As cyclones and droughts hit Africa, it’s time to demand climate justice

COMMENT

Today, thousands of Africans are hitting the streets in towns and villages across the continent to demand climate justice and the end of fossil fuels investments, which are causing a climate crisis on a planetary scale. Organized under the slogan #AfrikaVuka (Vuka means “to awaken” in isiZulu), this regional day of action coincides with the celebration of African Day on May 25, a symbol of the aspiration of Africans to self-determination and the fight against the looting of natural resources.

Throughout Africa the fossil fuels business, particularly coal, continues to grow at an impressive rate. New coal-fired plants are being projected from South Africa to Senegal, from Kenya to Mozambique, via the DRC and Ivory Coast. In recent years, Chinese banks have become the last resort for African coal projects when other financial institutions refuse to finance these dirty fuels, the main source of carbon emissions. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya and Madagascar are among the countries where Chinese investments in coal projects are envisaged in the coming years.

Deadly cyclones after a year of drought and water stress

In the space of two months, two powerful cyclones shook southern and eastern Africa. Cyclone Idai alone has taken the lives of more than 1000 people, with dozens of others still missing. The United Nations estimated that Idai and subsequent flooding caused damage worth more than $1 billion in infrastructure only. More than 100,000 homes have been damaged, with at least 1 million hectares of crops smashed. The city of Beira in Mozambique is by far the most affected, having been destroyed at 80%.

Extreme weather events like Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth have been particularly devastating on the African continent where the means of prevention and adaptation are weak and the response capacity rather limited. Such tropical cyclones could become more frequent and deadly as a result of climate change in countries that are historically the least responsible for global warming.

As the continent most affected by climate change, African countries must have a strong interest in limiting the temperature below 1.5° C as prescribed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last October. For millions of Africans, it is a question of survival as the impacts of global warming hit them hard. For countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have experienced more frequent and intense climatic extremes over the past 10 years, a global warming scenario above 1.5° C would be particularly dramatic. South Africa, the biggest continental emitter of greenhouse gases, recently faced one of its most severe drought and water crises to date, in Cape Town, pushing the government to declare the water crisis a national disaster.

Africa is today at a crossroad, faced with a crucial choice: following an outdated and dangerous energy model that could dramatically increase its climate vulnerability, or turning resolutely towards a 100% renewable economy. A rapid transition without coal is technically and economically feasible. However, it will require strong political leadership, an immediate halt to proposed coal-fired power plants, clear plans to phase out existing power plants, in addition to a rapid and unprecedented roll-out of efficiency measures in the sectors of energy, agriculture, industry and transport.

Refusing to cross arms and helplessly see these natural disasters without taking action, African civil society is organizing and resisting. In Kenya, popular resistance has delayed the construction of the Lamu coal-fired power plant since 2014. Same story in Bargny in Senegal and San Pedro in Cote D’Ivoire, where the popular pressure and the opposition against the proposed coal-fired power plants are growing on a daily basis. In South Africa, banks that finance coal projects are under fire from critics to change their energy investment choices.

Young people are stepping up as leaders in the fight against climate change. Since the beginning of this year, there has been an increased number of mobilisations in high schools, campuses and public places, youth refusing to be condemned to a polluted future by greenhouse gas emissions that only benefit a handful of immoral investors and leaders. In Abuja, Nigeria, some 20 secondary schools will march to parliament, asking MPs to finally pass the climate bill and put the country on the path to climate justice.

Beyond requiring national leaders and financial institutions to engage more concretely in the fight for climate justice based on renewable energies, African civil society and environmental activists are sending a strong message that Africa is not for sale.

Landry Ninteretse is the Regional Team Leader for 350Africa.org.

Landry Ninteretse
Landry Ninteretse
Free lance journalist, Peacebuilder, Climate change activist at 350 Africa.
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