On September 14, leaders from nations across Africa came together in a virtual event to discuss how to plan for the increasingly serious dangers global heating poses for their continent.
A dehydrated cow in Kenya during the continued extreme drought in the country, in September 2021. Photo: Roncliff Odit, Via Twitter
While Africa produces the least amount of carbon emissions for any continent, it suffers well out of proportion from the impacts of emissions the rest of the world has dumped into the atmosphere over the last 150 years.
Increased torrential rains and hurricane conditions along the coasts caused by global heating have contributed to flash floods and widespread infrastructure damage in the country. Over time, these are also getting worse.
In 2019, according to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the continent experienced 56 extreme weather events, up from 45 the previous year. Besides the increase in raw numbers, the energy and damage produced by each such event is also going up every year.
Those 56 events spanned 19 countries and affected 16.6 million people.
13 million of the people affected by those events were centered in just five countries: Kenya, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
High heat and drought is another part of the problem, resulting in crop damage and lack of water for agriculture, sanitation, bathing, cooking, and drinking. Hydroelectric power is also an area of high risk now that water levels are down in lakes and rivers which feed the dams that produce the energy.
All this comes from a continent which together accounts for just 3% of the world’s carbon emissions.
The conference demonstrates how despite this inequity, Africa is not waiting for others to solve its climate crisis problems for it, or to spend too much time blaming the rest of the planet for its problems.
Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo emphasized that the impacts of the climate crisis on Africa were only going to be worse in the future. With that in mind, he emphasized how all countries need to begin now to prepare future economic growth plans for their countries which build in consideration of how global heating will affect those plans.
“Our first obligation for us and for African countries must always be to ensure the well-being of our people through access to development services, including electricity, health care, education, safe jobs and a safe environment, including access to clean cooking fuels,” he said. “We must prioritise solutions that align the development and climate agenda, and that is absolutely important.”
Ghana, located in western Africa, may have been less affected by extreme weather than East African nations, brought to the conference a perspective showing that while the impact of global heating may be different for them, it is nonetheless still serious.
“The harsh and deteriorating climate conditions in northern Ghana undoubtedly energized region-growing food insecurity and seasonal north-to-south migration. And besides, increasing of floods and protracted drought lead to displacement of people,” said Kwaku Afriyie, Ghana’s environment minister, at the event. “Statistics show that over the last few years, there has been a new internal displacement which has occurred in Ghana due to climate-induced disasters and even beyond our borders,” he said.
Hannah Tetteh, the United Nations special representative to the African Union, offered praise to the group for at least beginning the tough dialogue needed to find ways to adapt to the changes caused by the climate crisis, and to mitigate for its effects. She also strongly urged Africa’s community to improve data and best practices sharing among the nations, and to work more closely together to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis.
“The challenge has not been that we haven’t developed yet these structures,” she said. “The challenge has been we have not utilized them yet effectively, and that goes to issues of national sovereignty and the unwillingness of member states to have others, as it were, take an active interest and maybe recommend the things that need to be done to respond to a particular crisis. And if we recognize we are all in this together, then that certainly must change,” she said.