Cop-27 at Sharm El Sheikh is no guarantee for Africa

Despite lowest carbon emissions, Africa worst hit by climate change


October 14, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Cop-27 at Sharm El Sheikh is no guarantee for Africa

Africa too has been hit by prolonged droughts, seriously impacting farmers like this in Dali, North Darfur, Sudan. (Photo: UN / Albert Farran)

With barely three weeks to go before yet another Climate Change Summit gets underway, this time in Sharm El Sheikh, it is important that the global leaders recognise the severe impact that climate change is taking on Africa, a continent that has had hardly any role in greenhouse gas emissions. But hoping that the real culprits, the rich countries, would give it a serious thought is increasingly looking like wishful thinking.

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At the ongoing United Nations General Assembly’s annual sittings in New York, there are several issues that have been on the centre-stage, ranging from of course the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the energy and food crisis which is partly linked to the conflict, but also the state of global education, healthcare and climate change.

The picture is dismal on many fronts, with fresh evidence of deterioration in the situation, at least for the developing nations and the least developed countries, notably in Africa, which seem to be bearing the brunt of the impact, notably in hunger, health and climate disasters.

With forest fires, flash floods and heatwaves still prevalent in many parts of the world, the critical situation is certain to outlast the discussions in New York. And come November, once again a massive, global jamboree to fight climate change will assemble as in every year. But this year, there is a difference as the climate summit, the Conference of Parties (CoP) 27 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, comes to Africa where it will be hosted in the Red Sea Riviera town of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.

The run up to practically each of the last several climate change meets has seen an environmental disaster at a global scale which has put the focus firmly on the fact that humankind has either run out of time or is about to do so in its battle against global warming and climate change. If the last two years saw unprecedented wildfires even in the Tundra region of Siberia and Canada as well sweltering temperatures up in the Arctic Circle, this year, the theme is a global drought that has gripped vast tracts of the Earth, from western United States to eastern China, impacting almost all of Europe, which is facing its own worst drought in over 500 years, leading to unprecedented curbs on water usage.

Northern Africa, including the host of CoP27, Egypt has also been fighting its own battle (equally losing it like rest of the world) on water scarcity as the available water in River Nile flowing into Egypt due to rising demand in Ethiopia and Sudan. And of course, other parts of Africa have also been experiencing climate change impacts such as droughts, flood floods, rising seas and soil erosion.

There has been some excitement about the climate change meet returning to Africa as some believe that when the global environmental and climate change community gathers in Africa, they would get to see first-hand the situation in the continent which historically has had little to do with factors leading to climate change, which is the lowest contributor to carbon emissions, historically and currently, but which is facing the brunt of the impact of climate change in all senses – medically, economically, politically and socially.

In terms of responsibility for global warming, Africa has been a marginal player. In 2021, the continent produced 1.29 billion tonnes of carbon emissions or just over 1 tonne for each of its 1.22 billion people. In contrast, 375 million North Americans emitted 5.6 billion tonnes or 14.9 tonnes per person. Overall, Africa is also the repository of some of the largest carbon sinks, large forests that clean the air by absorbing millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.

Even the large-scale mining and oil extraction, especially off the African coast, is conducted by global multinationals and whose benefits are yet to be seen by the local population. But irrespective of the little role that Africa may have played in global warming it is amongst the worst impacted. Persistent droughts or little rain have led to drop in harvests, leading to rise in malnutrition and poverty.

As farmers abandon their lands and search for new areas, it has led to conflict over land between various tribes across Africa, leading to forced migration of millions of people, many of whom try to head for the European shores as they don’t see any future in Africa. All in all, the worst impacts of climate change in all its forms can be seen in full play already here.

Hence, the expectations are that as Africa hosts the meeting, the focus would be the impact of climate change on the poorest continent and motivate the global community to take the long-pending measures to help mitigate these and make Africa more climate-proof.

But these expectations are founded on empty air. If by hosting a jamboree for 15-days could do wonders to Africa’s climate change problems, then imagine what benefits should have been accrued for the protection of African environment and ecology since United Nations Environment Programme was created and located in Nairobi in Kenya for the past 50 years!

Unfortunately, right from Nairobi to Nigeria, and from Egypt to eSwatini, the African environment has been degraded extensively, seriously and perhaps even irretrievably in many parts of the continent, under the watch of UNEP, if one can say so.

Reports say that rapid and unplanned urbanisation in Africa has left it poorly equipped to deal with impacts of climate change in the near future, including biodiversity, food security, health, water access, and migration.

In today’s world, the global community does not need to come anywhere to be able to take action. Indeed, it is not lack of awareness that is preventing the global leaders from taking the tough steps that are needed to curb carbon emissions, but it is a serious lack of political will and the continuous desire to kick the can down the road for another leader to take the tough calls that are needed.

For over 30 years, the world knows what needs to be done, to what extent and how urgently. The rich countries that have led to global warming by pumping in hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air and that have pillaged natural resources from the world over and continue to do so, in different forms, have already committed to cutting their own emissions and paying hundreds of billions of dollars to the poor countries, almost all of Africa, to help them acquire technologies to curb their own emissions and for mitigation of the climate impact.

Yet, on both the counts, the Western world has failed the rest of humanity as despite all the implications of unarrested global warming in full display across the world, most countries are behind their targets for cutting carbon emissions or are likely to miss the targets set for 2025 and 2030, the cut off dates strongly recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global body of scientists mandated by the UN to track climate change and suggest measures.

This year with Russia-Ukraine war leading to energy shortages, even the ‘green and clean’ Europe has moved to relying more on coal-powered utilities and the Inflation Reduction Act of the United States notwithstanding, with the mid-terms staring at the Democrats, it is unlikely that one would see any of the several drastic cuts that the US, the world’s biggest polluter in terms of per-capita emissions, needs to make desperately.

Time for Africa to realise that instead of looking at the outside world for help in dealing with climate change, it must chart its own course and protect its own micro-environments and forest belts to the best of its capabilities, while keep a close tab on oil and mining sectors.

African countries need to expand access to energy, support green development, begin growing climate-resilient crops that tolerate more heat and less rain and withstand summer droughts as well as integrate local inputs policy discussion and implementation.

Also, perhaps, it is time to dust off the age-old idea of South-South Cooperation where developing countries come together and find their own, localised solutions, instead of waiting eternally for the Godot from the West.



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