Africa -- A Future for Itself


In a small village in western Zambia, the Lozi king -- the Litunga -- will call on his people to leave the lowlands and join him in a spectacular ceremony, celebrating the seasonal flooding that will fertilize their farmlands. But in the past two years there have been no celebrations. Rains arrived earlier than usual, leading to devastating floods. The Lozi blame climate change. "The seasons have changed. This is a very big disaster", says Bennet Imutongo Sondo, the seventy-four-year-old induna or chief advisor of Liyoyelo village in Zambia's Mongu district.

Scientists knit their brows when they ponder the impact of global climate change on Africa. The outcomes are depressing: Africa is likely to be hit hardest by the droughts, floods and other catastrophic effects of climate change, despite contributing the least greenhouse gases -- less than 4 per cent of the world's total emissions. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Africa is in for a tough time. Continued increase in the amount of greenhouse gases may put almost 1.8 billion more in Africa at risk of water stress by 2050. Arid and semi-arid lands are likely to increase by up to 8 per cent, threatening food security. The IPCC also cautioned that sea-level rise, especially along the East African coast, may increase chances of flooding. Africa's adaptation bill can shoot up by 10 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of all its nations.

The most vulnerable continent

Apart from the authoritative IPCC, many studies warn about the dire consequences for Africa. At a conference in Cape Town in September 2009 in Cape Town, Oli Brown of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, while discussing security and climate change, said, "Africa is the first continent to fully feel the effect of climate change on political and economic stability because of its history of ethnic, resource and political conflict, and its reliance on climate sensitive sectors like rain-fed agriculture."

The international aid agency Oxfam estimates that rising temperatures may mean that sub-Saharan Africa could lose $2 billion a year as the viability of just one crop -- maize -- declines. A study by the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum shows that 15 of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa.

The "World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change," warns that just a 2˚C warming above pre-industrial levels can permanently reduce Africa's annual per capita consumption by 4 to 5 per cent. Water will be a major concern for African countries and several commentators have issued warnings that water wars might break out as people compete for resources. Some have already suggested that the conflict in Darfur might partly be blamed on the lack of water in the region.

In July 2009, the economist, Jeffrey Sachs, has written on the Scientific American website that "recent years have shown that shifts in rainfall can bring down Governments and even set off wars. The African Sahel, just south of the Sahara, provides a dramatic and poignant demonstration. The deadly carnage in Darfur, Sudan, for example, which is almost always discussed in political and military terms, has roots in an ecological crisis directly arising from climate shocks."

In August 2009, Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, in an op-ed titled Climate Culprit in Darfur, said, "Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change."

Climate change has been directly linked to the drying up of Lake Chad by 80 per cent since the 1980s. This may affect 
Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger that share the lake, and several non-governmental organizations have issued warnings that there are fears of conflict over the remaining water resources.

Currently 20 countries in Africa are suffering from water scarcity, and the World Development Report 2010 notes that another 12 are likely to be added in the next 25 years.

Africa's 63 transboundary river basins together account for over 90 per cent of its surface water, and no existing treaties instruct African countries how the water can be shared. Water in Africa's economic powerhouse, South Africa, may also come under huge strain by 2025.

Researchers at the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that Southern Africa lacked more than 4 million metric tonnes of maize in 2007/08 to feed its people. Already, rain patterns have changed in Africa, and droughts are more common, which can potentially ruin about three quarters of the continent's population engaged in farming.

Carbon Sinks

But Africa also has the ability to make an important contribution to mitigating climate change, by investing in so-called carbon sinks, otherwise known as the rainforests of the world.

Africa's major rainforests are spread over Central Africa, West Africa, East Africa and Madagascar. But driven by the economic need of the rainforest communities, and those of the developed world, commercial logging, mining, wood fuel harvesting and agriculture are causing major deforestation.

While human activities have shaved world rain forests by 2 per cent, the second largest contiguous rain forest is found in the Congo Basin in Africa. This vast, green, stretch spans the boundaries of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. Since the 1980s, this forest has suffered one of the highest rates of logging and agricultural clearing in the world.
The Bali Road Map, adopted by Governments in 2007, includes a commitment called REDD or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which is expected to be fiercely debated at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The United Nations envisions that, as part of REDD, financial incentives given to developing countries will encourage them to conserve their forests, which may absorb greenhouse gases. One of REDD's proposals is to compensate landowners who do not log wooded areas. The proposal benefits heavily forested countries such as the DRC. But as only rainforests are currently included, other, more sparsely-
forested countries, such as Tanzania, could lose out. There is also a fear that rich corporations could buy forested land and cash in on the incentive.

The IPCC estimates that deforestation contributes to 17 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, making it the second largest source next to emissions from energy supply. Estimates put carbon emissions from deforestation in the 1990s at 5.8 gigatonnes a year.

For many African countries, deforestation is their biggest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The DRC and Zambia are particularly vulnerable, and it had been estimated that nearly half a million hectares of forests in Zambia are lost every year. Research by the Rainforest Foundation in 2007 found that the forests of the Congo Basin were estimated to contain between 25 and 30 billion tonnes of carbon in their vegetation -- equal to about four years of current global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Over half of this carbon is stored within the forests of the DRC.

Negotiations in Copenhagen

At the African Union (AU) Summit in Sirte in July 2009, 53 African nations had come together to negotiate under one umbrella in Copenhagen. The continent's leaders prepared a common position on climate change, which, among others, calls for:

• The international community to fund Africa's mitigation efforts to the tune of $67 billion per year by 2020
• A push for more Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM)[1] projects in Africa. At the moment the continent has only 30 of the nearly 1,800 CDM projects, or about 2 per cent worldwide
• Compensation for countries that conserve their forests
• Technology transfers to help Africa limit its greenhouse gases and help adapt to climate change

Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, was chosen to chair a new High-Level committee that included Heads of State to steer the African negotiation process.

Jean Ping, chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, has repeatedly emphasized that Africa cannot afford to take a backseat at the negotiations, but needed to "aggressively engage" the developed world to ensure that Africa was included in a possible deal at Copenhagen. By September 2009, the Africa Progress Panel[2] prepared a policy brief for AU Heads of State, ministers of finance, environment, and international partners. This brief called for Africa to use the full force of its 54 votes at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on issues beyond carbon finance, such as setting clear emission targets, African carbon offsets and technology transfer.

Though Africa has come a long way in presenting one voice, it remains to be seen how big a role its voice would play in the final hours of negotiations at Copenhagen when a huge push for a binding agreement is needed. Will the so-called big boys, the developed nations, dismiss them as small players? Or might this unified voice for the first time ensure that Africa's voice will be prominently positioned in such a crucial agreement. Copenhagen awaits.