Source: Pambazuka News
by Aaron Tesfaye
October 22, 2009
As the world’s leaders meet in Copenhagen, Denmark on 7 December 2009, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, things are already starting to look bleak for the poorest of the poor on the planet. They are the pastoralists of Africa. Many eke out a living in the Sahel, a semi-desert belt that stretches from Senegal to Sudan, and other pastoralists struggle similarly in the horn of Africa and in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and parts of southern Africa.
Today these pastoralists face drought, desertification, and disruptions in water supplies because worldwide precipitation is shifting away from the equator towards the poles, warming the polar regions while parching countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thus it is widely believed that the first victims of the change in global precipitation patterns, the canary birds of climate change, will not be people from rich, polluting nations who engage in ruinous consumption, but African pastoralists who exist precariously at the periphery.
As the world gets ready for the Copenhagen summit, it is important to note that the agenda, which will impact poor nations most severely, has produced serious divisions between developed and developing nations. To date, no serious climate regime dealing with the issue has emerged because of the concerted opposition of the US and others to the Kyoto Protocol.
As far as the global south is concerned, basic development and the alleviation of poverty remain at the top of the agenda. Those in the global south see the concern of some rich nations as an attempt to hold back that agenda by limiting their energy use. The global South seeks solutions to climate change in substantial transfers of capital and technology from north to south that would facilitate development without increasing emissions. Thus it is widely expected that the issues visited at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, the Rio Summit, which revealed divisions in interests, will rear their head again at Copenhagen, and the summit may not produce a control regime.
The issues between North and South are complicated by great inequalities in per capita emissions and populations. Although the potential for increased emissions is present, on average emissions of fossil fuel from developing nations are barely one tenth of the OECD average, and per capita emissions from regions such as India and Africa are around one twentieth of those of the US. In other words, the contribution of Sub-Saharan Africa to carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel is miniscule, and yet scientists predict the African continent will bear the brunt of climate change.
However, even before the alarm sounded on climate change in 1988, desertification and environmental degradation had hit the Sahelian countries of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan. The situation has made these nations prone to either floods or extreme scarcity of resources for livestock. In the Nile Basin, environmental degradation, coupled with the beginning impact of climate change, is producing famine-like situations. Nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania are beginning to be impacted and at times have been threatened with famine because seasonal rains are in short supply.
The reasons for the massive food deficit and poverty on the continent are partly environmental, bad economic policies, foreign exchange problems, and debt overhang. However, the 1968-73 African droughts that claimed the lives of millions of human beings and animals, especially in the Sahel, were a result of desertification exacerbated by colonial intrusion, which introduced changes into local economies. The basic subsistence strategies of pastoralists – marketing excess male animals or changing the species of herds and flock to spread risk – were altered forever by commercialisation that favoured cattle for export to the metropolises of Europe, distorting traditional ways of survival.
Clearly then, rich nations and poor nations look at long-term challenges of the environment differently. Today, while rich and emerging nations are basically concerned with their respective ways of life and attendant competition for global economic and political power, some poor nations in Africa with burgeoning populations and scarce resources are struggling to provide citizens with the means to meet basic human needs, such as water, food, and shelter.
As in past conferences, the Copenhagen summit will carry its own divisions among nations. These will be between those that are major energy producers and those that are non-producers, between those that are relatively resilient to the projected impact of climate change and those that are vulnerable to those impacts, and between those with differing attitudes on environmental impacts and the inherent scientific uncertainties.
But Copenhagen will also produce new visions and solidarities among the powerless. Sub-Saharan Africa and small island nations in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans, some of which are only two meters above sea level at their highest point and thus most vulnerable, will be vocal in asking for early action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as halt deforestation and the destruction of the Earth. Theirs will be small but righteous voices speaking on behalf of the planet that is home to us all.
Aaron Tesfaye teaches in the Political Science department at William Paterson State University, Wayne, NJ.
New Study Asserts Climate Change Will Increase Conflicts in Africa
Source: Toward Freedom
by Cyril Mychalejko
December 1, 2009
Darfur just may be the tip of the melting iceberg. A new study suggests that if world leaders fail to reach a meaningful agreement in Copenhagento curb climate change Africa will be ravaged by more wars and corpses in the coming decades.
“If the sub-Saharan climate continues to warm and little is done to help its countries better adapt to high temperatures, the human costs are likely to be staggering,” said UC-Berkeley’s Marshall Burke, the study’s lead author.
The study,”Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa,” published online last week by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), states that there are “strong historical linkages between civil war and temperature in Africa , with warmer years leading to significant increases in the likelihood of war.” Using climate model projections it estimates a “roughly 54% increase in armed conflict incidence by 2030, or an additional 393,000 battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent wars.” The study, which uses data between 1981-2002, shows that a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature “represents a remarkable 49% increase in the incidence of civil war.”
“We were definitely surprised that the linkages between temperature and recent conflict were so strong,” said co-author Edward Miguel, professor of economics at UC-Berkeley and faculty director of UC – Berkeley’s Center for Evaluation for Global Action. “But the result makes sense. The large majority of the poor in most African countries depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and their crops are quite sensitive to small changes in temperature. So when temperatures rise, the livelihoods of many in Africa suffer greatly, and the disadvantaged become more likely to take up arms.”
The study comes on the heels of statements by scientists from the Global Carbon Project that if we don’t drastically reduce our carbon emissions the world is on course for a 6 degrees Celsius increase in temperature by the end of the century. Of course if this doomsday scenario comes to fruition we won’t have to worry about wars in Africa —the human race, along with all other forms of life, will be nearly wiped off the face of the earth.
While the study focused solely on temperature change, experts have argued that other climate change factors, such as changes in precipitation levels, water scarcity, lack of arable land and migration are also contributing to conflicts. The Los Angeles Times published an article on Friday appropriately asking “Have the climate wars of Africa begun?.” The article examines recent tribal fighting in Kenya over water and pastures, which the UN believes is responsible for at least 400 deaths this year. Libya, another war torn country, is dealing with longer rainy seasons, rising sea levels and increases in flooding. Climate change is also believed to be a contributing factor in the escalation of violence in Darfur. Writing in The Washington Post, Ban Ki Moon, secretary general of the United Nations, noted that “Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”
Another recent study conducted by a group of military experts contracted by the Institute for Environmental Security in The Hague supports the US researchers´ claims linking climate change to war.
“Failure to recognise the conflict and instability implications of climate change and to invest in a range of preventive and adaptive actions will be very costly in terms of destabilising nations, causing human suffering, retarding development and providing the required military response,” retired Indian air marshal AK Singh, who chairs the institute’s military council, told South Africa´s Mail & Guardian Online.
Nana Poku, Professor of African Studies at the UK’s Bradford University, told the BBC that the US-based study makes the case for “climate debt”, an idea growing in popularity around the world “that rich countries should pay reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis.”
“I think it strengthens the argument for ensuring we compensate the developing world for climate change, especially Africa, and to begin looking at how we link environmental issues to governance,” said Poku . “If the argument is that the trend towards rising temperatures will increase conflict, then yes we need to do something around climate change, but more fundamentally we need to resolve the conflicts in the first place.”