By Matt Styslinger
“[Africa] will no longer accept to pay for the crimes of others,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, referring to the consequences of climate change. “But for our voice from Africa to be heard and taken seriously, it is no longer just enough to speak as one. We need to be ready to put our own contributions on the table, in terms of financing and concrete ideas.”
Prime Minister Meles was one of many voices conveying this message at the Seventh African Development Forum (ADF VII) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last week, October 10-15. The United Nations (UN)-backed forum was jointly organized by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the African Union Commission (AUC) and several hundred African experts, including Government ministers, were in attendance. The theme of ADF VII was “acting on climate change for sustainable development in Africa.” It focused on identifying strategies to adapt to climate change and to promote sustainable development in Africa in the face of the environmental and economic effects of the phenomenon.
Africa contributes only about four percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, but its countries are among the most vulnerable to changing weather patterns brought on by rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Many major African cities are along coasts, making them vulnerable to sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather. Changing rainfall patterns threaten to dry up water resources in some areas—reducing food security—and increase the risk of floods in other areas. Rising temperatures could facilitate the spread of vector-borne disease and reduce fish populations in lakes in many parts of the continent.
The Director of the Food Security and Sustainable Development Division of the ECA, Josue Dione, told the forum that Africans would not wait for the next Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to act. Emphasizing the need for African countries to commit to action on climate change, UN Under Secretary Abdoulie Janneh said at the end of the week, “We must mobilize our own resources to really again underpin the importance we attach to climate change.” Former Botswanan President Festus Mogae stated that even though Africans have contributed the least to climate change, they are “nevertheless bound to take notice of what is happening” and make their best effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of others.
But the forum repeatedly urged developed countries to fulfill pledges made to Africa to help them develop adaptation and mitigation strategies. African leaders called on the international community to set up a fund to help poor countries deal with impending hardships brought on by climate change. Janneh reminded the audience that “At Copenhagen, the centrality of financing to underpin effective adaptation and mitigation action was recognized.” In December 2009, at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries promised $30 billion by 2012 for developing countries to implement climate change mitigation actions, including financing for adaptation and reducing GHG emissions from deforestation. Additionally, the wealthy nations committed to raising $100 billion annually by 2020.
“We are not contributing much to this phenomenon of climate change,” Janneh said. “It is therefore imperative that decisive actions are made to deliver commitments promised at Copenhagen.” This will help send a signal that industrialized countries are serious about action on climate change, and may help cultivate an international spirit of trust and compromise. But delays or failures to deliver on promises could be destructive to the collective international effort. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said warned that if developed nations did not change their approach to the debate on climate change, then the next UNFCCC Conference of Parties—beginning at the end of November in Cancun, Mexico—was doomed to fail.
Janneh was optimistic about the outcomes of the ADF VII and praised the level of participation as well as the quality of the debates. Africa is actively addressing the challenges presented by climate change, and is willing to mobilize its own resources to the best of its ability. But the continent faces unavoidable financial limitations, as well as overwhelming challenges to sustainable development. Janneh asserts, “Africa has a legitimate claim to additional resources because its peoples face a danger they did not create; and that fact is not negotiable.”
For more on the effects of climate change and innovations for adaptation and mitigation see: UN Special Rapporteur declares Low-Carbon Agriculture Shift “Urgent”, Indigenous Farming Methods: Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change While Boosting Food Production, and Fighting Two Battles with One Dialogue.
Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.