Copenhagen is a disaster for Africa

Climate change is frequently a matter of life and death for many Africans. From whatever angle you look at it, the climate change ”deal” that was bulldozed through by rich nations at the Copenhagen climate conference was a disaster for Africa.

Compared with rich nations who dictated the terms of the ”deal”, African countries contribute the least to greenhouse emissions. However, they suffer the consequences the most. African nations will again disproportionally feel the pinch of this deal.

All the PR coming thick and fast from the architects of the Copenhagen deal will not ease the real life impact of climate change on Africa: water shortages, hunger and the possible disappearance of entire island states at risk of being submerged because of rising sea levels.

In September this year, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation warned that poor crops, forced migration and conflict will drive millions more people to starvation across the continent. Food production has been plummeting across Africa because of increasingly irregular rainfall. In Uganda, this year the country will post its fourth successive poor harvest of first season crops. In countries such as Somalia, half of the population now depends on food aid.

Many nomadic peoples in East Africa are in a battle for survival because of increasingly severe and frequent droughts. New conflicts are arising in places such as Uganda, northern Kenya and Ethiopia, this time over access to increasingly rapidly diminishing water sources.

The World Bank, in its April 2009 report Sea-level rise and storm surges: a comparative analysis of impacts in developing countries, in which it compared population, economic and elevation maps to analyse countries most at risk from rising sea levels, identified 10 African countries as the most vulnerable to storm surges. Islands are particularly at risk: the Seychelles fear that they may lose 60% of their land because of rising sea levels.

In south-western Uganda, temperatures have risen so much that there is now a real danger of the return of old pests such as malaria, and the outbreak of new ones. Staple crops such soya and cassava are at risk.

It is not surprising then that countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Ghana rejected the final Copenhagen conference document in the strongest terms possible. Lumumba Di-Aping, the lead Sudanese negotiator, said the deal was ”devoid of any sense of responsibility or morality”.

Many Africans were convinced the final text was cobbled together by rich nations long before the start of the conference. The role of Africans was to turn up, rubber-stamp it and then appear, smiling, next to leaders of the rich countries as props at the photo shoots later. This suspicion was confirmed at the start of the conference when a leaked Danish document proposed industrial nations cut fewer emissions, while the developing world should face tougher limits on greenhouse gases. This outraged African negotiators and activists such that many stormed out of the meeting room.

The final ”deal”, signed by 28 countries, kicked aside a UN-brokered deal that was more inclusive, financially more generous and more sensitive to the needs of African and developing countries — and which was backed by Africans. In Copenhagen, industrial nations have again successfully managed to divide African and developing countries, by co-opting the bigger developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa, in private deals.

Such co-opting often starts with the demonising of these countries: those who insist on a fair deal are being mercilessly portrayed as stubborn obstacles in the march for a greener future, or as much to blame for global problems as industrial nations, and therefore should make the same compromises — and pay for it also. Of course, the big developing countries — China, India, Brazil and South Africa — are not blameless when it comes to polluting the earth.

Industrial nations also isolated certain African nations into allying with them, either by promising or withdrawing future aid. That is why Sudan and Ethiopia, among the African countries that stand to lose the most from this bad deal, were there among those signing the accord, although they afterwards attacked it as unfair.

African countries lack the money and access to technology — restricted by patent laws in industrial nations — to counter the effects of climate change, or to build green economies. The offer of $100-billion a year by 2020 to be financed by governments and the private sector not only ridiculously lacks the detail, it is simply inadequate. The big fear among African nations is that the financial mathematics to finance the deal is all a con: industrial dangers will just transfer existing aid commitments to this fund, as they did before. It is not surprising that the deal is rather vague on just how the private sector is going to partially finance African and developing countries’ efforts to overcome the effects of climate change — as it proposes.

It is imperative that African and developing countries understand that progressive efforts to tackle climate change in Africa and the developing world are unlikely to happen, unless there is also a parallel reform of the global political, trade and finance rules.

Yet Africans can take some good also from this climate talk failure. In spite of the divide-and-rule tactics of industrial nations, there are positive signs that African countries may yet be able to unite in seeking solutions to important global problems that affect them. Africans need such a genuine common union.

Civil society groups in these countries will have to provide the intellectual leadership that is lacking among the political leaders. The political leaders who led the African delegations, many of them ruling their own countries undemocratically, did their countries a disservice.

In African countries, civil society, together with ordinary citizens and communities, must keep the pressure on their leaders and hold them accountable. They must start national conversations in which their governments must account for what happened in Copenhagen, and how to rectify it.

In industrial countries, civil society organisations and individuals must expose their leaders’ bullying of African countries to their citizens and unmask the blame-shifting (to developing countries) used by their leaders to cover up the bullying. A failed climate change deal is not only bad for citizens of African and developing countries — it is for industrial nations too. –

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