Global Politics

Africa unites for climate change

Recent climate negotiations have been dominated by disputes between China and the United States, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. But amid all the wrangling by the giants, the concerns of small nations have often gotten short shrift. That is one reason African countries have decided to work together more closely this year. Myles Estey has more from the UN conference site in Cancun.

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All of Africa accounts for just four percent of global climate emissions. That's roughly one-fifth of what the United States and China each produce. Yet, many observers believe its Africa that will be hardest hit by climate change.

�Virtually every country in the continent is going to be affected,� said Nigerian Anthony Nyong, a manager of the African Development Bank and an observer at the Cancun conference.

�Climate change is not just about environment, it affects basic development,� he said. �The floods in Eastern Africa, for instance, have been costing national governments eight percent of their GDP, just to trying to get back to the status quo.�

The concerns across Africa's 53 countries are extremely diverse. Some regions likely will experience floods, while others likely will face droughts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading scientific authority on the subject, predicts that by 2020, water shortages will affect 75 million people throughout Africa, and crop yields will fall by a third.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu is the delegate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and chair of what's being called the African Group at this year's conference.

�Although we do not have the same exact development level, or the same � national circumstances, we do have things that bring us together,� Mpanu-Mpanu said. �And of course sometimes, it is hard to come with a common position.�

Last year's conference lacked a unified African voice, and that weakened the outcome. South Africa was one of the five countries that helped push through the compromise Copenhagen Accord. But Sudan helped block that agreement from being adopted. Mpanu-Mpanu wants to avoid that kind of rupture this year.

In a large atrium in the Cancun Conference hall, delegates from the African Group debate in French, English, Arabic or local dialects. Mpanu-Mpanu says unity among these African voices is crucial, since together, their population rivals that of India and China.

�It's important that you speak with one voice, so that your voice really resounds loudly,� Mpanu-Mpanu said. �If we had to speak with 53 different tongues, we would appear to be divided.�

A major goal of the group is securing financial assistance to help African nations adapt to climate change.

�We feel the developed world needs to do more,� Richie B. Muheya is Malawi's minister of irrigation and water development. �Because there have not been a lot of initiatives coming our way in terms of programs that can assist Malawi, in realizing its national adaptation plans.�

But the Africans here say their countries need more than just money. Anthony Nyong of the Development Bank says much of the aid should come in the form of the tools Africa needs to adapt to a changing climate.

�We want to see technology transfer, where we are involved in the whole life cycle of technology from research and development to the actual development of the technology,� Nyong said. �That is where you build sustainable capacity.�

Leaders of the African Group are hopeful that the Cancun Conference will produce agreement on some of the issues of most concern to their countries. But Mpanu-Mpanu is realistic that the meeting is just another stepping stone toward a comprehensive, binding treaty.

�We want to keep legally binding outcome that will reach next year in South Africa, maybe not, maybe further down the line,� Mpanu-Mpanu said. �But here we need to leave Cancun with some decisions at least, so we don't hinder the multilateral process.�

The key, Mpanu-Mpanu says, is to keep the multilateral UN process alive. Because whatever the differences may be among Africans, he says it's the only way small countries like theirs will have a voice among the economic giants who are causing the problem.