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Tackling Climate Change in Africa: Europe’s Solution to the Migrant Crisis?

PARIS, France, Dec 11 2015 (IPS) - As thousands of Africans arrive in Europe every month, often risking their lives aboard shaky boats to get to a better life, lack of access to energy could be one of the reasons for their exodus.

Africa’s poverty challenges are well documented. In recent years there has been much discourse around how climate change worsens these challenges and could reverse the continent’s economic fortunes.

Lack of access to energy, for example has been mentioned here at COP 21 as one of the reasons why Africa’s young people leave the continent in search of opportunities, mostly in Europe.

While the International Organisation for Migration outlines that the linkages between human mobility and climate impacts are highly complex, it is critical to point out that, in most situations, people choose or are forced to migrate due to a number of factors and climate change could be the primary one or the key to many secondary factors.

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank agrees with this reasoning by highlighting lack of electricity in Africa as a reason for young Africans’ mass movement to Europe.

“Droughts all across Africa, the Sahel is burning, Lake Chad is dried-up, livelihoods are devastated, young people across Africa are jumping on boats, jumping to go to Europe because there are no economic opportunities,” Dr. Adesina told IPS at the COP 21 talks in Paris, France.

He says Africa’s lack of access to electricity is stopping the continent’s industrialization, costing Africa up to 4 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“Africa has no electricity. And therefore, industrialization is not happening, the small and medium enterprises are not functioning at their full capacity. As a result, Africa today loses 3 to 4 per cent of its GDP for lack of electricity,” he said.

Linking his argument to migration, the AfDB President believes lighting-up Africa could transform the continent’s economic fortunes thereby according young people massive opportunities within their own countries.

“It’s also linked to migration by the way…if you turned off this light and it is dark, and you go to an area where there is light, even insects move from where there is dark to where there is light.

“So by lighting up and powering Africa, our young people will be staying on the continent because they can use electricity to do many things. Nobody works in the dark and succeeds, you walk in the dark you always stumble, you fall, that’s why we must light up and power Africa,” he said of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative which was launched at the COP 21 talks, targeting 10 gigawatts in the next five years and 300 gigawatts by 2030.

This massive initiative dubbed Africa’s commitment to an ambitious outcome of the COP 21 climate deal will require billions of dollars to materialize.

Juxtaposing Europe’s migrant crisis that is set to cost as much as 5 billion dollars, and the cost of climate financing for Africa, there could be an opportunity for longer term investment in Europe addressing the migrant problem at its source.

Niclas Hällström, Director of What Next, a Swedish think-tank, says the renewable energy initiative provides an opportunity for Europe to make serious investments in its own interest.

“It is a moral imperative for developed countries to support Africa’s climate adaptation, but it is also in their interest.

“Take the newly launched Africa Renewable Energy Initiative. This bold effort by African countries is set to reach universal access for all Africans by latest 2030…It requires billions of dollars in climate finance, but will create jobs and enhanced well-being for people across the whole continent. Apart from the need to handle the refugee situations acutely, this is the best longer-term action one can think of,” said Hällström.

Climate finance has remained a sticking point in the climate negotiations for years. With few days to go before the end of COP 21, the trend has not changed much.

Dan Bodansky, Foundation Professor of Law and Faculty, Co-Director of the Center for Law and Global Affairs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, shares insights on day 8 of the negotiations.

“Of the ‘crunch issues,’ finance is the most difficult…unlike the other issues, it may not be possible to paper over through artful wording, although the use of terms like “should” and “strive” may provide a middle ground,” he said, pointing out that the negotiating text that emerged from the ADP over the weekend still has many other brackets and options.

As negotiations enter the final frenzy hours with the text expected on Day 9, the African Group of Negotiators and other key stakeholders’ anxiety is reaching tipping points.

“The present reality at the conference confirms that countries have spent the first week restating their old positions leaving most of the key debates unresolved,” said Sam Ogallah of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), calling on Ministers to urgently inject energy into the process for a fair deal that would reflect the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility-CBDR and addresses the issues of loss and damage, finance for adaptation and mitigation and keeping the global warming well below 1.5 Celsius.

In adding impetus to the climate change and migration nexus, a report released by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at the COP 21 Talks, accuses world’s top media of failing to identify climate change as a contributor to some of the world’s biggest crises, including migration, food insecurity and conflict.

IFAD President, Kanayo Nwanze, said “If the world becomes aware of how climate change threatens our food security or why it is a catalyst for migration and conflict, then we can expect better support for policies and investments that can pre-empt future crises.”

Will developed countries at COP 21 recognise this argument? The world will know in a matter of hours.


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