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Africa and climate change

Isaac MugabiMay 7, 2013

A conference on climate change is underway in Berlin to discuss the need to cut carbon emissions by developed countries. Despite Africa contributing little carbon emissions, it has suffered the consequences.

Image: Melita Steele/Greenpeace Africa

Carbon emissions could rise to 58 gigatonnes by 2020 if no drastic action is taken without delay, the United Nations environmental agency (UNEP) said in its Emissions Gap Report 2012. This figure is far above the level scientists say is in line with keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit). DW spoke to Melita Steele, climate campaigner for Greenpeace Africa

DW: Carbon emissions in Africa are estimated to be lower compared to western and emerging countries. How does Africa suffer from climate change then?

Melita Steele: Well, I think there's some very different context within the African continent. For example, South Africa is the 13th biggest emitter in the world. Which means that, because South Africa is so addicted to coal, so dependent on coal, the country itself has very high emissions, in contrast to the rest of the continent, where most countries have very low emissions, or even zero emissions, so what we see is the sort of dichotomy where South Africa is actually also responsible for climate change, which is going to have a huge impact on the African continent, because people depend on rain fed agriculture over a large part of the African continent. Any shifts in rainfall will have huge impacts.

And how has climate change affected food production in particular in Africa?

It's very difficult to say at the moment. Climate change is a sort of ongoing phenomenon. It's likely that we are going to actually start seeing impacts in the next 50 years. Greenpeace has done some research, particularly in Mali and in Kenya where people in those countries are facing the daily reality from changing rainfall patterns. For example in Mali, people have to change the kinds of crops that they grow because the rainfall patterns have changed. In Kenya, there's huge potential for violence, because Lake Turkana, that people depend on for fishing is actually shrinking. And what that means is that the resources are becoming smaller and that increases the potential for conflict.

How should African governments address the issues concerning climate change and the environment?

South Africa really has a responsibility to reduce its emissions domestically, shift away from coal and towards renewable energy. It has some of the best renewable resources in the world. But still 93 percent of the country's electricity comes from coal. So I would say that's one big element. South Africa has to take the lead. But the other element is that it's very easy for African countries to be side-tracked or for European or developed countries to apply pressure to African countries so that they don't actually voice their concerns. But it's really important, particularly in the negotiations, that the least developed countries and the island states should all stick together and actually demand action from the developed countries.

How should the western or the developed countries reduce their carbon emissions?

One of the culprits in the international negotiations is actually the USA. They never signed on to the Kyoto protocol and play a very complex role in the negotiations where they often seem to be blocking progress. A global agreement on how to respond to climate change is really important. And it would be important that all of the developed countries come on board. In theory that will be signed in 2015. That is what countries have agreed to. But on top of that, developed countries need to take urgent action to shift away from coal, reduce their emissions domestically, and start looking at their transport sectors. The reality is that developed countries have been emitting carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution. And it is the least developed countries and the developing countries actually bearing the brunt and the consequences of that. And so the responsibility for action does lie in the developed countries. But then, it's also the emerging economies like China, India, Brazil, South Africa, that need to take serious action to reduce their emissions.

Melita Steele is a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.

Interview: Isaac Mugabi