African leaders are due to meet in Libya early next week to consider a proposal demanding an annual 67 billion dollars from developed nations to mitigate the effects of climate change on the continent.
The draft proposal - which also calls for major polluters to cut emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels before 2020 - will raise a few eyebrows if it is tabled at December’s United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen.
But Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, believes Africa is justified in demanding such a hefty sum at the talks, which are aimed at sealing a new global climate change deal.
“If you look at a continent of almost one billion people, this is the true cost of global warming for Africa,” he told the German Press Agency DPA. “Africa is the most vulnerable continent - not assisting it will have far-reaching consequences.” Steiner is one of a significant number of scientists, aid workers and politicians who say Africa is bearing the brunt of climate change despite contributing a fraction of global carbon emissions.
“Industrial nations have been putting carbon into the atmosphere ... now poor countries who have not benefited from the creation of this pollution are suffering,” Marc Wegerif, Economic Justice Campaign Coordinator Horn, East and Central Africa for international charity Oxfam, told DPA.
“We believe it is an issue of justice.” Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, sent out a similar message earlier this week. But so far the continent has weakened its bargaining position at climate change talks by failing to find a common stance.
However, if the proposal is ratified - which it may be as early as next Monday - Africa can begin to fight its corner.
For ordinary Africans like pastoralist Goba Duba, help cannot come soon enough.
Duba’s tiny village in northern Kenya, a few hundred kilometres north of the equator, is as far from high-level diplomacy as it is possible to be. Yet this is the front-line of global warming.
Kenya is in the grip of a drought that the World Food Programme (WFP) says has brought 3.8 million people to the brink of starvation.
The arid north has been ravaged by two years of poor rains. The few bushes that dot the horizon around Duba’s village are withered skeletons, while the seasonal grasses have long since disappeared.
Livestock - the lifeblood of many communities - are dying in droves.
Cyclical droughts are part of life in much of Africa, but Duba believes that conditions are worsening.
“We are experiencing longer dry seasons,” he said. “Ten years ago the rains came and we got good grass. Now there is no grass.” Steiner and Wegerif believe there is clear evidence that man-made climate change is exacerbating already tough living conditions for many Africans.
But the troubles may just be beginning.
“By 2025, 480 million Africans could be living in water-scarce areas,” Steiner said. “According to the (Nobel Prize-winning) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 30 per cent of Africa’s coastal infrastructure could be inundated by rising sea-levels this century.” The WFP needs 230 million dollars for its Kenya operations over the next six months. Droughts in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia also demand hundreds of millions. Other aid agencies are throwing similar amounts at the crisis.
But this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the cost if the IPCC’s stark predictions come to pass.
Coastal infrastructure, water delivery systems, transport, healthcare, agriculture and power generation would all have to be re-designed. New livelihoods would have to be created for millions of people no longer able to pursue their traditional way of life.
While 67 billion dollars may seem a lot to developed nations more concerned about bailing out their own banks and businesses, Steiner believes the cost will be higher in the long term if action is not taken now.
Steiner said this means partnerships between developed nations and Africa, which will also encompass huge investment in renewable energy on the continent, are inevitable. However, he is concerned that countries may not “seize the moment to seal a deal” at Copenhagen.
Wegerif also thinks that developed nations are slowly coming round to the idea that they must clean up their own mess.
“We have to make sure that nations that caused this problem hear the message and put money and support where their mouths are,” he said. “We are seeing positive signs from some governments ... but not yet at level we would like.”