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COP21 – Africa cannot afford to be complacent

The COP21 meeting in Paris has been going on for more than a week now, but unlike the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, the news filtering from this meeting has a note of optimism about it, even if agreements on finances are slow.  What is marking out these talks is the fact that both developed and developing nations are pledging to do all they can to stem the rise of temperatures, which will have a disastrous effect on the world.

Just before the COP21 discussions took place, the French president, François Hollande pledged a sum of 2 billion euros to Africa in 2020 to develop renewable energies. At the meeting, developed nations have pledged 10 billion Euros, which are “the necessary cost to provide 10 gigawatts of new capacities of green energy in 2030.” Emerging countries like China have pledged to set aside $3.1 billion to help developing countries fight climate change.

For the Environment Egyptian Minister Khaled Fahmy, Africa is not asking for “charity,” rather the pledges are to “help Africa reach its goals.” And the continent’s goals are doable but ambitious.

African governments have pledged to restore about 386,000 square miles of forest by 2030, a move that Wanjira Mathai, chairwoman of the Green Belt Movement founded by her environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate mother Wangai Mathai, calls “unprecedented”.

“I have seen restoration in communities both large and small across Africa but the promise of a continent-wide movement is truly inspiring,” she said, citing the benefits for both rural and urban communities.

For Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister of Natural Resources, “restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security and opportunity.”

Africa is indeed right to be taking measures to protect itself from the effects of climate change even if, according to President and CEO of the World Resources Institute Andrew Steer, the continent “bears the least historic responsibility for climate change.”  Regardless, it is the continent that is already suffering from the effects of climate change.

Countries like South Africa are running out of water and some provinces have been declared drought disaster areas, while countries like Burundi and Nigeria have been beset with heavy rains.  All this has had an effect on agriculture, and this, according to Alhassan Mohammed, an environmental scientist with the University of Abuja, could lead to “crop failures that would affect productivity and invariably that would also affect their livelihood leading to increased poverty.”  And increased migration too!

The series of photos taken by Greta Rybus in Senegal show this effect on the livelihood of the fishing community in the region of Saint-Louis.

Therefore, Africa will need to do everything to transform those promises into actions and ensure that steps are taken so that these actions are not undermined. For instance, reforms will need to be severely enforced to protect wildlife or to combat illegal logging, which according to Greenpeace, is the biggest cause for deforestation.

With analyses emerging that climate change will affect the poorest places on Earth, Africa cannot afford to be complacent.

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