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For Africans, there has been no justice so far in global action against climate change, argues Chukwumerije Okereke.
There has been plenty of talk about fairness being at the heart of the international cooperative action against human-driven climate change but, from an African point of view, there is little evidence of it so far.
On the contrary, Africa has been short-changed and largely overlooked in much of the global discourse and policy development relating to climate change.
The continent has no official mention in the United Nations Convention for Climate Change or in the Kyoto Protocol — the two principal documents of the cooperative institution designed by the United Nations to tackle global climate change.
The assumption is that Africa’s interests are covered as part of the wider group of developing countries. But this is misguided so long as Africa does not command any significant influence in the developing countries’ negotiating bloc, often referred to as G77.
It is instructive, for example, that of the 708 projects registered under the Clean Development Mechanism — a supposedly equity-based policy that allows industrialised countries to fund projects in developing countries — only about 18 are located in Africa.
Most vulnerable, least culpable
Mainly because of its geography, Africa is the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and yet it has contributed the least to the anthropogenic, or human, causes.
Scientists have established that the changes in global climate being experienced by the world today are in all likelihood due to over a century of indiscriminate pumping of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by developed countries in their pursuit of economic development.
Today, for example, the average American is responsible for the emission of about 125 times more greenhouse gas than the average African.
Yet it is Africans who are suffering extended periods of drought, massive crop failure, unprecedented flooding episodes and rapid desert encroachment.
Curiously, some people continue to talk about the adverse effects of climate change as though it is something that might happen in the future.
But climate change is already claiming lives at an alarming rate in sub-Saharan Africa — while those who are most to blame continue to live in relative luxury in the advanced countries of the West.
A legacy of injustice
The truth is that, for Africa, climate change is not just another environmental issue.
Rather, it is the latest issue to surface in a long history of injustice, deplorable neglect and oppression suffered by Africa at the hands of industrialised countries, and indeed the rest of the world.
Like the slave trade and colonialism before it, the handling of climate change and its mitigation by the global community strongly indicates that the world continues to see Africa and its inhabitants as mere resources.
Where is the justice when those whose resources have been plundered, and upon whose labour the economy of the West was built, are left alone to face the drastic climatic consequences of that economic development?
Call for justice
The world will need to move fast to rectify this injustice for Africa.
First, the primary UN documents should prominently highlight Africa as a continent requiring urgent attention in the context of climate change.
Clear programmes for adaptation, technology transfer, capacity building and low-carbon economic development should then be developed — specifically targeted at addressing the African problem.
These programmes could be funded under the auspices of the UN. Contributions to such a ‘justice for carbon emissions’ fund would be determined by the carbon debt owed by developed countries as a result of past and present carbon emissions.
Africa can only hope to combat climate change effectively if it is given the political recognition it deserves on the platform of international negotiations, backed by adequate funding to put remedial plans into action on the ground.
Chukwumerije Okereke is a senior research associate at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.