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Africa’s Stake in the Climate-Change Debate

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.