Climate Voices

November 16, 2017
By: John Olson, Window Into COP23 Delegate

Africa voices in climate change discussions

Since I served in the Peace Corps in Liberia in the 70s and again last year, I am eager to hear the voice of Africans in these climate change negotiations. Today, I attended a large side event called Africa Day, and I want to share some of their voices.

Denis Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Republic of the Congo in central Africa, talked about the importance of Africa speaking with one voice. He claimed that compared to the other continents (except Antarctica), “Africa contributes the least to climate change, but suffers the most.” The African collaboration – I’m not certain of the exact group – has established three commissions to focus their concerns for climate change:

  1.  The Sahel, which is the semi-arid region between the Sahara Desert in the north and the humid savanna lands. This is an area that is facing an increase in severe droughts
  2.  The island states that are threatened by sea level rise
  3. The Congo Basin, which faces issues of deforestation

The Congo Basin plays a very significant role in the world’s ecology and climate. Nguesso called the Amazon and the Congo Basin as the “lungs of the earth.” They hold the largest reserves of forest land and a huge fresh water supply. They also have great biodiversity and a large quantity of endangered species. These forests are a large sink for atmospheric carbon. The African states are proposing a “blue fund” to manage forest areas and harness hydropower.

Alpha Conde, the president of Guinea in western Africa and chairperson of the African Union, spoke of the disappointment that Africa feels about the promised funding from the UN Climate Conference meetings in Paris (2015) and Marrakesh (2016). Africa is not receiving funding from the Green Fund that was supposed to help less-developed countries fight climate change factors and consequences. He focused on the consequences of deforestation as trees are cut to expand agriculture to serve a growing population. A second driver of deforestation is the need for firewood for cooking. Most rural people use the branches directly for cooking and bathing. Additional wood is converted into charcoal to sell to city residents. Africans need cheap alternative fuels to cut this demand. The large trees are cut into lumber for houses and furniture.

On Monday, I heard a presentation by the mayor of a coastal city in Mozambique in southeastern Africa. The mangrove forest in the coastal wetlands are being cut in his area for homes and fuel. This affects the fishing, which is the main industry for his area.

The voices in Africa Day events called for funding for reforestation and the control of exploitative practices, such as mining and oil extraction. Other voices called for Africans to build their capacity to work on their own issues. One gentleman advocated that African countries need more cross-border trade rather than shipping resources out of the continent.

Many of the other sessions that I have attended talked about the advances that are occurring in renewal energy and efficiencies. There was a great presentation today about the accomplishments that Minnesota is making. I am certain the other delegates, such as Melissa Hortman from the MN legislature who presented during the event, will share the Minnesota story in their blogs.

I am starting to feel that America will make great strides in reducing greenhouse gases, even without federal support, because of economic benefits. But the lack of U.S. government contributions to funding for less-developed countries will increase human suffering, ecological degradation, and the delay in meeting the global goals.