The United Nations’ Africa Climate Week begins on Monday in Libreville, Gabon, with more than 1,000 participants expected to tackle the climate emergency as it intensifies throughout the continent.
With severe drought, raging floods, and extreme weather bearing down on Africa’s 54 nations, the five-day meeting will focus on the major elements required to lessen the dangerous effects of the rapidly changing climate.
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“Climate week will explore resilience to climate risks, the transition to a low-emission economy, and environmental protection,” says the UN.
Below are five things to know about the climate emergency as it affects the African countries that are the least responsible for the crisis, but are set to pay the highest price.
The consequences of severe drought for Ethiopia, Somalia, and parts of Kenya continue to worsen.
Somalia risks another famine following one a decade ago that killed hundreds of thousands of people. About 250,000 people died of hunger in the country, half of them children, between 2010 and 2012.
“In Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, we are on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” said Guleid Artan, director of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre, the World Meteorological Organization’s regional climate centre for East Africa, last week.
More than 80 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda are currently estimated to be food insecure.
The number of drought-hit people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia without reliable access to safe water rose from 9.5 million in February to 16.2 million in July.
Across the Sahel region, water availability has dropped more than 40 percent over the last 20 years because of climate change and other factors.
“Imagine having to choose between buying bread or buying water for a hungry, thirsty child who is already sick, or between watching your child suffer from extreme thirst or letting them drink contaminated water that can cause killer diseases,” said Catherine Russell, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Families across drought-impacted regions are being forced into impossible choices.”
In April, South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province suffered its worst-ever flooding and landslides that killed 450 people, displaced tens of thousands, and levelled 12,000 homes.
The floodwaters were the strongest to have struck KwaZulu-Natal in recent memory and were triggered by torrential rains. Dozens of people went missing in the southeastern coastal region.
Survivors were left stranded without drinking water for nearly two weeks as heavy rains inflicted damage worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The loss of life, destruction of homes, the damage to the physical infrastructure … make this natural disaster one of the worst ever in recorded history of our province,” said Sihle Zikalala, the province’s premier, at the time.
About 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and 19 million in North Africa could become internal migrants by 2050 due to devastating climate shocks such as powerful storms, heatwaves and drought, and major flooding, according to the World Bank.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been identified as the most vulnerable region because of desertification, fragile coastlines, and the population’s dependence on agriculture.
Recent research shows that in West Africa, the number of potentially lethal heat days will reach 100 to 250 per year at a 2.5C rise in temperatures – the current projection by 2100.
The movement of “climate refugees” has already begun on the continent. Angola has experienced its worst drought in the past 40 years, forcing thousands of people into neighbouring Namibia after failed harvests and rising food prices worsened food shortages across the country’s south.
Africa pays for Western emissions
The nations of Africa only contribute about four percent to global greenhouse emissions.
While Africa has contributed the least to hydrocarbon emissions historically, climate change threatens to expose up to 118 million of the poorest Africans to major drought, massive floods and extreme heat by 2030.
The 2015 Paris climate treaty highlighted that since the Industrial Revolution, it has overwhelmingly been wealthy nations in Europe and North America that caused the current climate emergency by burning massive amounts of fossil fuels.
The nations of the Global South, meanwhile, only account for about 20 percent of emissions pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere since the 1800s.
The 10 nations most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2022 Forum Report (PDF).
“Although the continent contributes least to global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, it is bearing a disproportionate share of the impact,” wrote Carolyn Logan, director of analysis for Afrobarometer, last week.
“While three-quarters of African countries have achieved the climate-action targets set out under UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 [SDG13]), no country in North America or the European Union has done the same.”
Cash for adaptation and mitigation
An estimated $850bn per year is needed from rich countries for poorer ones to decarbonise their economies.
Rich nations agreed a decade ago to support developing ones with $100bn per year to build defences to protect them from the ravages of climate change, and to transform their economies to run on green energy.
Forty-eight African countries have requested about $1.2 trillion of international financial support by 2030 to implement their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to curb emissions and temperature rises, according to the International Energy Agency.
Only a fraction of that money, however, has been made available so far as rich countries failed to meet their $100bn-a-year pledge.
The leaders of developing nations, including many in Africa, remain reluctant to curtail fossil-fuel burning until they receive money and assurances for both climate adaptation measures and renewable energy development.
For African leaders, securing funds for climate adaptation is a major priority. Finance for projects such as sea walls, drought-resistant infrastructure, and early warning systems for extreme weather is on the agenda.
At African Climate Week, government officials are expected to lobby European Union and other Western envoys to provide well-financed initiatives for adaptation action, green technologies, and carbon credit schemes.
It is clear the leaders of EU countries, the United States, Canada and other wealthy nations must ensure larger financial commitments to those of the Global South.