This paper briefly reviews some of the emerging trends regarding global warming, especially implications for the African continent. It then explores some of the meetings and discourses taking place internationally and within Africa on global warming and climate change that aim to tackle the crisis. It critically examines if the two largest international interventions on climate change (e.g. annual conferences/ meetings such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conferences of the Parties (COP) and the Annual G8 summits) have had any effective impacts and interventions in tackling the crisis of global warming. The paper also explores weak African representation at climate change meetings in Africa, as well as domestic political interests (nationally and internationally) that weaken negotiations to combat climate change. Ways forward to strengthen meetings for African governments to move ahead in tackling the crisis are provided.
Global warming in Africa
Global warming refers to an average increase in the Earth’s temperature, which in turn causes climatic changes. A warmer Earth may lead to changes in rainfall patterns, a rise in sea level, and a wide range of impacts on plants, wildlife, and humans. The world ocean has experienced a net warming of 0.06 degrees Celsius from the sea surface to a depth of 3000 meters over the past 35-45 years. More than half of the increase in heat content has occurred in the upper 300 meters, which has warmed by 0.31 degrees Celsius. Warming is occurring in all ocean basins and at much deeper depths than previously thought. Scientists predict that the oceans are taking up the excess heat as the atmosphere warms. Unfortunately, Africa is the continent that will suffer most under climate change and global warming. The continent of Africa warmed by 0.5 degrees Celsius during the past century, and the five warmest years in Africa has all occurred since 1988. In addition to developed industrialised nations such as the United States continuing to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the penetration of multinational corporations from these developed nations into Africa due to rapid economic globalisation have also set up operations and extracted the continents fossil fuels and wealth while simultaneously emitting further greenhouse gases. The tragedy is that Africa has played virtually no role in global warming with the problem caused mainly by the economic activity of the rich northern industrial countries. For example, Africa’s carbon dioxide emissions, predominantly from the energy and transport industries, amount to approximately 650 million tonnes per annum, which is even less than Germany, which emits approximately 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The main sources are power generation from coal in South Africa (approximately 350 million tonnes) and gas flaring in the Niger Delta (approximately 100 million tonnes). The majority of African countries emit only minimal quantities of 0.1-0.3 tonnes of CO2 per inhabitant. The US produces 24% of the world’s CO2 emissions yet has only 4.5% of the world’s population.
The impacts of global warming on the African continent are widespread and have varied in African countries to experience either extreme rainfall or extreme drought. Southern Africa experienced its warmest and driest decade on record from 1985-1995. Average temperature increased almost 0.5 degrees Celsius over the past century. Extreme rains and floods have also made for a very wet summer in Africa. Since June 2007, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya have had hundreds of thousands of people uprooted from their homes, with many having died. West Africa has seen its worst floods in years since 2007, with 300,000 fleeing the earth-coloured waters of northern Ghana. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the effects of global warming are already being felt in Africa. The IPCC’s has predicted a minimum 2.5-degree centigrade increase in the continent’s temperature by 2030.
Impacts of global warming around Africa have been devastating. Cairo, Egypt witnessed heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather in 1998. Senegal has also experienced coastal flooding due to ocean warming and sea-level rise, which is causing the loss of coastal land at Rufisque, on the South Coast of Senegal. In Lake Chad, Nigeria, the surface area of the lake has decreased from 9,650 square miles (25,000 km2) in 1963 to 521 (1,350 km2) today. Modelling studies indicate the severe reduction results from a combination of reduced rainfall and increased demand for water for agricultural irrigation and other human needs. Since the 1990’s, in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda, the glacier area has decreased by about 75%. The ice caps on the Rwenzori Mountains have receded to 40 percent of their 1955 recorded cover and are set to disappear within the next two decades, affecting wildlife species and increasing the erosive power of River Semliki. The warming of mountainous areas will drastically affect wildlife species. The Mountain Gorilla is under threat. Equally endangered are the Rwenzori leopard and the Rwenzori Red Duiker, which usually live at altitudes above 3,000 meters, corresponding with colder climates. The dwindling of wildlife will affect tourism. Mt. Kenya’s largest glacier is disappearing with ninety-two percent of the Lewis Glacier having melted in the past 100 years. Ice on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, is predicted by scientists to disappear by 2020 with 82 percent of Kilimanjaro’s ice having disappeared since 1912, with about one-third melting in just the last dozen years. At this rate, all of the ice will be gone in about 15 years.
