African leaders must bring international solidarity on climate change home, says expert

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African leaders need to find common ground on climate change, an expert says.
African leaders need to find common ground on climate change, an expert says.
Lukas Schulze/Getty Images
  • The Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change met this week.
  • Their message remained consistent, speaking with a united voice on global issues.
  • The challenge remains to translate these issues to local issues, says an expert.

African leaders have consistently put forward a united front on global climate issues. This year was no different when heads of state met virtually on Tuesday for the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change.

As chairperson of the committee, President Cyril Ramaphosa called for a united voice, particularly with regards to the demands the Covid-19 pandemic had brought.

"While the continent is dealing with the impact of the pandemic on human health, our societies and our economies, Africa continues to bear the brunt of climate change, with annual costs to African economies of between three to five percent of their GDPs on average," said Ramaphosa, adding:

Therefore, at this critical juncture, Africa needs to speak with one clear voice to emphasise the primacy of multilateralism and to express our unwavering support for the full implementation of the UN Climate Change Convention and its Paris Agreement.

The Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change was established in 2009 by the African Union to ensure that the continent is represented in global climate policy.

It has since met each year to ensure it communicates a singular message to the rest of the world.

Doing more at home

The continent has, however, fallen short in communicating that message back home.

To its credit, African leaders have displayed a united front on global climate issues, said Dr Gina Ziervogel, associate professor of Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town.

Cyril Ramaphosa | We need to do more to combat climate change

"African governments have been involved in the process of trying to stand up to an issue that has serious justice implications in a sense that most African countries have not contributed significantly to the problem of climate change."

The challenge however, was translating this regional unity into local effort.

"It's all fine to have these big negotiations and talk the talk, and say we need to have support that is green and find green jobs and adjust transition, but we need to see what that looks like at practice," said Ziervogel.

As with other policy issues, African governments may ratify ambitious policies, but fell short on implementation. Many local governments across the continent are struggling providing basic resources like water and sanitation, and adaptation to climate-saving strategies are left by the wayside.

South Africas President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives f
President Cyril Ramaphosa called for a united voice across African countries.

Adaptation to the realities of climate change need not be resource intensive, said Ziervogel.

EXPLAINER | What are Special Drawing Rights and why is Ramaphosa calling for it?

It could mean using existing social networks within communities as early warning systems or grassroots education. It could be as simple as checking on the elderly during an unexpected heatwave, she explained.

Increasingly, private companies are stepping in to build infrastructure where African governments cannot afford to. Chinese companies, for example, have been contracted to build roads and hospitals in several states across the continent.

At times, these contracts have fallen short of environmental considerations, adding to pollution or eroding natural environments when plotting a new highway in Nairobi or digging away at beach sand in Mozambique, for example.

"National governments need to be clear on what is required and if they're taking climate change seriously, they need to put measures in place; it doesn't matter who's building it, whether it's China or Kenya, there need to be measures that show that you are trying to reduce emissions and make sure you are adapting to climate change," said Ziervogel.

The News 24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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