Rio+20: A mirage for Africa?
With a population of a little over one billion (according to the UNFPA report) Africa is certainly one of the continents that is faced with huge challenges of under-development, poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, water scarcity, pollution and land degradation. Just coming from the nets of colonialism the continent is also challenged by unending political turbulences and unstable democracies.
While it was still building structures to tackle poverty, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, maternal and infant mortality under low performing economies, another difficult challenge had hit the poor region in the form of climate change and global warming.
Across Africa, the weather has changed. The cool breeze that flew from snowy caps of mountain Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, is no more, and the waters in Lake Chad, Tanganyika and River Nile are retreating. Parts of the region, particularly the horns of Africa, are hit by the worst drought ever bringing to life its associated problems of severe food scarcity, water crisis, malnutrition, conflict, migration, unemployment and displacement and deaths of people.
The region, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, has also been exposed to direct sunlight as a result of continuous depleting of ozone layer caused by the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere mostly by the industrial nations. Unpredicted weather patterns, excessive flooding, and long droughts are being recorded.
“Africa as a continent is very vulnerable to the effects of the climate change. It has been said over and over again, Africa also has the least capacity and ability to cope with the problems of climate change,” said Nigeria’s minister of environment, Halima Tayo-Alao who headed the Africa negotiation team at the United Nations (UN) financed climate change conference held in Bali, Indonesia.
Though the poor continent is said to have contributed the least to the cause of climate change, it was however bearing the brunt of global warming compounding the existing problems of poverty, rural migration, conflict, unemployment, disease, and natural disasters such as flood and drought.
The environmental scientists including UN humanitarian organisations working in Africa also pointed out that Africa is the most vulnerable continent and the weakest to adapt to the effects of climate change. While scientists advised the leadership of the continent to take action to reduce their energy consumption and develop sustainable environmental policies to protect the environment, it was however unable to do so because it is constrained by the low performing economies unable to take costly actions.
Irrespective of visible evidence showing Africa as being the worst affected region, world leaders are closing their eyes to the eminent disaster that will soon get them rushing to Africa to manage the situation with aid.
The forests in Africa are endangered without the alternative energy sources.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, at least one in three people living in Sub-Saharan Africa is constantly hungry. The region is also hardest hit by extreme poverty, and about 75 per cent of people live on less than a dollar a day.
The African continent has degenerated from abundance of food to extreme hunger and starvation, malnutrition and increased maternal and infant deaths. The problems in Africa are unending.
The African continent had seen significant changes in weather patterns over the years now leading to unreliable farming seasons and low water supplies. African agriculture is performing poorly because of erratic and unpredicted weather threatening food security.
The changes in weather patterns according to scientists are caused by climate change. The recent food and water crisis in the Horn of Africa is a clear example of how Africa was suffering from the brunt of climate change and deserves world attention.
With the advancement of climate change, Africa will face the greatest nightmare for the future of its people, the catastrophe that will unleash the worse hardship in the history of humankind.
The flood of crises that will confront the world’s poorest continent in the near future will compound the existing problems of food insecurity, water crisis, droughts, floods, diseases, maternal and infant mortality, human insecurity, migration and unending conflict over resources among other things. The livelihoods of African poor, particularly women and children, are threatened and will deteriorate steadily if no coping mechanism is provided. The livelihoods of African people are threatened today more than 20 years ago because of climate change.
Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges to the future economic development of Africa. It will stretch resources, destabilise Africa’s already fragile governance systems, bring protracted conflicts, youth migration and worsen water scarcity.
The continent has begun to witness a serious water crisis. The poor rural women in Ghana, for example, have walked long distances in the search for unsafe, unclean and muddy water as dams and river bodies were drying up during the dry seasons. “Climate change will not only destabilize the existing structures in the fight against poverty, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, food insecurity it will provoke conflicts over resources and migration and create city slums’ congestion,” according to Abu Iddrisu, the Northern Ghana Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
African leaders unsuccessfully argued for the increase in aid to the region during the Bali climate conference and sustainable funding for development during COP16 and COP17.
Though COP17 established the Green Fund to help vulnerable states fight climate change, it was, however, not clear about the sources of funding. This left the poor and struggling states in more miserable conditions in the fight against climate change.
IPCC has given a frightening report of extreme events, including floods and droughts which, the report says, are becoming increasingly frequent and severe. It indicated that certain regions of Africa are more prone to such extreme events than others. It is probable that the increased frequency of recorded disasters is a result of a combination of climatic change and socio-economic and demographic changes, the report said.
With this frightening report by the IPCC, the Rio+20 Earth summit will need to focus on Africa’s sustainable development and provide strategic financial support to the region to adapt to and mitigate the effects of the climate change on livelihoods.
Rio+20 can support Africa to achieve high political recognition on the international negotiations level by allocating resources appropriately and supporting the continent to ensure food, energy and security. Rio+20 must also focus on developing long-term climate risk management and adaptation strategies for Africa.
This will require good governance; access to technology; investment in innovation; the involvement and commitment of all segments of society; and international, national and regional cooperation.
FAO pointed out that climate-proof development implies extra costs over and above business as usual and a need to assess and address climate risks in national development programmes.
This means that additional resources are required. Who will provide them, under what mechanisms and in what timeframe are the key questions that Rio+20 might try to provide with some satisfactory answers.
The Earth Summit must provide windows of hope for Africa’s future development by supporting sustainable development frameworks and coping strategies, mitigation and adaptation measures to the continent. The Rio+20 cannot be described as successful if it fails to address sustainable development in Africa and provides opportunity to the continent future energy, and environmental development.
Africa needs nothing more than green economies, advanced technology, sustainable development policy frameworks that promote sustainable investment and renewable energy, good governance and unshakeable democracies.
In order to ensure sustainable development while containing the impact of climate risks, Rio+20 should help Africa develop a sustainable policy framework that creates social inclusion, protection, human security, disaster risk reduction, environmental governance or protection. The framework should encourage sustainable funding and increase aid to the poor continent, establishment of micro finance schemes to support women and children (vulnerable class).
This policy framework should also incorporate economic costs and define in clear terms benefits deriving from implementation of environmental, social, economic and renewable energy policies to the continent.