rightly noted in his address during the Copenhagen Summit, “[Cameroon] and the rest of the countries of the Congo Basin Region are experiencing the full brunt of climate change,” such as the drying up of Lake Chad, and he stated that “global climate change needs a global mobilization and solution. The time for action is now.” Despite the small contribution Africans have made to the current climate crisis, their position as one of the most vulnerable groups, underscores the importance of their equal participation in all climate change deliberation and action.