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ENVIRONMENT-AFRICA: Getting Most of the Heat From Global Warming

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, May 17 2007 (IPS) - Nobody will escape the effects of climate change but the poor in Africa will suffer the most because of decreasing food production and the heightened prevalence of diseases such as malaria, warn environmentalists, church leaders and researchers.

Another dilemma is that, ‘‘for a long time, Africans have regarded owning vehicles like in America and Europe as signs of wealth and good living. Now suddenly they are being told to give up such dreams because of global warming,” said Zenale Twala, executive director of South African Non-Governmental Organisations Coalition (SANGOCO).

She was speaking at a SANGOCO workshop in Johannesburg on the effects of climate change on the poor this week (May 15).

‘‘When I see the price of basic commodities like maize increasing, I see the writing on the wall,” Bishop Paul Verryn of the Methodist Church told the workshop. He is particularly concerned about a plan to turn some of South Africa’s arable agricultural land into producing biofuels. ‘‘Turning the land into producing biofuels could exacerbate poverty.”

South Africa’s planned production of biofuels from crops such as maize, sunflowers and sugar cane ‘‘can play a role in improving energy supply for the poor as long as they are grown by small-scale farmers and rural people”, said SANGOCO.

SANGOCO is opposed to the plan by the government and business to use some of South Africa’s arable land for maize for biofuels while more than 1.2 million South Africans suffer from malnutrition and 14 million are vulnerable to food insecurity.

Almost half of households in South Africa – 43 percent – suffer from food insecurity. Ten percent of children under nine are underweight; whilst 1.5 percent are classified severely underweight, according to official figures.

Emissions of carbon dioxide can largely be attributed to the transport sector. ‘‘Yet we are taking away food from poor people’s tables and putting it into rich people’s cars,” said Annie Sugrue, southern African co-ordinator of Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Sustainability, a non-governmental organization (NGO).

There is also a concern that the manufacturing of biofuels will use a lot of energy and generate greenhouse gases.

Last year the World Food Programme (WFP) said 40 million people from 36 African countries required food aid. The reasons ran from perennial drought and floods to unpredictable and reduced rainfalls attributed to climate change.

African leaders have placed the issue of poverty on their agenda. This received impetus in 2000 when world leaders met in New York and committed themselves to the Millennium Development Goals, including halving poverty by 2015. ‘‘Six years later, progress has been made on poverty but we are actually losing ground on hunger,” the WFP said.

Findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that Africa will suffer the worst effects of global warming. The IPCC is a team of scientists set up by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to examine climate change.

According to the IPCC, agricultural yields in Africa are predicted to halve by 2020. At that time, some 250 million Africans ‘‘will experience water stress”. Low-lying African coastal areas will be under water as the sea is expected to rise six metres or more.

African fisheries will experience decreasing stocks due to the over-exploitation of marine resources. The IPCC predicted that ‘‘diseases and pestilence will spread throughout the continent”.

‘‘What we are seeing now are the effects of what happened 30 years ago. What is happening now should have been addressed much earlier,” said Richard Worthington of Earthlife Africa, an environmental group based in South Africa.

Africa’s position is clear on climate change. ‘‘Globally, Africa contributes the least to climate change but continues to pay the most for the degradation of the environment. Northern countries remain the greatest polluters and should pay the most. We will insist on the principle of ‘polluter pays’,” said Hassen Lorgat, campaigns and communications manager at SANGOCO.

He argued that ‘‘current measures aimed at entrenching the so-called free market-which puts profits before the environment-must be changed”.

A SANGOCO briefing paper dated May 2007 pointed out that the US is ‘‘the worst offender”, producing ‘‘about 25 percent of global carbon emissions, with the European Union (producing) about 15 percent. China is on the US’s heels.

‘‘It is expected that China will overtake the US with carbon emissions within the year. China has 1.3 billion people and produces 4,732 million tones of carbon dioxide whereas the US has 293 million people and produces 5,799 million tons of carbon dioxide. That means that each person in the Unites States is producing more than four times what a Chinese person is producing”, according to the paper.

More than 100 activists, led by SANGOCO, marched on the US consulate in Johannesburg on May 15, demanding that the US adopts the Kyoto Protocol like most other states have done. They also urged countries to cut emissions to pre-1990 levels as soon as possible: 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050.

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