From: Jennifer Morgan, WWF
Published June 20, 2005 12:00 AM

African Growth Needs a Stable Climate

Reducing debt, lifting trade barriers and increasing aid are all necessary to reduce poverty in Africa. But one key element is missing from the equation ”“ tackling climate change.

Africa, poverty reduction and climate change are all on the agenda when leaders of the world’s richest nations meet in Scotland to attend the G8 Summit. The question remains whether they will have the political will to set a new course of action on combating global warming and the effect it has on millions of people and wildlife species.

The consensus view of thousands of scientists around the world is that most of the warming seen since the middle of the last century is due to human activities. Over the last 200 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ”“ the major gas that causes climate change ”“ has increased by 30 per cent. This is mainly due to the burning of coal, gas and oil.

Retreating glaciers in the Himalayas and Alps, sinking islands caused by rising sea temperatures, and icebergs floating adrift in the North and South Poles are common images associated with global warming ”“ most of which are out of sight and mind of peoples’ daily lives and concerns. But, the impacts of global warming are evident just about everywhere.

Although it is the richest countries in the world which have caused a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, it is the poorer countries that are paying the price.

In particular, it is being felt on a continent already ravaged by war, AIDS, drought and famine. According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Africa is most vulnerable to the impacts of projected change because widespread poverty limits adaptation capabilities.

Small-scale farming produces most of the food in Africa and employment for a majority of the working population. These simple facts, coupled with farming being almost totally dependent on direct rainfall, mean that Africa is exceptionally vulnerable to the uncertainties and weather extremes of global warming.

In the near future, climate change is estimated to place an additional 80-120 million people at risk of hunger; 70 to 80 per cent of these will be in Africa. Poor people, especially those living in marginal environments and in areas with low agricultural productivity in Africa, depend directly on genetic, species and ecosystem diversity to support their livelihoods. As a result of this dependency, any impact that climate change has on natural systems threatens the livelihoods, food intake and health of poor people. It will also undermine the ambitious targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals set by the international community in 2000.

We know from scientists that there is a threshold beyond which the impacts become irreversible for ecosystems and many communities around the world ”“ a global average of 2°C in comparison with pre-industrial levels. To keep global warming beneath a 2°C ceiling, as agreed by many leading scientists, industrialized countries must slash CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by mid-century, with global emissions cut by 50 per cent over the same period.

This is clearly a big challenge, but achievable with political will. If nothing is done we are likely to close out options to protect people and wildlife in Africa and around the world from destruction of their livelihoods and environment.

Due to the scale and urgency of the problem, there are high expectations for G8 leaders to send a clear signal that they: recognize that the science is clear and warrants an immediate response; commit to a solid set of policies to reduce emissions in the short, medium and long-terms; and launch an ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative to ensure climate and energy security. Each is key and must move forward as a platform.

It is time for a visionary, responsible management of the global climate. The outcomes of the G8 Summit must not be about a lowest common denominator to achieve consensus. Rather it must make the right choice and set the world forward on a low carbon future, one that current generations are demanding and future generations will be thankful for.


Jennifer Morgan is the director of the global climate change program at WWF, the global conservation organization.

Source: An ENN Commentary

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