Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting Serious on Climate Change

For the first time, the countries of Africa are sending the signal that they are serious about combating the impact of climate change and stand together in challenging developing countries to do more about a problem Africa did little to cause but which negatively affects it perhaps more than any other region. Africa will field a single negotiating team at the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, from December 7-18.

The Africa team, headed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, sent a shot across the bow to the developed world, warning that African nations will no longer be sidelined by their inability to speak with one voice and will no longer stand for being marginalized. “We will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position,” Zenawi said. “If need be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent.”

Indeed, the Africans must wage a strong battle for their future on climate change. The continent suffers from various climate-caused ills, including deforestation, desertification, erosion of coastlines, loss of soil fertility, rising air pollution, water pollution and drought. Some of these ills are exacerbated by human actions that African themselves must address, such as crop rotation to maintain soil quality and effective waste disposal to prevent water pollution from sewage. However, the lack of effective technology transfer makes combating air pollution more difficult for African governments, and global climate change trends are the cause of desertification and coastal erosion.

There continues to be a vigorous debate about the impact humans have in climate change. Still, when one examines the record on carbon emissions, the contribution of Africa as a whole to global carbon emissions is miniscule. China is the world leader is total carbon emissions with more than 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, followed by the United States, the former leader, at 5.9 billion metric tons. The closest African nation in carbon emissions is South Africa, with 443 million metric tons. Egypt is second with 151.6 million metric tons. Only Nigeria tops 100 metric tons (101 metric tons). Most of the rest of the Africa countries produce less than 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Africa’s total carbon emissions just about equal that of the state of Texas.

While climate change may not be completely of their making, African governments must contribute to combating its affects and not depend solely on developed governments and international financial institutions to save the day. The majority of African countries are dependent on rain-fed agricultural production. Consequently, it is imperative that Africa must guarantee its own survival through international negotiations and internal action to break the drought-flood trends that currently plague regions such as East Africa, as well as the longer term effect of climate change.

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