Kenya in 2001 saw the worst drought in sixty years, with over four million people affected by a severely reduced harvest, weakened livestock, and poor sanitary conditions. In the summer of 1997, Kenya also witnessed a deadly malaria outbreak. Hundreds of people died in the Kenyan highlands where the population had previously been unexposed. Around almost the same time in Tanzania, higher annual temperatures in the Usambara Mountains were linked to expanding malaria transmission. In Uganda, the highlands, which were malaria free, are now invaded by the disease. There has also been an increase in malaria cases of 43 percent in Ntungamo, 51 percent in Kabale and 135 percent in Mbarara.
In January 2000, South Africa witnessed one of the driest Decembers on record and temperatures over forty degrees fuelled extensive fires along the coast in the Western Cape Province. The intensity of the fires was exacerbated by the presence of invasive vegetation species, some of which give off 300 percent more heat when burned compared to natural vegetation. Coral reef bleaching due to global warming has already occurred in the Seychelles, Kenya, Reunion, Mauritius, Somalia, Madagascar, Maldives, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Gulf of Thailand (Siam), Andaman Islands, Malaysia, Oman, India, and Cambodia. Corals are very sensitive to temperature changes and thrive within a narrow band of heat and cold. A temperature increase of one degree Celsius can trigger them to bleach. After severe bleaching, they often die. In addition to the stress of warming ocean temperatures, oceans are becoming more acidic, thus slowing coral growth and hindering the ability of corals to build their skeletons. As the ocean takes up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, water becomes more acidic. Global warming, therefore, has the potential to impact on tourism in Africa.
(For more information on climate change and implications for Africa (i.e. conflict and human rights abuse, drought, violence over scarce resources, rising temperatures and increased diseases, food insecurity and species extinction) refer to previous Ugandan parliamentary briefing: Climate change in Africa and implications for Uganda)
Meetings and Conferences – effective or rhetorical debating?
Kyoto treaty and United Nations Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conferences
Neglecting African’s interest
Africa has been largely overlooked in much of the global discourse and policy development relating to global warming and climate change. Africa as a continent itself has no official mention in the UNFCCC or in the Kyoto Protocol, the two principal documents formulated by the United Nations to tackle global climate change. The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The treaty is aimed at stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The Kyoto Protocol the principle update has become much better known than the UNFCCC itself. With the UNFCCC Conferences of Parties (COP) meetings, the assumption is that Africa’s interests are covered as part of the wider group of developing countries. Africa’s interests, for example, were hardly noticeable in the world climate negotiations (COP13) in December 2007 in Bali. Indigenous expertise has also been neglected and normally gets little political attention. African heads of state admitted recently that the consequences of climate change increasingly need to be put onto the national and international agenda, and in Bali, they demanded a large share of the funds made available for adaptation to climate change.
In addition, while the industrialised countries have numerous experts attending meetings, African delegations are made up of one to a maximum of ten members. This has hindered African representation and presence in the numerous working and contact groups, such as in Bali and so to effectively combat climate change. If Africa is the continent that will be hardest hit due to climate changes, it would be common sense to increase African representation at meetings. Even when African governments may try to prepare for climate change meetings and debates to combat climate change, insufficient capacities remain a decisive problem. Unfortunately, there are also weaknesses in African governments making sufficient use of the African scientists’ and civil society organisations’ expertise. These two groups have now acquired more knowledge on climate policy than ever before. Unfortunately, the US one of the main contributors to climate change did not join the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 but proposed a plan with incentives for U.S. businesses to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This sets no binding agreements that would force US industry to reduce emissions, but continue with business as usual.
Climate change protests: An unfair deal
There have been numerous protests due to a lack of partnerships and strong measures to tackle climate change, with an international civil society expressing failures of climate change meetings to tackle the crisis effectively. The 12th annual global summit of the UNFCCC (COP12) in 2006 held for the first time in Africa saw 2000 people protesting outside the meeting from across Kenya. Protestors also included a group of Maasai herders, marching and demonstrating against climate change, and specifically against local impacts of drought, loss of livelihood and conflict over resources. Other concerns included climate change endangering centuries old cultures and traditional ways of life. Protestors also slammed Kenya’s environmental minister for not extracting anything meaningful from the talks and stated that delegates to the conference had failed to agree on urgent measures to address the problem of global warming.
