UN and Africa: Combating Climate Change

On September 16, the U N  D e p u t y Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed in a message

to the Energy Action Day opening session noted that against the backdrop of the global h e a l t h e m e r g e n c y , t h e Intergovernmental Panel on C l i m a t e C h a n g e h a s demonstrated that the climate crisis is speeding up at an alarming rate.

“Decarbonization of energy systems is the single most crucial element of the solution. In fact, it is the only way to keep global heating within the limit of 1.5 degrees and avoid climate catastrophe,” Mohammed asserted.

Climate change is referred to as extended shifts in temperatures and weather patterns which could be through nature or human actions . However, burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal by humans has been the major cause of change in climate.

Climate change is not just talking about warmer temperature, as many want to think and believe. It is more than that. It includes fallouts of increasing temperature or global warming.

Since what happens on the earth is inter-connected, events definitely affect one another, as such what climate change causes a r e p a r t o f t h e w h o l e phenomenon. These include, flooding, scarcity of water, severe droughts, fire outbreaks, severe storms, and rising sea levels.

Africa as a continent is still sinking in the cesspool as the World Food Programme, a United Nations based charity, in a June 2021 report, notes that climate change will predictably increase the number of under-nourished children below five years old by an additional 2.5 million in Sub – Saharan Africa by 2050.

While donating €150,000 to support people on the frontline of climate crisis in Africa, the Greta Thunberg Foundation observes that the continent is one of the most vulnerable regions for the impacts of the crisis, as heatwaves, droughts, and floods intensify with rising global temperatures . The Foundation identifies sub-Saharan Africa as a region experiencing climate extremes.

Meles Zenawi, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the African Union’s chief negotiator at the UN International Climate C h a n g e C o n f e r e n c e i n Copenhagen, December 2009).

“Every one of us knows that Africa has contributed virtually nothing to global warming, but has been hit first and hardest’’

The fragility of our eco-system has meant that for Africans, the damage of climate change is not something that could happen in the future.

It is already here with us, sowing misery and death across the land. Africa is indeed paying with the misery and death of its people for the wealth and well-being that was created in the developed countries through carbon-intensive development. That is fundamentally unjust”.

It is no news that Zenawi succinctly summed up the pathetic dilemma of African countries and the hapless situation of climate change and its effects on the continent.

What may be news is the fact that the situation about 12 years later has however degenerated to a crisis level for the continent and the world.

The world has never had it so bad as in recent years on the issue of climate change. According to re p o r t s , g re e n h o u s e g a s concentrations which continue to rise, are at their highest levels in two million years.

Consequently, the earth is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s. The decade spanning the years 2011 to 2020 has been recorded to be the warmest in the history of mankind.

Scientists also corroborate the continental calamity by asserting that the climate crisis is causing more extreme floods and droughts in Africa. Countries in Africa including Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia have been hit by heavy floods among other climate catastrophes.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari while addressing the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, affirms that the impact of climate change is already in Nigeria, manifesting in various ways including causing conflicts, food insecurity, drying up of lakes; loss of livelihood, and youth migration.

“Nigeria believes that protecting our planet and its biodiversity and climate are important to our collective survival. That is why, we are working on a transition to low carbon economy, consistent with achieving the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals,” Buhari said.

Reports from South Sudan shows that the flooding which affected over a million people in 2020 has made it extremely difficult for most people to cope with the present hunger crisis in that country. So far in 2021, over 90,000 people have been affected by flooding.

“Floods have destroyed all my sorghum and there will be nothing for me and the children for a very long time,” farmer Deng Aleng, from the northern administrative area of Ruweng lamented while speaking with a journalist.

Reports from Ghana on the effects of climate change indicate that the drier northern areas of the country have warmed at a more rapid rate than the south. The country has experienced a 1.0°C. increase in temperature since 1960.

In 2019, drought in Africa reportedly affected 45 million people in 14 countries. Climate change is one of the major causes of the droughts and floodings experienced on the continent. It affects hundreds of millions of people leading to hunger and deaths.

Flooding in Nigeria has paralyzed economic activity in several states and the financial hub, Lagos, according to Climate Scorecard Nigeria’s Country Manager, Peter Hansen in his October 2021 report.

According to the report, flooding affected over two million people in Nigeria in 2020. It also led to the death of 69 individuals. The previous year, 2019 witnessed 158 deaths with more than 200,000 victims across the country. Flooding is reported to be causing as much as 4 billion US dollars loss to the Nigerian economy every year.

