Africa hit hard by climate change, say African ministers at Delhi climate summit

Jack Herheim/Bellona

Publish date: February 6, 2009

Translated by: Charles Digges

NEW DELHI - Participants in the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit yesterday heard stark and unsettling eyewitness testimony on climate change in Africa – one of climate change’s hardest hit regions – from eight of the continent’s statesmen.

The Summit is one of several gatherings in the build-up to the Copenhagen climate conference in December, where world leader will attempt to find a more expansive binding international accord on combating greenhouse gasses to replace the  Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Reports coming in from Mali in the north to Mozambique in the south indicate that the entire continent is already undergoing enormous changes as a result of global warming.

That the southern continent is bearing the brunt of climate change already in action was attested to by Mozambique’s environmental minister, Dr. Alcinda Antonio de Abereu, who described the floods that inundate her nation every year, destroying arable lands. The flood cycle earlier had been about every fifth year.

Mali’s environmental minister, Dr. Agatheane Lassane, reported on steady and rapid desertification in her country, which is leading to widespread social unrest and a constantly more difficult fight for scarce resources.

US Senator Kerry underscores gravity of Africa’s plight
The junior US senator from Massachusetts, and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, underscored the seriousness of the situation in a live broadcast speech to the climate summit’s 800 participants.
“This is the most perverse side of the climate problem: the nations that are the most poorly prepared to meet the climate challenges are those that will be hardest hit, and at the same time, carry the least blame for emissions,” said Kerry.

Africa’s emissions account for about five percent of the world’s total, where the United States’ accounts for 25 percent of worldwide emissions.

At the same time, the population of the United States, one of the world’s top three emitters, is equal to only 25 percent of the entire population of the African continent.

Jeffrey Sachs – Africa’s back is against the wall

There was a blend of optimism and pessimism in the conference’s debates Saturday.

While many held out for a positive track of development for Africa, the controversial American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who heads Columbia University’s Earth Institute, remained pessimistic on Africa’s outlook for dealing with climate change. The continent has nothing to resist the climate changes that are already in full swing.

“Africa has its back against the wall relative to climate change,” said Sachs.

Sachs did note that, under the administration of George Bush, aid to Africa from the United States had doubled to $4 billion a year. But this is faint praise – Bush’s aid package equals the amount in bonuses paid out to executives of Merrill-Lynch, a Wall Street brokerage firm that recently received a $20 million cash bail-out from the US government.

The overall mood on the last day of the Delhi summit was not optimistic about any concrete agreement in Copenhagen later this year, so many delegate and speakers have begun to speak of a “plan B” for replacing the Kyoto Protocol.

Jack Herheim reported and wrote from New Delhi, and Charles Digges wrote, translated and edited.

For further information, contact Bellona in New Delhi at:

Bjørn Utgåd,  Bellona Advisor: +47 92 08 80 57, Jack Herheim, Bellona Sustainable Development Advisor: + 47 41 29 99 00,