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Russell Pollitt, S.J.November 14, 2022
A boy stands before wind turbines at the Ashegoda Wind Farm, near Mekele in Ethiopia's Tigray region. Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu said the climate crisis is holding back African development. (CNS photo/Kumerra Gemechu, Reuters)A boy stands before wind turbines at the Ashegoda Wind Farm, near Mekele in Ethiopia's Tigray region. Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu said the climate crisis is holding back African development. (CNS photo/Kumerra Gemechu, Reuters)

The stakes are high for Africa at the United Nations COP27 meeting, the latest Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change underway this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The climate crisis is no longer a theoretical problem but a reality for millions across Africa, felt most acutely by rural communities that are dependent on reliable rainfall and temperatures for food and export crops.

A report from the World Meteorological Organization, “The State of the Climate in Africa 2021,” detailed rainfall disruption, vanishing glaciers and shrinking reservoirs and lakes because of climate change. Increasing demands on Africa’s water resources and their growing unpredictability have fueled regional conflict and migration.

Summer heatwaves in Africa’s north have caused massive economic losses. Drought in East Africa has precipitated the region’s worst food crisis in a generation, while flooding has wreaked havoc in West and Southern Africa. The misery and disruption has encouraged African leaders to become more assertive about mitigation and assistance commitments made by Western states.

“We should be clear though, that this money is not charity but compensation for the negative impact of climate largely caused by the pollution from developed nations.”

“Loss and damage” because of climate change—the idea that the worst affected emerging economies receive compensation from affluent nations that have contributed the most to global warming—has for the first time been included on the agenda.

African delegates are also demanding action on commitments made at previous COP gatherings, urging wealthy nations to honor a pledge of $100 billion yearly in aid for developing countries. That support was supposed to have begun flowing in 2020. The Chair of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, said that it is time for the rich nations that bear primary responsibility for the crisis to not just meet that pledge but to double it to $200 billion a year.

Speaking at a COP27 side event, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres agreed that wealthy countries should double down on assistance to poorer nations, calling for a new climate solidarity. He singled out the United States and China, arguing that they had a particular responsibility to respond.

According to the global economic analysis group CDP, China alone produces 23 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change; the United States, 19 percent; and the European Union, 13 percent. Africa accounts for only 3.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the smallest of any continent. But Africa is particularly vulnerable to risk and disruption from climate change.

A young Malawian climate activist speaking at COP27, Solani Mhango, said he wants to hear more on the issue. “I want to see a financial facility made available for loss and damage in Africa because Africa has special needs and circumstances,” he said. “We cannot suffer for a situation we did not create.”

Who pays for adaptation and mitigation?

Leonard Chiti, S.J., Jesuit provincial for Southern Africa, participating at Sharm El-Sheikh as a member of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund delegation, said he welcomed the addition of loss and damage to the conference agenda. “We hope that the U.N. will work out the modalities of a finance facility that can be used [to deliver climate aid to Africa],” he told America. “We need a vehicle to mobilize, disburse and account for the money that is now being pledged by developing nations.

“Loss and damage”—that the worst affected states receive compensation from nations that have contributed the most to global warming—has for the first time been included on the agenda.

“We should be clear though,” he said, “that this money is not charity but compensation for the negative impact of climate largely caused by the pollution from developed nations.”

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar participated in five sessions of “African Climate Dialogues” in anticipation of COP27. The conference members invited organizations and individuals from the Catholic Church and secular civil society stakeholders.

In a communiqué released in October, the bishops addressed several topics they felt needed attention in Egypt—“false climate solutions,” agriculture and food systems, climate finance, loss and damage and migration and displacement. The bishops called climate change a “moral outrage” and a “tragic and striking example of structural sin,” which was “facilitated by callous indifference and selfish greed.” Together with civil organizations, they issued a demand that “world leaders, business leaders and decision makers…heed to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.”