The Annual G8 Summit
The Group of Eight (G8) is a forum for governments of eight nations of the northern hemisphere. These include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Largely echoing the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland 2005 where the summit’s outcomes were always likely to fall foul of the realpolitik of the leaders’ domestic agendas, the annual G8 summit 2007 in Heiligendamm ended in a series of meaningless statements on climate change and aid to Africa. The G8 members were also divided on political positions. The G8 has been criticised by environmental groups for failing to take serious measures to address global warming. The G8 statements are said to be non-binding, with countries like the US only ‘considering’ steps taken by other countries to reduce emissions. Not surprisingly, protests were witnessed at the summit due to frustrations to tackle global warming. Protests targeted both the G8 and capitalism. Protesters blockaded the summit for two days, forcing delegates to enter via helicopter. Protests in solidarity were also held in cities of Portland, Chicago and San Francisco. The US-led climate talks in Hawaii in January 2008 also opened amid protests pointing out Hawaii’s vulnerability to climate change.
All of these protests also signal a failure of meetings to effectively come up with concrete measures to tackle climate change. Unfortunately, G8 summit meetings have not been opportunities to generate additional momentum for solving problems at the other multilateral conferences that meet throughout the year. The G8 summit sets the stage for what needs to be done and establishes an idea of how to do it. The summit also deals with a range of complex and inter-related issues and does not specifically aim to tackle issues of climate change. The G8 continues to be sites for protests by the anti-globalisation movement opposed to the unregulated political power of multi-national corporations, and the powers exercised through trade agreements, which contribute to climate change.
Weak African representation at climate change meetings within Africa
A roundtable meeting in West Africa on sustainable finance, May 2008 hosted by the United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), conducted a panel discussion on climate change and carbon financing in Africa. The session discussed opportunities and challenges arising from climate change. Although the panel meeting agreed that climate change contributes to global warming, which impacts ecosystems and human health, no effective interventions were made to tackle the climate crisis (e.g. the need to place pressure on northern countries to reduce emissions to tackle the problem effectively, Africa’s adaptation to climate change, local economic development opportunities, renewable energy as opposed to polluting industries, etc). Participation was limited to international bankers, asset managers, government officials and academics with no input from civil society representatives. Solutions to the climate crisis were thus limited to finance opportunities to achieve adaptation and mitigation. The meeting noted that The Kyoto Protocol facilitates the transfer of finance, technology, and development to counteract climate change through the mechanisms of Joint Implementation, and the Promotion of Clean Development Mechanisms. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of carbon trading is that it continues to allow developed nations to pollute without tackling the root problems of the climate crisis. The outcome is not sustainable, as most countries will benefit from free riding on other countries emission reductions. If the aim of meetings and conferences are to reduce climatic change, then CDM’s do not present an optimistic solution.
Divergent African and international interests weaken partnerships to combat climate change at meetings
Disputes over environmental discourses such as global warming and climate change should also not be underestimated. Since discourses reflect power there are many struggles for control over discourses. Discourse is a site for struggle when people get together and stakeholders (i.e. world leaders, business) can easily slip into a rhetorical mode when debating environmental discourses with no real effective interventions to solve environmental problems.
African governments have worked through a number of regional and global institutions to strengthen their responses to climate change, having attended many conferences at the African level (e.g. African Ministerial Conference on the Environment – AMCEN, New Partnership for African Development – NEPAD) as well as international level (e.g. Kyoto Protocol and UNFCCC). Besides the weaknesses of some of these initiatives, within Africa, there may be weaknesses in a united African position at national and international meetings. Within Africa, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt play leading roles, but even within this small group, it is evident that the interests differ considerably. Only little is known in concrete terms about the divergences in political interests. South Africa assumes the function of a bridge between industrialised and developing countries and thereby plays a constructive role in the North-South negotiations on reduction commitments. The first reactions to the latest South African energy crisis, mining had to be reduced by up to 20 percent, indicate that more renewable energy will be employed. However, massive investments in nuclear energy and national coal production are being undertaken. Other African countries may also have different interests, e.g. with Uganda’s newfound oil reserves, Uganda has become a new focus for China to secure oil deals threatening US domination. The United States War on terror also provided justification for the invasion of Iraq, with oil said by many to be the reason behind the motive. All of these unknowing and divergent individual interests weakening commitments to combat climate change during meetings and conferences. Thus, participants may attend meetings and conferences with divergent individual (i.e. domestic) interests rather than more altruistic (i.e. global) interests creating unequal international climate negotiations. The fact that climate change is a global problem and that solutions require cooperation amongst all stakeholders means that transparency and fairness must be the cornerstone to tackle global warming.
