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Africa’s message for China

Drought threatens millions with starvation in Africa. Despite its efforts, the continent is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of climate change. Godwin Nnanna says China can help.

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A major challenge confronts Africa today: the impact of climate change on its people and future. One just needs to pay visit to the drought-ridden west African country of Niger, parts of southern Africa and the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria to appreciate how real the threat is. No part of the continent has been spared.

Throughout vast sections of the Horn of Africa a searing drought rages – the worst in over a decade.  Sudan, the country which supplies China with about 7% of its oil needs, is one of the worst victims of climate change. The UN says that urgent steps are needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the country, after crop failures caused by a severe drought. Nearly two million people are at risk of starvation.  

Climate change is a great burden for Africa. It is the continent which bears the least responsibility for global warming, but which unfortunately has become its main victim. Home to 14% of the world’s population, Africa is particularly at risk because of its reliance on food from arid land; more than half of the continent’s cultivable land is arid or semi-arid.

And although adaptation options are available, Africa does not have the human, infrastructural, and economic capacity to effect a timely response to climate change.

For many years, global warming was discussed as a hypothesis – a threat likely in the distant future. Now its staggering reality stares us in the face. Unfortunately, government policies in most parts of Africa have been overshadowed by concerns about conflicts and the poverty that results from them; it is as if the issue were only the business of the west. But if the continent is to achieve food security and eradicate extreme poverty, this environmental concern ought to be accorded priority. 

In Nairobi last November, scientists at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change gave a stark assessment of what could happen in Africa if developed nations do not rein in their carbon emissions. Up to 30% of the continent's coast could disappear as sea levels rise by 15 to 95 centimetres over the next 100 years. Important cities such as Cape Town, Cairo and Addis Ababa are at risk. If sea levels were to rise by one metre, part of Lagos, the economic centre of Nigeria, would be submerged. Alexandria, a popular tourist destination in Egypt, and Accra, the serene capital city of Ghana, could both also suffer.

This assessment makes bleak reading for many in Africa. And even more worrisome is the warning in a new report, which was launched on April 6 in Brussels by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body that has been assessing global warming since 1990. Even if greenhouse gas emission remains at its present state, the report warns that a much warmer atmosphere is expected in the years ahead.

The overwhelming view of the IPCC scientists is that climate change is to a great extent man-made and – without action – it will get worse. Global warming is happening faster than many had predicted and its impact on Africa’s ecosystem is worse than previously envisaged.

Green walls

But some positive environmental stories are emerging from Africa. In December last year, African leaders launched the Green Wall Sahara Initiative, a project which aims to slow the advance of the Sahara Desert in the Sahel zone, which runs along the southern fringes of the desert from Mauritania in western Africa to Djibouti in the east.

The plan will entail the planting of 300 million trees over three million hectares of land, and its stated objective is to “convert desert to green land and wealth.” It is hoped that the initiative will enhance environmental sustainability, curb land degradation, promote integrated natural resources management, conserve biodiversity, contribute to poverty reduction and create jobs.


Senegal is on the western end of the proposed “green wall”. The country currently loses 50,000 hectares of productive land each year, and strongly supports the idea. No one knows how long this project would take, but Senegalese environment minister Modou Fada Diagne observes: “Instead of waiting for the desert to come to us, we need to attack it.”


President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria spoke at the launch of the programme in Abuja. “Protecting and restoring dry lands will help relieve the growing burdens on Africa's threatened areas, thereby contributing to greater peace, economic stability and security,” said Obasanjo. He then noted that “Africa expects China and other development partners to support the vision to ensure its realisation.”


Carbon finance


Desertification may have local solutions, but reducing the consequences of climate change in Africa entails international action on carbon emissions. It means countries must show greater commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and its provisions – including in the post-Kyoto era. With US reluctance to commit to the Kyoto Protocol, Africa now expects China, as the next biggest carbon emitter, to push for greater global commitment to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.


It is in China’s interests to help mitigate the effects of climate change, both internationally and domestically. It is also in the interests of Africa, its major economic partner, that it does so. Observers believe that a significant change could occur if China makes stronger commitment to reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions. As post-Kyoto negotiations evolve, many feel that China will have to consider commitments to reducing its emissions after 2012.


Carbon finance, the World Bank says, provides an opportunity for companies and governments in industrialised countries to meet their greenhouse-gas emission reductions commitments through emissions trading, or in exchange for investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transition economies and developing countries. In the case of developing countries, this is made possible through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which brings clean energy technologies and hard currency to developing countries from the sale of carbon emissions reductions.


A major area of concern for African leaders is the fact that Africa’s share of CDM projects is so marginal. At the end of 2006, there were about 15 CDM projects under consideration in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for only 1.7% of the total number of projects worldwide. The African Union has expressed their concern at this grossly unequal distribution of carbon finance initiatives, calling it “unacceptable.”


China’s increasing involvement in extractive industries in many parts of Africa is likely to increase the continent’s emissions. Africa has a new message for China: that they should lend a voice to Africa’s call for more CDM involvement on the continent.


Godwin Nnanna is the Accra Bureau chief of BusinessDay Nigeria. He was a gold medallist in the 2006 UN Foundations Prize for excellence in reporting development and humanitarian issues.

