Africa at risk

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

ADDIS ABABA: Climate change will hit Africa – a continent that has contributed virtually nothing to bring it about – first and hardest.

Aside from Antarctica, Africa is the only continent that has not industrialized. Indeed, since 1980’s the industrialization that had taken place in Africa has by and large been reversed. Africa has thus contributed nothing to the historical accumulation of greenhouse gases through carbon-based industrialization. Moreover, its current contribution is also negligible, practically all of it coming from deforestation and degradation of forests and farmland.

Yet climate change will hit Africa hardest, because it will cripple the continent’s vulnerable agricultural sector, on which 70% of the population depends. All estimates of the possible impact of global warming suggest that a large part of the continent will become drier, and that the continent as a whole will experience greater climatic variability.

We know what the impact of periodic droughts have been on the lives of tens of millions of Africans. We can therefore imagine what the impact of a drier climate on agriculture is likely to be. Conditions in this vital economic sector will become even more precarious than they currently are. Africa will not only be hit hardest, but it will be hit first. Indeed, the long dreaded impact of climate change is already upon us. The current drought covering much of East Africa – far more severe than past droughts – has been directly associated with climate change.

The upcoming climate negotiations ought to address the specific problems of Africa and similarly vulnerable poor parts of the world. This requires, first and most importantly, reducing global warming to the apparently inevitable increase of two degrees Celsius, beyond which lies an environmental catastrophe that could be unmanageable for poor and vulnerable countries. Second, adequate resources should be made available to poor and vulnerable regions and countries to enable them to adapt to climate change.

Climate change, which was largely brought about by the activities of developed countries, has made it difficult for poor and vulnerable countries to fight poverty. It has created a more hostile environment for development. No amount of money will undo the damage done. But adequate investment in mitigating the damage could partly resolve the problem.

Developed countries are thus morally obliged to pay partial compensation to poor and vulnerable countries and regions to cover part of the cost of the investments needed to adapt to climate change.

Various estimates have been made of the scale of investment required by those countries. One conservative estimate – which has a reasonable chance of being accepted precisely because it is conservative – calls for $50 billion per year as of 2015, increasing to $100 billion by 2020 and beyond. A transitional financing arrangement would be put in place for the period 2010-2015.

Some argue that developed countries cannot come up with such sums, particularly given their current economic challenges. But no one has so far argued that the cost of damage caused to the development prospects of poor countries and regions is less than the amount of compensation being offered to cover adjustment costs. The reason is obvious: the damage caused is many times higher than the compensation being requested.

Nonetheless, it is argued, whatever the real cost of the damage, developed countries currently cannot afford to provide that kind of money. But we all know that these countries and their national banks were able to spend trillions of dollars in a few months to bail out their bankers, who earned super-profits when the going was good. When the good times ended, taxpayers and governments were prepared to rescue them and to ensure that they continued to receive their extraordinary bonuses.

If the developed world is able to pay trillions of dollars to clean up its bankers’ mess, how is it possible that it cannot afford to pay billions of dollars to clean up a mess that it created, and that is threatening the survival of whole continents?

Clearly this is not about the availability of resources. It is about the inappropriate priorities in how resources are allocated. It is about moral values that make it appropriate to rescue bankers, who expect everyone but themselves to pay for the mess they created, and inappropriate to compensate the world’s poorest people, whose survival is threatened precisely because of the mess created by developed countries.

I cannot believe that people in developed counties, when informed about the issues, would support rescuing bankers and oppose partial compensation for poor countries and regions. I cannot believe that they will let such an injustice occur. If they are not expressing their outrage over the injustice of it all, it can only be because they are inadequately informed.

Meles Zenawi is Prime Minister of Ethiopia and heads the African delegation to the negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (

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