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Billions Needed to Climate-Proof Africa
Published on Tuesday, November 7, 2006 by the Inter Press Service
Billions Needed to Climate-Proof Africa
by Stephen Leahy

Climate change will devastate Africa without substantial help from the world community, according to a new report released at the opening of a major U.N. climate change conference in Nairobi, Kenya Monday.

"Africa is the least responsible for climate change but will be hit the hardest," said Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

New scientific data shows that Africa is more vulnerable to the impacts than previously thought, Nuttall told IPS from Nairobi.

Seventy million people and 30 percent of Africa's coastal infrastructure face the risk of coastal flooding by 2080 linked to rising sea levels, the report found. More than one-third of the habitats that support African wildlife could be lost. Crop yields will fall due to warmer temperatures and more intense droughts.

By 2025, some 480 million people in Africa could be living in water-scarce or water-stressed areas.

"If Africa's weather gets any more fickle, then they are in very deep trouble," said Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace International. Sawyer is one of 6,000 people in Nairobi attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

East Africa is losing the snow from its mountains like Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro, which means rivers and streams fed by these mountains are running dry. Farmers will have to relocate and they need help right now, Sawyer told IPS.

"Climate change is underway and the international community must respond by offering well-targeted assistance to those countries in the front-line risked destruction," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.

Africa is also the least prepared continent and will need substantial help from developed nations to cope with impacts of climate change, said Nuttall.

"This is the first major climate change conference in Africa. There is strong interest in how to help 'climate-proof' African infrastructure," he said.

Africa is developing economically, building roads, railways and port facilities, but those have to be constructed in such a way that they will not disappear in 30 or 40 years because of the impacts of climate change, he said.

Those impacts could also devastate the world economy, the British government reported last week. The world's economy could shrink by 20 percent in the worst case scenario, but Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, found that major economic impacts are a certainty under all circumstances. And his report also found that developing regions will be hit hardest.

Scientists estimate that global greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions of 80 percent are needed before 2050 to avoid the worst and irreversible impacts. Under the Kyoto Protocol, 25 developed countries, not including the U.S. and Australia, promised to reduce their emissions by five percent below 1990 levels by 2012. However, emissions in some Kyoto countries like Spain and Canada have soared instead of declining. Canada has already declared that it will not meet its target.

Delegates will be in Nairobi for the next two weeks for what is officially called the twelfth Conference of the Parties (COP 12) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the second Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP2).

They are hoping to keep moving forward with the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, but most importantly to find money for adaptation and to look at future ways of reducing emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol has an Adaptation Fund where monies are deposited by developed countries buying carbon credits under the treaty's Clean Development Mechanism. It is not a lot of money -- 30 to 40 million dollars a year starting in 2008 -- and who gets the money and for what has yet to be worked out, said Sawyer.

"Adaptation is going to cost many billions of dollars," he said.

The Netherlands has estimated it will need to spend one to three percent of its GDP annually to adapt to the new conditions under climate change. Bangladesh, another low-lying country, will need similar assistance to stave off the worst impacts, Sawyer said.

But without sharp reductions in GHG emissions, those costs will quickly soar to unmanageable levels.

"The legal, moral and political obligations of the rich countries are clear: they must dramatically reduce their emissions and at the same time be prepared to provide massive support to help the poorest countries," Sawyer said.

However, no one is expecting the United States, the world's largest emitter of GHGs, to do much until a new administration is in the White House.

After that, the sky is the limit, says Sawyer.

With the right signals from a federal government committed to taking aggressive action, U.S. business' entrepreneurial spirit and drive could accomplish great things as they have done in the past, he believes, adding that the tide is turning and the U.S. public wants action.

"Future generations will not forgive us if we delay," Sawyer said.

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service


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