Some of the country’s worst flooding incidents to date have been recorded in Niger, Jigawa, Bauchi, and Adamawa states. But, the worst is yet to come as experts and climate related agencies have predicted that the worst floods should be expected from October.

T h e S o u t h e r n A f r i c a n Development Community (SADC) region also suffers from the climate change devastation. SADC is a regional economic community comprising 16 member countries: Angola, B o t s w a n a , C o m o r o s , Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In the region, climate change associated extreme weather events are affecting livelihoods, economies and the environment in turn, thus exacerbating existing vulnerabilities in the region, according to a report by the World Food Programme.

Thus, in 2019, while Cyclone Idai was the deadliest storm to hit Mozambique in terms of deaths recorded, Cyclone Kenneth was the second Category 4 storm ever to strike the country, and was together with Eline, the strongest ever to hit mainland Africa.

Southern Africa faced its worst drought in 35 years during the 2016 El Nino period. After failed 2018 – 2019 rains, Zambia faced one of its worst droughts in decades. Southern Madagascar also witnessed severe drought early in the first half of 2021 and this drove an estimated 35 million people to the precipice of survival.

It is ironic that though Africa contributes a miserly donation to the global calamity of climate change, just about 2 to 3 percent of global emissions, yet it remains, disproportionately; the most vulnerable region in the world.

Africa’s vulnerability is powered by the prevailing low levels of socio-economic growth on the continent. Looking at the situation closely, climate change is global phenomenon affecting all countries one way or the other.

H o w e v e r, t h e p o o r a r e disproportionately vulnerable to its effects because they lack the resources to afford goods and services they need to protect themselves and recover from the worst effects of the changing climate.

This is the situation in Africa w h e r e d a t a f r o m t h e i n t e r n a t i o n a l o u t f i t , DevelopmentAid; show that 490 million people or 36 percent of the continent’s population live in extreme poverty presently.

In spite of the foregoing, the United Nations through its agencies has not neglected Africa in the fight to eliminate or reduce the effects of climate change. In this aspect, United Nations E nv i ro n m e n t P rog r a m m e (UNEP) has gone some distance to support the continent.

In alleviating the problem, UNEP Africa office’s climate change activities focus on supporting countries to entrench a structure for implementing their climate action commitments – popularly referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – in a way capable of meeting leading socio-economic priorities such as, creation of i n c o m e a n d e n t e r p r i s e opportunities for the youth, food s e c u r i t y a n d e c o n o m i c expansion.

This is made possible through driving climate and environment a c t i o n a s a n i n v e s t m e n t opportunity and a source of socio-economic improvement that is championed in high level member countries policy forums like the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA).

This strategy is supported by science and results in knowledge for policy as well as project actions, already tested and validated in other countries. In this approach, mitigation and adaptation are considered as complementary, with mitigation interventions mainly targeting clean energy aligned to power adaptation mostly in land-based actions like agriculture.

This tactic is opposed to classical approaches where mitigation and adaptation actions are considered largely in stand-alone silos. The approach is in agreement with Articles 7 and 9 of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which stipulate that “parity b e t w e e n m i t i g a t i o n a n d adaptation” is realistically achieved on the continent.

Major areas of support or interventions include project actions to inform and validate climate action channels that maximize environmental and socio-economic benefits that are of long term benefits. Project actions are undertaken to test concepts and demonstrate valid trajectories that countries can invest in so as to drive their climate actions in a manner that unlocks leading socio-economic priorities.

Among the key projects are the EU-UNEP Africa Low Emissions Development Project in which UNEP worked with seven co u nt r i e s to d e m o n s t rate e m p i r i c a l l y h o w N D C s i m p l e m e n t a t i o n t h r o ug h amalgamating mitigation and adaptation actions can unlock both climate and environmental benefits and socio-economic dividends, simultaneously.

This work also shows countries how they can successfully use analytical tools to forecast the long-term climate (change) and socio-economic impacts of alternative NDCs implementation pathways. Subsequently, through this means, the countries will e n s u re p o l i c i e s p r i o r i t i s e investment areas that maximise both climate and socio-economic benefits for their people.

Applying this work in just seven countries, results were then used to call for a continental-wide shift at the highest level of continental environmental policy– the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.

Subsequently, the shift of NDCs implementation policy approaches towards maximising climate and s o c i o – e c o n o m i c b e n e f i t s s i m u l t a n e o u s l y, c a t a l y s e d continental wide demand – driven transition to low emissions development trajectories.

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