As Kenyan Maasai leader of Practical Action, Sharon Loorrmeta noted in 2006 at the 12th Conference of the Parties (COP12) of the UNFCCC, referring to diplomats negotiations over what to do about global warming in Nairobi and ineffective measures in tackling the crisis,
“…Climate change tourists…You come here to look at some climate impacts and some poor people suffering, and then climb on your airplanes and head home”
Although the previous Bush administration refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, it is not until the US supports the treaty that international negotiations can move forward to really tackle global warming and impacts on Africa. At the US climate meeting in Montreal, 2005, the US agreed to launch a ‘dialogue’ on climate change that would specifically not involve negotiations and partnerships. However, newly elected president Barak Obama did pledge to act on climate change, and after eight years of American obstructionism, “re-engage” with the international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, Obama has since shifted his position in global warming and will not commit the US to meet the emissions target, a cut to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Instead, his goal is to get back down to 1990 levels by 2020. Obama has since embraced the coal industry as part of his quest for state wide office. When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he was flanked by mineworkers to proclaim that “there’s always going to be a role for coal” in Illinois. Employees of coal companies and electric utilities contributed $539,597 to Obama’s U.S. Senate and presidential campaign. Nevertheless, for any solution to climatic change, the US needs to be part of the talks and an equal partner to avoid impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, continued domestic US interest may see further challenges between world leaders in being able to effectively combat climate change and shape political discourse at meetings.
Options for governments to consider strengthening meetings:
Ways forward to tackle global warming
African nations must not be swayed by developed countries like Australia, the US and Japan to name a few who are normally stronger on not committing to reduce emission in their own countries due to domestic interest, and who normally push for non-binding agreements at meetings. Under the Kyoto Protocol, only developed countries are legally obliged to reduce their emissions. If climate change is to be truly tackled African nations who suffer the most from climatic change need to force heavily industrialised nations to commit to emission reductions. Developing countries must therefore strongly push for new binding commitments at meetings and should not be swayed to implement CDM’s which present no real solution to the climate crisis.
African governments must push developed nations to address problems of adaptation to climate change in Africa and bring local expertise to meetings. Africa is likely to suffer some of the greatest impacts of climate change despite its people having contributed among the least to the human impact on climate. At meetings it is essential that African countries push for concrete strategies that could practically help learn more about what “adaptation” means, and how to strengthen local capacity to cope in ways which brings positive rewards to local people. For this governments need to also include civil society and external experts in meetings and who have built up a wealth of knowledge on adaptation techniques and local livelihood strategies. Rather than government excluding representation, NGOs and other civil society groups can play a major role to support local action and bring knowledge to meetings by way of alternative expertise. Local representation and expertise must be included in climate change meetings.
African nations must push for renewable energy and financial assistance from developed nations at meetings to tackle climate change. African countries (and especially the developing countries under the Group of 77 and China) must push for rich countries to meet their commitment, made 16 years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, with the signing of the UNFCCC to get finance and technology to the poorer countries, enabling them to act against climate change. The promised help has not yet materialised. Developing countries cannot take climate action and at the same time maintain economic development without this assistance, so finance and renewable technology must be pushed for at meetings by African leaders and civil society. The best way of stopping global warming is to gradually reduce the amount of coal and other non-renewable energy sources that we burn. The energy sector (in both developed and developing nations) needs to adopt renewable sources of power such as the use of biomass, methane and solid waste as fuel, solar power, wind power, geothermal energy and wave power. This multi-faceted approach will allow each region to meet its own power needs, with surplus energy fed back into the power grid and coal left safely in the ground. Projects fixated on carbon trading are protecting the market system of capitalism and are profit driven that serve the interest of a few. Carbon trading encourages the industries most dependent on coal, oil and gas to delay shifting away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed nations. There is little incentive for redefining production processes and questioning the need for such facilities but rather a continuation of pollution via the right to pollute. The apathy of some African authorities such as in Nigeria to implement effective solutions to tackle global warming is due to government corruption and global economic opportunities (i.e. via oil infrastructure and resources). African nations need to focus on local economic development at meetings that will help the continent adapt to climate change. This will also require stemming out greed, corruption and self interested leaders.
Finally, all stakeholders need to move away from continued ‘talk-shops’ that are rhetorical in nature to actually implement positive changes (as above) that will effectively tackle global warming. Time frames must be added to meeting agreements and implemented effectively. However, this will require co-operation and equal partnerships to combat the crisis of climate change. Nation states (especially developed countries) will need to move beyond domestic interest for national profits and power, to implement internal procedures to reduce emissions, and agree to provide the necessary support at meetings to help the African continent adapt to climate change. It will be up to African governments to agree on a common framework to place pressure on the international world leaders at gatherings.
Leonard, L (2009) Emerging trends in Global Warming: Any effective interventions in place or just rhetoric debates/workshops/seminars? Ugandan Parliamentary briefing, Royal African Society, United Kingdom, 16 February.