Climate Change: Road to Copenhagen in Africa

June 22, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya – I recently attended a Nobel Laureate symposium at St James Palace in London, where a Memorandum produced emphasised the urgency for action based on scientific evidence on climate change.

That memorandum called for reduction of emissions to at least 50 pecent by 2050 on 1990 baseline, with interim reductions of at least 25-40 percent by 2020. 

Various reports indicate that Africa will be disproportionately affected, with predictions of crisis like sea rise, desertification, floods, droughts and crop failure.

One adaptation option for Africa is to keep her forests standing so that they provide essential environmental services such as carbon sinks, of biodiversity, water catchments and regulation of climate and rainfall patterns.

Africa should also halt unsustainable agricultural practices like-slush-and-burn, shamba system, removal of vegetation from wilderness areas. She should Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). This is because greenhouse gasses emitted from deforestation and forest degradation are about 20 percent more than what is contributed by the world transport sector put together!

REDD not only reduces emissions but also fixes atmospheric carbon and addresses other drivers of deforestation and poverty.

Many Africans, especially the poor rural and urban populations will be impacted very negatively by climate change. As they feel the negative impact, they will compete for political power to control the diminishing resources, especially agricultural and grazing land, water and food. This will lead to conflicts, violence, displacements, migrations and even death.

Therefore, African countries should seriously focus on climate change and embrace mitigation strategies like protecting indigenous forests, halting the shamba system, charcoal burning, grazing and human settlements in forests. While there are no quick fixes, governments must shield citizens from the unavoidable negative impacts. One of the strategies is to protect, conserve and restore forests.

Should forests be accepted as part of the solution, there are opportunities for countries that will keep their forests standing because in return for environmental services provided by forests, they will receive financial compensations from the developed countries eager to reduce their emissions.

Several financial mechanisms will be developed to create carbon markets that are already being tried. For example, the Green Belt Movement and the Kenya Forestry Service have a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) pilot in partnership with the World Bank and a voluntary pilot with the local government of Basque in Spain. These carbon markets will expand and Governments which benefit from these opportunities, will raise financial resources, support their development agenda and also conserve their valuable forests.

The Copenhagen partnership should also negotiate for mechanisms that allow Africans to access and afford low-carbon energy sources such as solar, wind, bio-fuels, biomass, hydro and geothermal. There must also be a carbon justice issue in the debate because Africa accounts for a mere 2.3 percent of fossil fuel consumption, though it has 13.8 percent of the world’s population. By contrast, the industrialised countries contribute the largest share of greenhouse gasses per capita.

Industrialised countries do recognise their responsibility and will embrace reduced emissions and share a proportional responsibility in the cost of strategies for mitigation and adaptation.
While the international community may hopefully cooperate and agree on a fair and just protocol and financing mechanism, it is the individual nations who have the ultimate responsibility to shield their citizens from the negative impact of climate change.
The agreements and the financial mechanisms will bear no fruits if not translated into workable projects that deliver results especially for the poor.

Copenhagen will be a commitment and a partnership like no other because with respect to forests it is over national resources that are mobilised to provide global environmental services in exchange for financial compensation to nations that own the forests. The local people should be beneficiaries, not just the ruling elite and logging companies.

The African Union should ensure that governments work together despite the fact that some, like those in the Central African region have huge forests, others, like Kenya have few while others have virtually no forests.  Climate change knows no borders and those without forests will be even greater victims and will find it difficult to adapt or adopt.

A poor Africa without the Congo forest will be a continent whose common destiny is in peril. Therefore, African governments should have a common voice and a common stand on the road to Copenhagen. Temptations to have bilateral negotiations should be resisted because that could lead to exploitation of individual states.

Financial resources and organisations to manage them will be many in Copenhagen. Much more challenging will be how to control greed, selfishness, mistrust and exploitative tendencies. There will also be great need to build trust, confidence and honour, where promises are kept. This will take time and patience.

That is partly why the St James Palace Memorandum calls for an immediate emergency package to provide funding to tropical forest nations to help them urgently halt deforestation and embark on alternative economic development paths.

Africa will have friends such as Britain, Norway, France, Germany and others who are in the Congo Basin Forest Fund and those in the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, not to mention bilateral and multilateral partners.  There will also be friends like the Prince of Wales who is particularly concerned through his own Rainforest Project.
Therefore, failure to negotiate a reasonable package for Africa in Copenhagen will not be due to a global desire to damp Africa, but more likely a willingness to take advantage of Africa’s weaknesses. 

If Africa presents a strong, common position and negotiate as Africa, rather than 53 different weak states, she will avoid the pitfall of being taken advantage of and used. Well managed, Copenhagen could present a great opportunity for Africa.


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