Next fall, an African country, most likely Egypt, will host COP27—the 27th UN Climate Change conference. This will come on the heels of two more Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, due to be released next year, that will outline the worsening impacts of climate change, the adaptations the world needs to make, and our vulnerabilities to the climate crisis. These are issues that particularly affect the African continent. The combined focus that COP27 and the IPCC bring will mean Africa’s climate story is at last in the global media spotlight.
Africa has been facing escalating climate-related disasters for years. This summer, 6 million people in Angola faced starvation as a result of the worst drought the country has seen in 40 years. Thousands of Angolan “climate refugees” have been forced to cross the border into Namibia. Similar droughts have crippled the north and the south of the continent, with Algeria and Madagascar both devastated by water shortages. Meanwhile, locusts—exacerbated by cyclones—are swarming East Africa, and agriculture in West Africa is being deeply affected by a shifting monsoon.
Africa has long suffered a lack of attention from countries and populations outside the continent. Climate events such as flooding in Germany and China and wildfires in Canada and Greece this year, have, rightly, been covered around the world. Flooding in Nigeria and Uganda has largely been ignored.
In 2022, this balance will shift. As bodies such as the IPCC focus on how climate change is already affecting people and what we must do to adapt, Africa cannot be left out. The continent has contributed only 3 percent of global historic emissions, yet it is experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change and has the fewest resources to be able to adapt. Conversations will begin to center on how rich countries—which are also the biggest polluters—can help African countries (and others without the means) become more resilient to the inevitable devastation they face. The UN’s “Loss and Damage” policy proposal, the idea that big polluters compensate affected nations for the damage and destruction they have already experienced due to climate change (an idea often opposed by developed nations), will be brought back to the international climate agenda by African voices.
Africa, although historically a very small contributor to pollution, will also need to play its part in reducing global carbon emissions. In particular, it will need help transition to clean energy, as electricity demand on the continent is predicted to double by 2030. However, money and investment still continues to pour into African countries from non-African corporations and governments seeking to extract and burn fossil fuels. The 1,400-km East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania—currently being built by French oil company Total—is a potent example of this. The project will displace local people and destroy farmlands and biodiversity, yet profits will largely be taken out of the continent.
Next year, we will need that money to stop flowing into fossil fuels and be used instead to scale the adoption of renewables and invest in nature. The Congo, for example, is home to the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest. Like the Amazon, it is a vital global component for regulating the Earth’s climate. Unlike the Amazon, however, it is not the focus of the world’s attention, even though escalating deforestation there threatens us all.
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In 2022, events will line up to put Africa in the spotlight of the global climate conversation—but this attention is long overdue. The world needs to reckon with the drought, famine, floods, cyclones, destruction, and death that are here now, and that will continue to get worse, unless governments everywhere finally begin to take drastic action in line with what the science is telling us.
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