Speaking at COP22 in Marrakesh, 350.org activist Landry Ninteretse says African wildlife and food security are under threat. What the continent needs most from the West is not finance but an end to extractivism.
For the last two weeks, environmentalists and politicians from around the world have gathered in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh for the first COP climate change conference since the Paris Agreement in December.
This time, the talks are happening on the doorstep of communities already suffering the worst impacts of global warming. Swathes of the African continent, where the vast majority of the population is dependent on agriculture, are already seeing devastating droughts or flooding.
“If the Paris agreement isn’t implemented quickly enough the impact – in terms of agriculture, water sources, population displacement – are going to get worse and worse,” said Landry Nintereste, Africa-Arab Team leader at the environmental group 350.org.
Originally from Burundi, Nintereste has 10 years’ experience working with national, regional and international organizations towards just, science-based and local solutions to climate change.
A continent under pressure
“Climate change has destroyed the beauty of the African continent,” he said. Speaking to DW in Marrakesh he explained that biodiversity comes under pressure from changing climatic conditions. And human populations are living in increasingly precarious situations, too.
Water scarcity and food insecurity are perhaps the most drastic impacts of climate change. Nintereste says women and children are often hit the hardest. “In certain contexts they can walk 10, 12 kilometers to fetch water.”
So what needs to be done now and who must act?
Nintereste stresses that the emissions causing climate change have come, overwhelmingly, from richer nations in the West.
“Africans are not responsible for climate change. The struggle we are trying to address is a struggle we haven’t created. So that's a very critical point, when you try to understand the climate injustice that the African people are facing.”
Action not cash
Agreements made under the framework of COP will see richer countries help fund climate-friendly development in poorer countries, and support measures to adapt to climate change impacts that are already unavoidable.
But Nintereste says the most important thing the countries that have benefitted from burning fossil fuels can do now isn’t about getting their wallets out.
“The most critical help that is needed is not finance,” he said, “it's the end of fossil fuel development and the end of extractivism – depleting resources and leaving communities in very poor conditions.”
Not only does the extraction of fossil fuels unearth carbon stored safely underground in order to release it into the atmosphere, that process is often devastating to local communities.
Extraction hits health
The people of Nigeria’s Niger Delta, for example, for have suffered hundreds of oil spills each year over the last four decades, as European and American multinationals profit from the extraction. And Nintereste points to coal mining in counties like South Africa as a source of health problems.
African leaders are complicit in these projects, too.
“African governments hold responsibility,” Nintereste said. He believes one of the most important steps against climate change is to “stop dirty deals between companies and some corrupt governments that allow extraction to continue at the expense of local communities.”
An African transition
But there are opportunities for Africa and the West to work together more fruitfully, cutting emissions and allowing African communities to benefits from their continent’s wealth of climate-friendly energy resources.
“We need to speed up the transfer of technology, which would allow Africa to tap into the resources we’ve got in terms of renewables,” Nintereste said. “That’s the critical support that African countries need at the moment.”