Homepage photo by Ramtuli


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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous





Mission for the Chinese!

This is a well-written article. However, we need to wait till the end to find its original message, that is, China "should lend a voice to Africa’s call for more CDM involvement on the continent."

Think about it, it's actually not easy for China to become what it is today: After developing its own economy, China has constantly been accused of polluting the global environment. Now, Africa not only expects China to develop the economy on the continent, but also holds it responsible for their CDM too.

Besides calling for China's involvement, African countries should also push western countries to act on it.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



More constructive suggestions, more action

Let us go beyond CDM. The

points are right that China should and can move forward to share its experiences to African countries.

First step: China, Africa and developed countries should sit down to talk and build up common political willing and trust. Communication among the three parties are scare in the previous years.
Second step: New world order should be set up to make every party in the world benefit from it

It's hard but that should be the goal. Otherwise, peaceful development and harmonious world cannot be achieved.

Fu Jing with China Daily

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Africa's responsibility

China must act swiftly to cut down its greenhouse gas emission to avoid a global catastrophe in future. Africa is almost burning for heat. But the responsibility to change climatic situations in the continent is Africa's and African leaders must set standards and take pragmatic steps to reduce internal emission rates as increase its global voice on the matter. We just seem not to be too concerned.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


非洲必须要下大功夫考察全球变暖的后果了. 绿墙工程是一个好的开端.但还需要更多的努力.责任不在中国,而在非洲的国家元首和国民.

Action now

Africa must take drastic action now to check the impact of global warming. The green wall is a fair start. More needs to be done. The responsibility is not China's but that of African leaders and Africans.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Shifting responsibilities is a sin to the human race

An undeniable fact is that China is gradually becoming a big carbon-emitting country. It is a sin done to the human race for the US not to act on its responsibility of decreasing carbon emissions. And it will be sinful too in case of China, if it is going to do the same.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



中国每年经济需要至少7%的增长率来缓解就业的压力, 经济增长需要消耗汽油. 中国充其量只能在节能技术研究, 推广应用方面努力点, 但在这些方面中国也是远远落后于西方发达国家的.

1. 世界各国建立共同基金, 研究节能技术
2. 建立国际法律, 强制各国人民使用这些节能技术
3. 呼吁现在在节能技术上先进的国家把这些技术无偿奉献出来, 造福全世界.

China cutting CO2 emissions: can't be done

It's impossible for China to cut its CO2 emissions. China's annual economic growth needs to be at least 7% to ease employement pressures, the growth needs to consume oil. At best China can work harder on energy saving and encouraging such applications, but in these endeavours China lags far behind western developed countries. What makes sense would be: 1. All countries set up a shared fund to research energy-saving technologies 2. Enact international laws to make people use these technologies 3. Call for countries with sophisticated energy-saving technologies to donate te applications for the good of the entire world.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


上面第六条评论说到了点子上。今天中国面临的环境和资源之间矛盾的根源就是人口众多。在还不晚之前,非洲应该吸取中国的这个严重教训。否则,无论怎样的援助和努力都无法供养日益增长的人口,无法抑制如此巨大的人口给资源和环境带来的压力,无法根除贫穷和促进发展。中国已经用艰难的方式展示了由于人口超出土地的生态能力所造成的后果。同样地,非洲也是有着苛刻的无法承担供养过多的人口的自然环境。非洲许多国家对农田、牧场和其它资源的争夺使冲突不断,而这种冲突又是因为人口增长促成的。许多国家已经广泛认同(例如这些国家在气候变化大会上的报告指出)经济的发展和人口的增多是产生温室气体排放的两大动力。----Hua Li

Africa needs to learn lessons from China in population

The comment above (No. 6) hit the point. The root cause for today's dilemma of env Vs resources faced by China is over-population. Africa should learn this hard lesson of China before it is too late. Otherwise, whatever aids and effort would not be able to feed an ever escalating population, curb the pressure of such population on resources and env., leaving little for poverty eradication and development. China shows the consequences of population exceeding the eco-capacity of a land in a tough way. Likewise, Africa is a continent with harsh natural environment, which can’t afford to support too many people. Many conflicts in Africa are proved to be increasingly caused by competition for farming land, pasture and other natural resources, driven by over-population.

It is widely recognized by many countries (e.g. in their reports to the climate change convention) that economic growth and population are the too biggest driving force for greenhouse gases emissions.

Hua Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Poor China still pay the compensation

The comment above just hit the point, the greenhouse gas discharge amount per capital in China rank mid-level(below the world average) among developing countries, however, due to the huge number of population, the total discharge amount jump to No.2 globally. China’s GDP is also the average (below the world average) in developing countries. We are the needy and the victims of climate change, but we still suffer the criticism, we are worrying how to reduce the amount while guarantee people’s job and food, but we still pay the compensation for other poor countries. Really an impressed lessen. Conflicts and poverty are not only the results of climate change, but the results of excessive population. As BBC report, World Showbiz advocated a donation to Ethiopia for the starvation there 20 years ago, but when the British Star who was the originator at that time revisited there again, he only discovered all the things were the same as before but more population and more poor soils.