Africa deserves climate justice

Mahmoud Bassiouni
Tuesday 20 Sep 2022

African countries must receive appropriate compensation for the damage they have suffered due to climate change, writes Mahmoud Bassiouni


Although Africa has had little responsibility for climate change and has generated only a small portion of the global emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, it may be the most sensitive region in the world to it due to high levels of poverty.

Without sufficient funds, goods, and services, it will become increasingly difficult for the poor across the continent to adapt to climate change that affects food supplies and livelihoods.

Africa is therefore looking for climate justice and appropriate compensation for the damage it has suffered due to climate change. This has seriously affected water and food security across the continent, adding to the difficult economic conditions caused by the Ukrainian-Russian war and the suspension of investments as a result of the US hike in interest rates.

The world is waiting for the UN COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh in November to follow up on what has been done under the Glasgow Climate Document, agreed at the COP26 Conferenc, which set the international agenda for the next decade.

Although this is not a legally binding document, it includes an agreement among world leaders that the Sharm El-Sheikh Conference will issue additional commitments to reduce the global warming that leads to climate change and keep temperature increases at or below1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid climate catastrophe.

The document agrees a plan to reduce the use of coal, the source of 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. However, there are concerns that the EU countries will not abide by this and other pledges, since many have announced that they will again use coal-fired power stations as natural gas prices have risen to record levels due to the Western sanctions on Russia.

This news comes amid concerns that temperatures will increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next five years, which will likely also see the highest temperatures ever recorded in many parts of the world.  

The document also includes a pledge to substantially increase the support available to the developing countries to help them deal with the consequences of climate change and the transition to clean energy, even though the developed countries have failed in their previous commitment to provide $100 billion from 2020.

The document contains an agreement to gradually reduce subsidies on coal, petroleum, and natural gas, in order to limit their use, but it does not include specific dates. Another important agreement during the Glasgow Conference was that between China and the US on further cooperation in this field during the next decade, as they are among the countries that affect the climate the most.

For these and other reasons, the world is awaiting the COP27 Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh with much anticipation, as it has finally realised that we are on the verge of an existential catastrophe marked by effects such as the drying up of rivers in Europe, the Arab region, and the African countries. Eventually, everyone will be affected by the repercussions of climate change.

It is not surprising that Richard Munang, coordinator of actions on climate change in Africa at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), has said that the Sharm El-Sheikh Conference is an “African climate summit,” since a two-degree increase in global temperatures would mean Africa’s losing five per cent of its productivity in 2030.

He has called for an increase in financial support for the developing countries in order to deal with the repercussions of climate change, explaining that even if the deficit in previous global commitments in this regard is covered, which reaches $20 billion annually, the prescribed amounts will no longer cover the increasing actual needs.

Emphasising that the peoples of the developing countries are having to bear the consequences of the policies of the developed countries, he said that 17 per cent of the world’s population lives on the African continent, while Africa emits only four per cent of international emissions. The continent’s capabilities must be financially and technologically supported to switch to clean technologies and further development in the future.

Urbanisation and economic growth have led to a sharp rise in modern transportation across Africa, with capacity expected to rise by two-thirds by 2040 and requiring the African countries to switch to electric vehicles and rapid transit systems. Africa needs more support from the international financial institutions to help it move away from means of transportation that depend on fossil fuels.

In Egypt, the government has launched a “Go Green” initiative that includes the “Eco Egypt” initiative, which aims to promote 13 nature reserves, and the “E-Recycling” initiative to recycle electronic waste. There are also initiatives that promote the safe disposal of plastic bags, the cleaning up of beaches, and the reduction in air pollution by relying on electric means of transportation.

However, progress at the African level is conditional on receiving the necessary financial support from the industrialised countries. Therefore, it is important that financing for development not be halted or reduced, even in the light of the global economic crisis.

The leaders of more than 100 countries at the Glasgow Conference committed themselves to halting deforestation from 2030, an important step as trees absorb carbon dioxide. A commitment was made to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent from 2030, another greenhouse gas leading to global warming. China, Russia and India are committed to this goal, although they are among the most emitting countries.

Everyone has the right to grow and aspire to a free and dignified life, and Africa is facing technological and economic challenges due to the need to continue the introduction of innovative technologies that are more efficient and less harmful to the environment at affordable prices. In addition, the African countries have not yet reached development rates consistent with the aspirations of their people, and therefore measures taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should not be in favour of those who were the source of the problem and at the expense of the less wealthy.

Africa has legitimate aspirations in the field of climate change, and it has the right to obtain funds in order to promote development on the continent to support the movement of green investments and help them grow without causing harm to the environment. It also needs help in overcoming the food gap caused by the decline in the water resources needed for agriculture, as well as a legally binding agreement that will protect the right of the Egyptian people in particular to the Nile’s water.

Africa needs the support of the UN and the relevant international institutions in order to achieve climate justice for the countries and populations of the continent.


The writer is president of the Arab Network for Digital Media and Human Rights.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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