As climate talks start in Madrid, a people-centered vision for a fossil-free Africa is gaining ground by Landry Ninteretse

The climate crisis has been dominating the mainstream media lately. Every week, we hear about climate-related disasters hitting different regions across the world. At the same time scientists keep sounding the alarm about our diminishing ability to rein in the worst of climate change, activists keep protesting against climate inaction and corporations continue violating human rights.  

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As the UN and global leaders discuss climate change issues at COP25 – that is the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Madrid, Spain, Africans are rising in ever-growing numbers to resist the fossil fuels industry and champion adapted and affordable climate solutions. Across Africa, civil society groups and local groups are fiercely working towards setting Africa free from coal, oil and gas dependency. Citizens and communities from Lamu (Kenya) to Bargny (Senegal) to Virunga (Democratic Republic of Congo) to San Pedro (Ivory Coast) and Mpumalanga (South Africa) are standing against big fossil fuel companies that are exacerbating the impacts of climate change. These struggles have felt the need to unite and work closely together under the AfrikaVuka platform to achieve greater results and impact. They deserve recognition, support and solidarity.

We cannot stand and watch our lives, economies, ecosystems and resources being put at risk without speaking out. We refuse to accept that our continent, vulnerable and already severely impacted by the effects of climate change, should become the dumping ground of a dying industry. We denounce and reject the rhetoric that coal companies bring ‘development’  and demand greater and active participation in the discussions on future energy choices. For millions of Africans, climate change continues to worsen inequalities at different levels. Supporting people affected irreversibly by climate change, strengthening adaptation mechanisms and addressing the issue of loss and damage are among other core issues being discussed in Madrid, issues which are the central parts of the Paris Agreement.

Four years ago, the Paris climate agreement was signed at COP21. It wasn’t a perfect agreement, but it was the best we’ve managed to get so far, and one that, if fully implemented, would give us a good chance to avoid the worst-case scenarios on the climate crisis. That agreement set a target to reduce global temperatures well below 2C and aiming for 1.5C. Since then, scientists produced a wealth of increasingly concerning reports and studies confirming how only keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5C we will be able to avoid mass die-off of species, destruction of ecosystems and livelihoods and massive migrations as people are forced to flee their homes to seek refuge elsewhere.

Yet, national governments and other powerful actors have failed so far to deliver the sweeping policies and courageous decisions that would stop the world from burning up even further than it has so far. Emissions keep rising, investments in fossil fuels continue and the most vulnerable among us become more and more so by the minute. There are many reasons why this is happening, many reasons why governments are not acting according to what science dictates and what the people need. Apart from COP21, all other climate talks have often been characterised by hypocrisy, greed, empty promises and procrastination, with big polluters deliberately delaying and sabotaging any significant climate action. The influence of the fossil fuel lobby on our governments and on the climate talks themselves has made it so that real progress has been so far stalled, all to allow a few large corporations and national elites to prosper at the expense of everyone else.

We say “no more”

As the climate crisis escalates, African decision-makers must heed the call of the people and urgently take action by focusing on solutions that eliminate fossil fuels and transition to clean and sustainable energy. At the village, city, district and county levels, people are coming together to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry. Unions, faith groups and non-environmental groups are joining them to build alternative people-centred solutions. With the continuous energy technology innovations making renewable energy more accessible and affordable, we believe that Africa can and must lead the way in this watershed moment in history, by addressing the climate crisis while creating a more just and equitable world and generating millions of new jobs for its growing youth population powered by technologically advanced renewable sources.

Regardless of the outcomes of the current climate talks in Madrid, the fight against climate change will not stop. It’s clear that a just and rapid transition away from fossil fuels is within reach, in Africa just as anywhere else. In fact, the way we deal with the climate crisis matters as much as how rapidly we act. We cannot expect the climate crisis to be meaningfully addressed unless those in power start taking into consideration other social justice issues such as extreme poverty, extraction, neo-colonialism, lack of freedom and inequality. We cannot see the climate crisis solved without putting at the center the very frontlines communities affected by recurrent floods, droughts, environmental destruction, hunger and forced displacement. COPs will continue to be a failure as long as the UN allows fossil fuel industry lobbyists to walk its halls and to influence complacent politicians not to take the strong action needed against what the UN secretary-general himself calls an “emergency”.

Landry Ninteretse is the Regional Team Leader of 350Africa.org.

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