On October 22, the Weiser Diplomacy Center, together with the African Studies Center, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and the Program in the Environment, hosted a panel discussion on “Framing and Debating Climate Change and the Environment in Key African States.” Moderated by UM’s Justine Maisha Davis, the event featured two former UMAPS scholars, Babajide Ololajulo, (University of Ibadan, Nigeria) and Patrick Cobbinah (University of Melbourne, Australia).
Davis opened the panel by highlighting how Africa is often depicted as the continent hardest hit by climate change and asked how this narrative interacts with policy decisions regarding climate change. She also raised the possibility of pan-African approaches to climate issues, which might more commonly be addressed on the national level.
These opening remarks framed the key themes which emerged throughout the discussion, as issues such as climate change policy, the scale of risk, appropriate responses, democracy, and conflict were addressed by the panelists. Ololajulo reminded the audience that “it can never be over-emphasized that even though Africa’s uses only 2% of greenhouse emissions, it suffers disproportionately from climate change and its effects.” He mentioned how the effects of climate change occur through flooding in East Africa, changing rainfall in the southern Africa region, and the drying up of lakes such as Lake Chad. Ololajulo highlighted the gravity of these concerns and assessed them in light of the policy responses across the continents. In Ghana, for example, an investment summit plan has been established to raise funds and resources to support a substantive response. In two other examples, Morocco recently built a concentrated solar facility that aims to achieve the country’s goal of 52% renewables by 2030, while a carbon tax act has been introduced in South Africa to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.
Cobbinah approached the topic by addressing the policy implications of climate change, specifically the role of cities as a way to understand the imbalances associated with climate change across the globe. Africa lacks sufficient “rapid responses” in comparison to wealthier world regions, which impacts the continent’s ability to focus on mitigation and adaptation. Cobbinah highlighted how, regarding mitigation, African countries use more public transport, have a larger number of people walking, and contribute to carbon capture through their established forests. These types of interventions reduce the anthropogenic forces of climate change and contribute to mitigation. African countries, according to Cobbinah, continue to tackle climate change through addressing the Sustainable Development Goals, exemplifying a pan-African approach. However, resource limitations mean that many African countries, despite being signatories to international climate agreements, do not show high levels of “local-level action” in climate adaptation and mitigation.
The discussion also considered the relationship between climate change and conflict. Ololajulo brought up the example of Nigeria, highlighting the link between the effects of climate change and deforestation, particularly in the northern part of the country. This has in turn had significant impacts on key issues such as the availability of, and access to, resources, land claims, and migration across the region. These intersections and tensions may lead to violence and conflict, as well as tensions between the northern and southern regions of Nigeria. In Sudan and Somalia, Cobbinah pointed out, changing rainfall patterns have resulted in lower water access, leading to violence and tension. Water shortage is one side of this issue, with the other being excessive rainfall because of climate change. In West Africa, for example, a major dam spillage occurred because of excessive rainfall in Burkina Faso that led to the dramatic loss of lives and properties in the region, and in neighboring Ghana.
Reflecting on the event, Davis told ASC that “limiting the disruption of climate change to populations and environments relies on the cooperation of all countries. In any case, climate change will force all countries to take action in some way, whether it is through mitigation, adaptation, or re-imagining of each country's development trajectories.” This re-imagining can take place in many different places, and on different scales. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, the panel highlighted that international, and inter-continental approaches will be required to meet it head-on. Cobbinah summarized this point when ASC followed up with him after the event by saying “climate change is a global phenomenon despite different levels of emission contribution and impact experience. In the same way, efforts towards addressing climate change should have a global outlook with commitment from every country/region. The level of commitment can, of course, differ based on the resource capacity of each country/region. It is expected that those who pollute more should do more. It is as simple as that. If major polluting countries like China, USA, Japan, and Australia, fail to act or do more, no amount of effort from the less polluting countries and regions will make a significant impact.”