AFRICA: One voice on climate change

Thursday, June 12, 2008
Africa needs one common strategy on climate change to stand any chance of persuading rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 to 40 percent by 2020, environment ministers agreed at a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week.

“Africa only emits 3.8 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, but will suffer the most from the climate threat, so it needs to ensure that its voice is heard,” said Ogunlade Davidson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group on mitigation.

The IPCC has suggested cuts of between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid a 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperature - the kind of increase that is expected to destroy 30 to 40 percent of all known species, with bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.

The impact on Africa will be dire. Food production is expected to halve by 2020, and 250 million people – over 25 percent of Africa's population – will not have easy access to water.

No delays

“We cannot afford to delay any more. We have agencies like UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] who have been trying to get one united African voice on board. This process here at AMCEN [the African Ministerial Conference on Environment] is the beginning to get the African Union (AU) to buy in to the process,” said Davidson.

Namibia’s environment minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah noted, “We have decided that the African Union has to take our position forward at the negotiations [between the developed and developing countries].” Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and help the developed world reduce theirs.

The ministers meeting in Johannesburg this week have asked the AU to adopt a common African position at its 13th summit in June and July 2009, ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December that year. At Copenhagen a new agreement to cut emissions is expected to be approved before the first commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

Talk is cheap

But Africa needs to more than just gear itself up for the negotiations. Under the Bali Roadmap, approved at the last major climate change talks in the Indonesian Island in December 2007, developing countries agreed to put in place “measurable, reportable and verifiable “ steps to tackle their emissions, supported by cleaner technology, financing and skills building, said Davidson. “Most countries in Africa don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Several funds have been announced by rich countries to help Africa adapt and access clean energy technologies. “We need to be proactive and engage these funds – but the question is do we have the capacity to receive these technologies?” pointed out Davidson.

All these strategies will have to be chalked up under an “African roadmap” in the next few months, he said. In the meantime, African countries can mitigate some of the impact of climate change.

“We can save our food production – about 50 percent of our food production is wasted off and on farms every year because we still harvest and market our produce by hand –w e can opt for simple mechanized farming techniques – we can also start harvesting water.”