I don't profess to know much about climate change, which is one reason why I am writing this piece - to inform myself as much as anyone else. What I do know is that climate change is possibly the most important yet one of the least understood issues we as global citizens now face. I am particularly interested in trying to understand how it will impact on Africa and how the West's relationship with the continent is being framed with climate change in mind. In a recent article in the Guardian John Vidal reports on an interview with Kenyan Noble Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, in which she speaks about climate change and why Africans need to wake up and take the issue on board:
'Of the nine billion people expected to be on the planet in 2050, eight billion will be in what are now developing countries. Climate change is life or death. Climate change and global warming are the new global battlefield. It is being presented is as if it is the problem of the developed world. But it's the developed world that has precipitated global warming. There will be a much greater negative impact on Africa because of its geography. But instead of adapting we are scraping the land, removing the vegetation and losing the soil. We are doing things to make it worse.'
Wangari Maathai's latest project is to save the Congo forest, noting that if the Congo goes it would be a catastrophe not only in Africa but well beyond. She also makes the link with preserving the land with preserving African resources and languages. In terms of resources, there is the new colonization through the land grab of African agricultural land by Middle and Far Eastern countries, China and some corporations, in order to secure land for food for THEIR citizens. Last month environment ministers from across the continent met to discuss global warming. They demanded the West fund projects to counter its effects. Yet at the same time many of these African leaders are selling our ecological future and few of us are even aware of the scale of what is being done or the damage it will cause. Why are huge tracts of land being sold when they could be used by local farmers to grow food to be sold to local people and exported within the continent? Trade between ourselves makes so much more sense than trading with the West and receiving little in return. What a revolutionary policy - Africans trading with other Africans!
Another impact of climate change is the rise in numbers of 'environmental refugees' fleeing from the increase in 'natural' disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Other disasters which are termed 'natural', such as landslides, flooding and desertification, are a direct result of human interference with the land on a grand scale. A 2006 British Government Economic Policy report highlights the dangers and urgency of addressing climate change on the African continent. Temperature rises, changes in rainfall, increase in desertification, falling yields in crops, death and injury from heat waves, increase in water and Vector-related diseases.
All of the above represent new challenges for Africans - not an easy task when still having to struggle against old and existing challenges of poor, corrupt and inept leadership, the aid question and increasing poverty.