YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Although Africa isn’t the driver of global climate change, the continent has “the opportunity to learn from the devastating mistakes of industrialization that were made by others, and to develop cleanly.”
Christian Aid’s Global Climate Lead, Dr Katherine Kramer, told Crux that “falling prices continue to make renewables attractive, both for climate and to prevent health-damaging air pollution.”
Speaking about the World Meteorological Organization’s annual State of the Global Climate report, which shows that 2020 will be one of the warmest years on record, Kramer said climate change is having a disproportionate impact on Africa.
“Much of Africa has been hit by droughts, which contributes towards greater desertification; people living in already degraded or desertified areas are already increasingly negatively affected by climate change. Climate change has resulted in lower animal growth rates and productivity in pastoral systems in Africa. All together, these climate effects add to increasing food insecurity,” she said.
What follows are excerpts from Crux’s conversation with Kramer.
Crux: How sobering is the State of the Global Climate report?
The WMO report highlights that the climate continues to change. The global mean temperature in 2020 is likely to be one of the three warmest on record, despite the cooling effect of the La Nina effect this year, sea level rise is accelerating, flooding has impacted the Sahel, Horn of Africa, India and other parts of Asia, while Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay suffered droughts. Even as emissions have dropped because of COVID-19, climate change continues to have negative impacts across the world.
What does a warming climate mean for vulnerable people, particularly the poor in Africa?
Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel noted that there will be net reductions in yields of maize, rice and wheat, and food accessibility overall is expected to be lower in the Sahel and Southern Africa, among other regions. Much of Africa has been hit by droughts, which contributes towards greater desertification; people living in already degraded or desertified areas are already increasingly negatively affected by climate change. Climate change has resulted in lower animal growth rates and productivity in pastoral systems in Africa. All together, these climate effects add to increasing food insecurity.
Many African leaders argue that their countries have contributed next to nothing to climate change, and therefore they do not have an obligation to fight it. Besides, they need deforestation in order to make economic progress. What would be your message to them?
While it is true that Africa has contributed little towards causing the climate crisis, the continent has the opportunity to learn from the devastating mistakes of industrialization that were made by others, and to develop cleanly.
In many regions, for many years, renewable energy was cheaper than expanding the fossil fueled grid and falling prices continue to make renewables attractive, both for climate and to prevent health-damaging air pollution. As to forests, as well as being important ecosystems in their own right, they are an important way to provide resilience to people from climate impacts. For example, Malawi’s flooding after Cyclone Idai hit seems to have been worsened by the high deforestation rates, the 5th highest in the world, as the rain hit and quickly ran off the land, without being slowed by the countless leaves of the forests. More generally, forests moderate floods, but also act as stores of water in the drier times.
There is also the argument that for African countries – particularly countries of the Congo Basin – to keep carbon in trees, they should get significant carbon benefits, in terms of carbon trade. Is this a valid argument?
Christian Aid has a strong skepticism about the value of international carbon markets. Their history has not shown them as a tool to bring about significant climate benefits and there have been human rights abuses, such as land grabs. Instead, there should be far greater recognition of the value of intact ecosystems in providing countries with resilience to climate impacts, and also note that large areas of forest, such as in the Congo Basin, can provide rain at a regional level, as the trees emit substances that act as nucleation centers for raindrops.
The U.S. awaits a new president who says he will bring the U.S. back into to the Paris Climate Accord. What does this mean for the global climate movement?
The U.S. is the second biggest emitter and also has a huge historical carbon footprint. Having the U.S. engaged on cutting emissions will in itself be valuable to limiting climate change impacts, but it will also unleash American resources and creativity on ways to do so, and allow for greater global cooperation in this, the greatest crisis that we collectively face.
What would you tell investors in the fossil fuel industries who depend on the air-polluting emissions for their survival?
The rapidly falling costs of renewable energy mean that fossil fuels are decreasingly attractive and climate policies are promoting the move away from fossil fuel use. According to an October 2019 report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest way of generating electricity across more than two thirds of the world, with solar costs having plunged 85 percent and wind 49 per cent since 2010.
While the electricity sector has made the greatest changes so far in this transition, the growing availability of electric vehicles means that the transport sector is also moving away from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels not only cause climate change, but also air pollution, the plastic waste littering the world’s land and oceans and petrochemicals have killed off much biodiversity in our agricultural landscapes. Investors therefore need to be alive to the real risk of investing in what are rapidly becoming stranded assets.
What practical steps do you think ordinary people in Africa can take to cushion the blows of climate change?
African people have many ways to contribute to climate action, including through employing sustainable agricultural techniques, through conservation and restoration of nature – for example the Great Green Wall, an initiative of tree planting across the 11 countries across the Continent is reversing desertification and protecting the soil for agriculture, reducing the demand for water as the shade reduces water loss, and creating well-paid jobs for women. African people can also make demands on their governments for clean development and an energy transition to renewables that provides energy access for all.