An environmental renaissance

Africa could become a world leader in renewable energy and environmental protection. To achieve these goals we must end the reckless and sometimes criminal exploitation of Africa’s resources.

This month, Greenpeace, the world’s largest environmental campaigning organisation, launched offices in Johannesburg and Kinshasa, followed in 2009 by Dakar.
Our goals are to secure a switch to clean energy, end the destruction of forest and marine resources, and preserve the rich African heritage for the benefit of African people.

Greenpeace Africa was launched on November 13 at the Constitution Hill court house, the symbol of this nation’s struggle for justice. Greenpeace will help expand that struggle to include environmental justice throughout Africa.

Founded in 1971, Greenpeace now has offices in 40 countries.

Its campaigns have won historic victories, including bans on nuclear weapons testing, whaling in international waters and toxic dumping in oceans. Known for its independence from government and corporate influence, the organisation brings to Africa a long tradition of non-violent action, expertise and empowering people to achieve sustainable change.

Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has faced. It has struck the poorest of the world first, particularly in Africa, where over 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die as a result of it by the end of the century. Already, unpredictable rainfall, lower crop yields and soaring food prices have led to migration and conflict.

Energy production is responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, of all fossil fuels, coal is the most destructive. It is responsible for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. It also forms the basis of South Africa’s energy production, but in a world facing catastrophic climate change, this comes at too high a price.

Africa is in a position to harness its abundant natural resources, sunlight and wind, which can support a renewable energy economy. As an active member of the African Union, G77 countries and emerging economies, South Africa can lead the way for an African energy revolution, without resorting to nuclear power, that provides affordable energy, jobs and economic growth, not at the expense of Africans but for their benefit.

Africa has been exploited by the industrial nations and suffers the consequences. But rather than being victims, African nations are in a position to become leaders in the 21st century in helping to reverse dangerous climate change and protect the natural environment.

Later this month, we will bring the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise up the Congo River into Matadi in the DRC, drawing attention to the destruction of the rainforest and what it means for the 40 million people who depend on it for their survival, as well as its role in driving climate change. At times like these, with the humanitarian crisis in Goma, protecting the environment can seem peripheral. But without it, conflict will increase and Africans will get poorer.

Despite its value, the forest is threatened by industrial logging, which is supported by the World Bank as a way to develop the country and alleviate poverty. In reality, it only increases these problems. Logging titles across Central Africa cover 50 million hectares of rainforest - roughly the size of France. If allowed to continue at the projected rate, the DRC risks losing 40% of its forest within 40 years.

In December, the international community meets in Poznan, Poland, to discuss climate change. The Congo Basin rainforest is crucial to breaking further acceleration of this most urgent environmental problem. Greenpeace is calling for the adoption of an international financing mechanism, Forests for Climate, which makes forest protection more economical than its wholesale destruction.

The plunder of the forests is being duplicated by the plunder of the seas off the coast of West Africa, where marine life is being stripped away by foreign trawlers. African coastal nations have, often under duress, sold fishing rights to foreign industrial fleets in order to secure foreign currency needed to service their national debt.

In 2006, Greenpeace found that 50% of fishing vessels off Guinea were illegal. African fish end up on the dinner tables of rich countries without any economic benefit returning to Africa. This illegal, unregulated fishing must stop. There needs to be a reduction of foreign fleets, increased monitoring and the creation of marine reserves if the wealth of Africa’s waters is to be protected for the life of Africa’s people.

The destruction of our natural resources further impoverishes our nations, especially our poorest citizens. By safeguarding these resources and developing renewable energy, Africa can become a global leader in sustainability and environmental justice, for the good of both Africans and the rest of the world.

Amadou Kanoute is the executive director of Greenpeace Africa

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