Listen to this story:
YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – With just weeks to go before the COP27 UN climate change conference taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has called for bold action in the global effort to keep global temperatures at manageable levels.
CRS is the international development arm of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for Mission, Mobilization and Advocacy, and Yohannes Subagadis, CRS Africa coordinator for livelihoods & landscapes, spoke to Crux about the impact of climate change, particularly in Africa.
Crux: The world will be watching the UN COP 27 climate change conference in Egypt. What do you think the conference should address that other COP meetings have failed to do?
O’Keefe: At COP26, countries failed to meet the $100 billion goal they originally promised to achieve by 2020. This COP, attending countries must come up with a clear finance target and a plan. Financing, especially people living in countries with poor infrastructures, should come in the form of grants, not loans. Significantly more funds should go to adaptation – especially to local communities and the agricultural sector.
Countries like the U.S. must lead on this issue. COP27 needs to focus on delivering on pledges and commitments made and ensuring that countries that have done the least to create these problems receive the needed support and financing to ensure that their populations are able to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
At COP27, countries will have another opportunity to establish a mechanism to address the climate impacts that are happening now. Without reliable and comprehensive funding and facilitation to help countries cope with climate-induced loss & damage, those countries struggling with infrastructure concerns will sink deeper into debt every time they are hit by climate disasters they did not cause.
What should Africa’s talking points be at COP27, especially as the continent plays host this year?
Subagadis: Africa should use this opportunity to call for meaningful climate action that can help tackle the prevailing climate crisis on the continent. They need to call for every country to be held accountable to the Paris Climate Agreement and deliver on their promises, particularly in providing financial assistance for developing countries to cope and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Food insecurity, water stress, conflict, displacement and migration are all exacerbated by climate change and are increasing by the day on the continent. Hence, it is high time to call for global action to redouble investments for enhanced climate adaptation, putting early warning systems in place, making concerted efforts toward integrated water resources management, as well as a greater support for social safety net systems in Africa.
The last IPCC report on climate change has been described as “grim.” How grim is it?
O’Keefe: The report was clear that if we don’t take global action on mitigation and adaptation, we will miss a brief and rapidly “closing window of opportunity” to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.
Some ecosystems are already reaching “hard limits” to adaptation, which will impact the communities that rely on them for their livelihoods. For instance, some coastal communities in the tropics have lost entire coral reef ecosystems that once helped sustain their food security and livelihoods. They can’t adapt anymore. If the world warms beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, communities that depend on glacial and snow melt will also face water shortages to which they cannot adapt.
Climate impacts are already causing widespread disruption. Risks will escalate with higher temperatures, often causing irreversible impacts. Inequality, conflict, and development challenges such as poverty, weak governance, and limited access to basic services like healthcare not only heighten sensitivity to hazards, but also constrain communities’ ability to adapt to climate changes.
Adaptation is crucial. We already have solutions – nature-based solutions like agroforestry – but these need to be scaled quickly, hence the importance of delivering on climate finance. Some impacts are already here, which is why we need to ensure that loss & damage funding is available.
We know what to do, and though the report’s assessment is grim, our actions – if bold enough – can change the trajectory for millions of people.
What does that grim picture mean for a continent like Africa that contributes very little to climate change?
Subagadis: Africa’s temperature has increased more than the global average for the past 100 years, according to UN data. While the continent only accounts for about two to three percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, people in Africa are suffering disproportionately from the results of climate change. As a result, water stress and hazards like devastating droughts, heatwaves, tropical cyclones, and floods are affecting the lives of millions, the worst impacts being felt by the poorest and those without social support. One such case is in the Horn of Africa, where they are currently experiencing the worst drought in 40 years. Rain has failed for four straight rainy seasons and as a result, in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, more than 25 million people are on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.
Some African leaders suggest that if the continent is to develop economically, it must do what the West did to grow: Fell trees, industrialize and grow the agricultural sector. How can African countries achieve all of this, while at the same time keeping to the promises of their National Determined Contributions?
Subagadis: Tackling climate change is necessary to create a resilient and sustainable future in Africa, as it is for the rest of the world. Single impacts of climate change, such as droughts, are already causing significant economic impacts in many countries in Africa. As such, Africa should strive to focus more on climate resilient development initiatives. Supported by well-crafted policies, long-term savings from investment in resilience and coping mechanisms – such as climate-smart agriculture, better irrigation, improved seed varieties, strengthened health systems, and greater access to finance and telecommunications – can be very significant.
What could be the cost for Africa should greenhouse emissions continue to be emitted?
Subagadis: The cost of inaction on climate change will be devastating for Africa. Food insecurity, water stress, conflict, displacement and migration – already affecting millions on the continent – will worsen, particularly for people living in neglected urban areas and vast rural areas. In these places, there are no social safety nets or access to the tools and technologies that are needed to improve people’s lives. These populations will feel the impacts of continued inaction on climate change the most.
Pope Francis, through his encyclical, Laudato Si’, has made the care of the earth a cornerstone of his papacy. How strong and loud should the Catholic voice be when the global community meets in Egypt?
Bill O’Keefe: The Catholic voice at COP27 will be strong and organized. Following the Holy Father’s leadership, CRS is working with Caritas, the Laudato Si’ Movement, Catholic universities and others on this issue and we will have a presence at the conference.
As a faith community working in over 110 countries, we see crises like cyclones through the eyes of the people directly impacted. We draw inspiration from our faith that places human dignity before anything else. Pope Francis has been a strong moral voice on the issue of climate change, and we continue to follow his lead.
The fact that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations have not yet addressed loss & damage reflects the neglect of the lived experience of people suffering from the impacts of climate change. The Paris Climate Accord is helping to drive new solar power development, retrofitting of homes, fund sea walls and early warning systems for natural disasters, but there is nothing for those who find themselves unhoused due to a flood or left without anything because of cyclone. The Catholic voice will sound loud and clear for those people who find themselves in critical, life-threatening situations.