/ 12 April 2024

Global South unity is key in climate debate

Changing weather patterns worsen the crises surrounding food and water on the continent. The UN last year called for help in West Africa’s drought-hit Sahel region in Mauritania.
(Pablo Tosco/AFP)

We are in a climate crisis. That has long ceased to be a disputable fact.

Our climate reporter, Sheree Bega, has a disconcerting update in our pages this week. Africa, according to a new study, is no longer one of the world’s great carbon sinks. In short, that means the continent is producing more carbon dioxide than it can absorb in its dwindling green ecosystems.

The underlying causes are many and complex, but ultimately all roots lead to the human race’s indefatigable expansion in numbers and footprint. As we multiply, more forests are cut down for housing, our savannahs are sacrificed for croplands; more of us mean more emissions in day-to-day life.

As we also heard from Sarah Smit in the business pages this week, much of Africa does not share the developed world’s issue of stagnant or declining birth rates. Our climate problem is not going anywhere and will probably only get worse.

It is imperative that African leaders, and more broadly those of the Global South, confront this crisis.

If they don’t they are liable to be dictated to by outside powers; developed countries that built their wealth by using the Earth’s resources.

The BBC’s viral interview with Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali two weeks ago was stark evidence of how easily Western condescension can fall. But Ali was admirable in his admonishment of his interviewer, rightly calling hypocrisy on the outside notion that his country should stifle its development to meet anyone else’s standards.

Unless the developing world is deliberate in its strategy, the critics will continue to circle. That begins with acknowledging the threats that face us; embracing the difficult truth that if we destroy our environment, climate disasters will only be exacerbated. Uniting behind that fact is the first prophylactic against interference.

And if our governments will not act, it is up to us to compel them to do so — as ably done by the 2  000 Swiss women who scored a victory this week after the European court of human rights ruled that their government had violated their human rights by not doing enough to fight climate change.

The older women successfully argued that their age, and gender, rendered them more susceptible to dying during heatwaves. 

Very few would argue against the fact that African women are likely to take the brunt of the continent’s reversal of fortunes on the carbon front. Sadly, no one is likely to take anyone to court any time soon, on their behalf.

The climate crisis cannot be forgotten — or left to anybody else to solve.