Africa’s Stake in the Climate-Change Debate

While industrialized countries worry about how climate-change mitigation will affect their economies, the urgent adaptation needs of the poorest countries have largely been ignored. But, in accordance with the “polluter pays” principle, high-income countries must provide Africa with accessible and dependable funding to support mitigation and adaptation strategies.

MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE – Across Africa, there are growing concerns, which the three of us share, that the continent is being marginalized in the major debates leading up to the COP15 climate-change summit in Copenhagen this month. While the main focus has been on the impact of climate-change mitigation on industrialized countries, the urgent adaptation needs of the world’s poorest countries, in the face of possible catastrophe, have largely been ignored, at least in terms of concrete measures.

Perhaps the world needs reminding that Africa is the continent that contributes least to climate change, but must now live with its most serious consequences. The signs are already ominous. Weather patterns are changing; the rains, in certain areas, have been failing; and great swaths of the continent have been suffering unusually severe drought.

Africa’s geographical position, sensitive water resources, unsustainable agricultural methods, and exploitation by foreign and other private companies increased its vulnerability. Deforestation for timber and energy precipitate erosion and reduce soil fertility. Conflict is increasing as communities compete for scarce resources. Indeed, the conflicts in Darfur, Somalia, and Côte d’Ivoire were partly caused by disputes over agricultural and grazing land.

Africa’s potential can be harnessed only by adaptation to climate change, using disaster risk-reduction mechanisms. Moreover, parts of Africa possess massive latent potential for agricultural development, which it is in our collective interest to encourage. If communities can replant rather than deforest, they can create carbon-dioxide sinks, improve the water balance, and protect the micro-climate – all of which would favor agriculture, food security, and efforts to mitigate global climate change in a sustainable way.

Historically, Europe must shoulder much of the responsibility for Africa’s current state of development. The slave trade, colonialism, and the flawed process of colonial divestment all left their mark on Africa’s newly independent and fragile states. Now materialistic Europe and the developed world are imposing another disaster by on a struggling Africa through a life style of self-enrichment, consumption, and waste.

The African-European Parliamentary Dialogue on Climate Change was launched by AWEPA (the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa) in cooperation with the Pan-African Parliament and other major parliamentary actors in Nairobi in August 2008. During follow-up meetings in Africa and Europe, concrete action plans with a special focus on Africa began to be developed.

SPRING SALE: Save 40% on all new Digital or Digital Plus subscriptions

SPRING SALE: Save 40% on all new Digital or Digital Plus subscriptions

Subscribe now to gain greater access to Project Syndicate – including every commentary and our entire On Point suite of subscriber-exclusive content – starting at just $49.99.

Subscribe Now

Other Parliamentary networks such as GLOBE (Global Legislators Organization), PGA (Parliamentarians for Global Action), and PNOWB (the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank) are also participating. The aim is to put Africa high on the agenda at the Copenhagen summit.

The conclusion of the Dialogue will be presented to the Copenhagen summit in December. The African-European Parliamentary Seminar in Stockholm this August (Sweden is the current EU President) emphasized the need for an implementation strategy to ensure that commitments made at Copenhagen in such areas as the development of climate change-related policies and legislative reform, are fulfilled.

Similarly, AWEPA will work with African and European parliamentarians to ensure that international assistance for African adaptation is delivered and carefully monitored. It will also mobilize support for African parliamentarians, enabling them to work with their constituents in raising awareness, at a local level, of new sustainable agricultural policies that respond to changes in weather patterns and other consequences of climate change.

African countries, as parties to global negotiations, have crucial contributions to make to climate politics. But climate-change mitigation and adaptation are costly. European and other high-income countries, including the United States, must meet their obligation, in accordance with the “polluter pays” principle, to provide Africa with new, accessible, dependable, and reliable funding to support mitigation and adaptation strategies in areas such as disaster risk reduction, renewable energy, technology, and skill development.

The position taken by the EU’s national leaders this October, that developing nations would need €100 billion worth of help annually by 2020 to cope with climate change, was an important step in the right direction. But those commitments are still vague given the fact that EU leaders failed to say how much of the funding would be coming from Europe. Therefore the real results of this EU agreement on climate funding remain to be seen.

The time has come for Europe, the US, and others to recognize their responsibilities concerning the impact of climate change on Africa. But, as they recognize their responsibilities, they must do so in ways that respect African priorities. This is simple justice.