Africa Is Burning
Roxanne Lawson and Elizabeth Bast
December 04, 2006
Elizabeth Bast is an International Policy Analyst at Friends of the
Earth-U.S. Roxanne Lawson is an International Policy Campaigner for
Friends of the Earth.
The effects of the Great Warming are not fairly shared. Fourteen
percent of the world's population lives in the 57 countries on the
African continent. However, because the majority of Africans live with
little to no access to electricity and personal transport usage is
among the world's lowest, Africans contribute only 3 percent of the
global greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
The United States, conversely, with only 5 percent of the world's
population, contributes nearly 25 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas
pollution annually. In the United States, with our consumption of
electricity, our ecologically harmful industries and our 230 million
passenger vehicles, we are literally fueling the destruction of the
Last month, at the United Nations Climate Change summit in Nairobi,
Kenya, climate change experts from around the globe reported to 165
countries on the impacts of global warming, which will be felt most
harshly by poor developing countries. If that weren't bad enough, the
former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern recently released
a report that suggests that global warming could shrink the global
economy by 20 percent over the next 50 years. From the report and the
summit, it is clear that climate change is as much a humanitarian,
security and economic issue as an environmental one.
Unfortunately, some of the world's richest countries and major
pollutersAustralia, Canada and the U.S.failed, at the summit, to
address the most urgent needs of the world's poorest countries.
Climate change has already caused significant damage on the African
continent and it is now agonizingly clear that a lack of action by the
world's major polluters to reduce global warming pollution will, in
short order, devastate the globe. "I do not see any change in our
policy," said the United States' senior climate negotiator, Harlan
Watson, days after the conference began. "We feel very comfortable."
According to the hundreds of scientists and other experts on the
U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming
will create dramatically increased droughts, water shortages, coastal
floods and disease for Africans.
The changes from the Great Warming are already being felt in many
places. The people of northern Kenya, for instance, are still
suffering today from a drought that started in 2003. Kenyan
pastoralists have lost 10 million livestock, and two-thirds of the
population in the Turkana region has lost their livelihoods.
In Nigeria, severe flooding in the Niger Delta has become more
frequent, with floods wiping out crops and disrupting traditional
farming practices. In Tanzania, one third of the ice field peak of
Mount Kilimanjaro has disappeared in the last 12 years; 82 percent of
Kilimanjaro's peak has vanished since it was first mapped in 1912.
Global warming has also caused changes in weather patterns that have
and will continue to disrupt livelihoods across the continent.
Declining crop yields in the next 20 years will lead to more famines
and deaths. Droughts and increasing desertification mean smaller
areas of viable farm land and an increase in forced migration to more
densely populated areas. The results of global warming will inevitably
heighten resource scarcity and fuel conflict and war.
Meanwhile, in some African countries, the oil, gas, mining and other
extractive industries that support the consumption habits of the
United States and other rich countries contribute to global warming.
Nigeria, South Africa and Angola are all nations with comparatively
high greenhouse gas emissions by African standards.
Nigeria in particular has the highest greenhouse gas emissions in
sub-Saharan Africa because of the "flaring" of excess, unwanted
natural gas by multinational oil companies. When gas comes to the
surface during the oil extraction process, the gas is burned rather
than reinjected into the ground or processed for use by local
communities. The result is toxic pollution in the short term and
global warming that will ultimately harm those communities a second time
Deforestation in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other
parts of the globe also produces greenhouse gases. During the 11 days
of the conference an estimated 745 thousand acres of forest were lost.
Last year, international aid organizations and governments focused
much of their Africa-related diplomacy on addressing impoverishment,
with the goal of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015 through debt
cancellation and more money to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS and
tuberculosis. Unfortunately, a discussion of climate change as a major
driver of impoverishmentnow and in the futurewas absent from those
conversations about the African continent.
As Kenyan Environment Minister Kivutha Kibwana stated at last month's
U.N. Climate Change meeting:
We face a genuine danger that recent gains in poverty reduction
will be thrown into reverse in coming decades, particularly for the
poorest communities on the continent of Africa.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that climate change is
occurring and will result in more intense hurricanes and mudslides
that will kill, injure and displace thousands of people, the
international community still cannot agree onor even begin to
discusshow to achieve the needed cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
In Nairobi, the nations most at risk from climate change did not get
strong commitments from the world's richest nations to seriously
confront global warming. Rich nations refused to make commitments,
thus ignoring the evidence presented that demonstrated that in order
to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people, many of whom live on
the African continent, the leaders of the world's richest nations (and
biggest polluters) need to take more drastic and timely actions.
The course we must take is fairly clear. With the highest
greenhouse-gas emissions in the world, the United States must take a
leadership role in cutting emissions and changing course on energy
use. The state of California recently made commitment to cut emissions
by 80 percent by 2050, which is the type of commitment the U.S. will
need to make in order to avert what scientists call "dangerous"
To avert this dangerous change, substantial reductions in our energy
consumption and a shift in energy sources to renewable energy are
necessary. Significant gains can be made with more energy-efficient
technologies, like plug-in hybrid cars, more efficient industrial
processes and energy-efficient appliances. Incentives and policies
need to be put in place to shift energy supplies to sources like wind
power, solar power, geothermal energy and certain biofuels made from
sustainable sources. If we don't achieve these changes, the people on
the African continent will suffer the worst.
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