The African conference members also warned that climate justice cannot be achieved without land justice. “Natural resources and the ecosystem [are] the main sources of subsistence for the people in Africa,” the bishops said, “but many [do] not have access to land due to perverse commercial relations and ownership.”

The statement listed multinational companies it said were involved in land grabs in Congo, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Uganda and Tanzania.

Protecting African biodiversity, according to the principles laid out by Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’,” must also be part of the discussion at COP27.

Cardinal Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Kinshasa, said that the bishops are “denouncing false solutions [to the climate crisis] that deprive local communities of their livelihoods, their land rights and tenure. We join communities in mobilizing against ill-advised large-scale land acquisition investments and their struggle against land grabs.”

The African agenda

The African Group of Negotiators Expert Support on climate change, part of a commission that has been representing the common interests of African nations as a bloc since 1995, summarized the African position at COP27 along four key points.

African states urge that developed countries lift their “climate ambitions,” that is, the reduction in greenhouse gas emission and conversion to renewable energy they are willing to commit to. According to the United Nations, developing countries often lead the way in climate ambition even though developed countries are the world’s greatest contributors to climate change.

The group called for financing from the world’s advanced economies for adaptation, actions taken in preparation for the effects of climate change, which are critically needed in Africa.

And Africans believe that the continent’s unique climate vulnerability must be recognized. The continent faces adverse climate effects but has little capacity to respond.

Finally, the group demanded serious attention to Africa’s agricultural sector. Agriculture employs 50 percent of the continent’s workforce and is a primary source of export income. With little capacity to fall back on irrigation techniques, Africa’s farmers and pastoralists are especially vulnerable to the extreme weather that has accompanied climate change.

“My hope and prayer is that the voice of the voiceless will be heard, loudly, sharply, clearly and that action is taken.”

A professor of systematic theology and deputy principal of academics at Hekima University College in Nairobi, Kenya, Peter Knox, S.J., suggested that protecting African biodiversity, according to the principles laid out by Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’,” must also be part of the discussion at COP27. Father Knox believes the conference could be an expression of intergenerational and international solidarity, bringing rich and poor nations together for the global common good.

Reflecting on what is at stake in Egypt, Father Chiti said, “My hope and prayer is that the voice of the voiceless, which we are representing here in Sharm-el-Sheikh, will be heard, loudly, sharply, clearly and that action is taken.”

Father Knox noted a “glaring irony” in the discussion so far at COP27. “As African states demand that first world countries pay $100 billion for climate assistance, Uganda and Tanzania are at the same time going ahead with an East African crude oil pipeline.” The proposed pipeline will carry crude oil from the shores of Lake Albert in western Uganda to a storage facility in Tanzania.

“The governments of these countries seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it, too,” he said, since they demand climate funding yet are unwilling to keep their own fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Many people in the Chongoleani peninsula, a region at risk because of the proposed pipeline, sold their land after the government signed a deal to construct the pipeline. Now their fertile land, which had produced enough crops not only to feed its farming communities but also provide a surplus for local markets, lies bare.

The crude oil from Lake Albert is waxy and will be transported through a first-of-its-kind heated pipeline. Only a third of the reserves of 6.5 billion barrels, first discovered in 2006, has been deemed commercially viable.

Father Knox pointed out that many climate activists are concerned that the 750+-mile pipeline could imperil the sensitive biospheres of Tanzania’s national parks. They also object to the energy required to heat the pipeline.

In September European Union officials asked that the project be stopped, citing its potential to lead to human rights and ecological abuses. The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments rejected this call, arguing that the pipeline was an economic priority. Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, said African states have the right to use their fossil fuel riches to develop their economies just as much as rich nations that have done so for decades.

Some young Africans, like a 29-year-old doctor from Nigeria, Dahiru Mohammad Nashim, argue that not all solutions have to come from wealthy countries. Instead, the responsibility is on national governments in Africa to lead the charge. “Our governments need to show us how they have met their [Nationally Determined Contributions],” he said.

With reporting from Catholic News Service

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