Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA) / March 21, 2023 – Solidarity with the global climate strike, youth, civil society, and affected communities are marching in Cape Town for system change to address the need for energy, water, housing, and food access for all. The groups are marching under the theme ‘Don’t Gas Africa’ and will be handing over a memorandum to Parliament. Africa, while contributing just 3.8 percent of the globe’s historical carbon emissions, is heavily impacted by climate change, the writer says.
By Kim Heller
This year’s United Nations’ climate change conference, (COP28), which will take place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023, is set to be a big affair. Britain’s King Charles lll is giving the opening address and Pope Francis will be in attendance. This will be the first time in its twenty-eighth-year history that the UN’s annual climate change conference will be graced by a Pope.
COP28 is the place to be for world leaders, environmental experts, and authorities. The United Nations’ annual conference provides a world class stage for global policy making on the burning question of climate change mitigation. Top of the COP28 agenda will be a universal recommitment to limiting long-term global temperature rises to 1.5°C. This in accord with the historic Paris Agreement.
Critical drives at the conference will be to speed up the transition to clean energy sources, and to advance the promised financial support for climate change programmes, from rich “industrialised” nations to poorer countries. This is likely to lead to some heated conversations, especially on wedding down the financial commitments from major developed countries. COP28 UAE [United Arab Emirates] has been described as a milestone moment, taking place at a historical juncture where climate change is causing untold damage on many parts of the world.
In September 2023, Libya experienced titanic floods that killed over 4,300 people. Around the same time, unprecedented wildfires in Greek caused widespread death and devastation. The Greece infernos were described as the ‘largest wildfire ever recorded in EU’. In Africa, the damaging consequences of climate change add to the great burden of everyday survival.
While the industrialised world, emits the lion’s share of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, it is the less developed, and poorest nations that are most negatively impacted. Africa, while contributing just 3.8 percent of the globe’s historical carbon emissions, is heavily impacted by climate change.
A report by the World Meteorological Organisation, the State of Climate in Africa, showed that climate change has caused drought, floods, agriculture damage, rising oceans and erosion in Africa. East Africa has had to endure lengthy periods of catastrophic droughts over recent years, while in West Africa rising sea levels are eroding the indigenous environment and playing havoc with people’s lives and livelihoods.
In September 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of how the recent floods in South Africa “serve as a stark reminder of the acute vulnerability of developing African countries to the ravages of climate change”. Despite being the least culpable for global warming, Africa is experiencing a faster rate of warming than the rest of the world, Ramaphosa said.
South Africa is, however, the highest emitter of carbon in Africa and the 12th highest worldwide, and there is growing pressure on South Africa to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Ramaphosa has spoken of how the promised financial support from wealthy countries to vulnerable countries for climate adaptation has not materialised “at the necessary scale and urgency that is needed”.
In September 2023, the Africa Climate Change Summit was held in Kenya. The Summit attracted leaders, diplomats, and economic and environmental experts from across the Continent, including twenty African Presidents. This was the first time such a gathering had taken place. A joint initiative between the Kenyan government and the African Union, the summit explored renewable energy, ending energy poverty in Africa, green industrialisation, mining, land issues, sustainable infrastructure, and climate funding considerations.
The summit delegates developed a document, The Nairobi Declaration, which will serve as “a basis for Africa’s common position” ahead of COP28. Among the recommendations of The Nairobi Declaration is for a global tax regime which would help fund climate change programmes across the world, but particularly in Africa.
A 2022 United Nations report found that the pandemic of climate change is so severe that the world is running out of time to adapt. The report sets out how almost half of the global population is “highly vulnerable” to climate impacts.
Andrew Freedman, a senior Climate Reporter for Axios, writes on how the report shows that we are past the point where “minor, marginal, reactive or incremental changes” will adequately prepare society for the climate impacts that are in store. Instead, the report calls for larger-scale shifts “in most aspects of society” to reduce climate risks and enhance resilience, among other goals.
The UN report points to some “irreversible losses” including critical ecosystems, coastal wetlands, and rain forests and warns how global warming is exacerbating humanitarian and food security crises. To keep global warming at 1.5°C is an absolute must. What is of great concern is that a recent technical report shows that the world was “not on track” to slow global warming to 1.5°C.
All hopes are now wrapped up in Cop28. Johan Rockstrom, director for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Sunniva Rose of The National UAE, that it is the last chance to make “credible commitments to start bending the curve on fossil fuel-based emissions…. we need to have credible outcomes in Dubai to start reducing emissions from oil, coal, and gas”.
Rockstrom urged major economic powers such as the US, India, China, and the EU to “step up” to tackle the climate crisis. Rockman said that limiting global warming to 1.5°C was non-negotiable. “It’s a physical limit where life would cross a number of tipping points that would undermine livelihoods for many people around the world,” he said.
It appears as if performance on Paris Agreement goals is lagging. Just this week, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Barbara Creecy, said that at COP28, South Africa will be asking for clearer targets and increased funding from rich countries to help deal with the devastating climate impacts.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has consistently spoken passionately about the devastation caused by climate change. He has described the recent UN report as an “Atlas of human suffering” and warned how close to “half of humanity is living in the danger zone”. He has spoken of how we are entering into “an era of global boiling”. We should all be worried.
The climate change conference takes place amidst the doom and devastation of the Israel Palestine conflict, where a real-time humanitarian crisis looms large across Gaza and surrounds. It is a horrific backdrop for such a conference. A grim reminder that the world is indeed in meltdown.
Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.