How do you tell people that they have to leave their community or drown? It was the heartbreaking decision I faced five years ago as President of Liberia when thousands of families in the capital’s largest city saw their homes washed away.
A similar devastation is spreading across Africa. Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still struggling to recover from the deadly Cyclone Idai that hit in 2019, and Madagascar is on the right track. on the verge of famine. As weather conditions become more volatile, erratic rains are common, severely affecting crop and livestock yields. For a continent dependent on agriculture – this represents approximately a fifth of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic output – the effects of climate change are particularly devastating.
None of this is new. Although the continent contributed the least to emissions – countries in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, only account for 0.55 percent cumulative CO₂ emissions – Africa has been on the front lines of climate change for decades. However, the leaders of the countries of the North, preferring to indulge in delay and denial, have done little to help.
COP26, the UN climate conference underway in Glasgow, Scotland, is a chance to change that. For the good of the planet and especially of Africa, leaders must grasp the moral imperative and engage in decisive action.
The first and most important task is to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels. Although progress has been made since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world is still far from being on the right track: according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, national targets would cause a warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. For many countries in Africa and South, this would be truly catastrophic.
All countries, especially the world’s largest emitters, must come up with more stringent emission reduction targets that keep 1.5 in sight. Basically, whatever is agreed in Glasgow needs to be implemented, with heads of state making it a personal political priority. Not only would that be good in itself, but it would also be a valuable commodity in the fight against climate change: confidence.
This was in short supply. Over ten years ago, the rich countries of the world promised to keep $ 100 billion per year in climate finance to developing economies. He still has not been fully respected. Yet even if the promise were honored, the number – although symbolically important – is insufficient. Many African countries are already spending much more than what they get from the international community to alleviate a crisis they haven’t done much to create. Leaders must go much further and agree on a goal that faithfully reflects the needs of developing countries.
The climate and the world are changing. What will be the challenges of the future and how to respond?
There is little that climate finance can do. Debt across the continent is alarming: in Liberia, for example, debt has been 54.85 percent of GDP in 2019 – and a 94.5% in Zambia. As long as countries are constrained by debt, it is difficult to envision successful adaptation to climate change. The African Union recently called on rich countries to transfer pandemic funds allocated to them by the International Monetary Fund to developing countries. In the amount of 100 billion dollars for the continent, it would be a powerful and timely gesture of solidarity.
The sums may seem colossal, but I know by to live that when there is sufficient political will, the international community can act on a large scale and quickly. At the height of the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa in October 2014, when more than 4,000 people had died and infections were rising rapidly, I wrote a letter to the world pleading for more staff. and resources. The response, led by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the United States, was swift and generous, totaling over $ 5 billion. Together, we defeated Ebola.
Climate change is even more of an existential threat to humanity. In recent months, major economies have been hit by a series of extreme weather events – record rainfall in China, flooding in Germany, wildfires in America. The leaders and citizens of these countries are now experiencing what we have been experiencing in Africa for many years.
The rich world can no longer keep its head in the sand over the consequences of inaction. Now is the time to step in and act – before the Flood overwhelms us all.