Although a number of relief organizations have brought to the fore the effects of global warming and climate change on Africa, the dire situation has largely been ignored. This cannot continue. World leaders should not only work to address the underlying causes (as demonstrated in the G-20’s commitment to end Fossil-Fuel subsidies by 2020) 4 but continue working toward helping poor countries that are struggling to mitigate the effects of global warming. African Governments face difficult decisions regarding balancing job creation with environmental conservation. The international debate over conservation is often a touchy one for developing nations, largely because they feel that the developed world benefited from a time of unbridled carbon-fueled industrial development. As the world’s leading nations and the U.N. work to fight global warming, they must reach out to include leaders of the developing world, especially Africa which is suffering the harshest consequences with the least ability to withstand it. Embracing the input of third-world leaders offers not only a more consolidated approach to the issue but offers a much stronger chance of actual reform.
Unfortunately Africa’s problems with global warming cannot only be attributed to the actions and attitudes of the West. The overwhelming numbers of those affected are unfortunately part of the problem itself. According to the UN the continent is losing forest twice as fast as the rest of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, only 7.5% of the rural population has access to electricity.5 The overwhelming alternative is charcoal. In fact an enormous and often lucrative charcoal industry has emerged. Roads throughout the countryside all over Africa are replete with makeshift lean-tos holding charcoal cut and burned from the local forests and bagged for sale to the city. Where Africa once boasted seven million square kilometers of forest, a third of that has been lost - most of it to charcoal. Wood and its by-product charcoal, unless radical steps are taken, are likely to remain the primary energy source for decades.
What is needed are comprehensive education plans. Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan Nobel peace laureate, has worked hard to educate and engage citizens in her homeland through the Greenbelt movement. "One adaptation option for Africa is to keep her forests standing so that they provide essential environmental services such as carbon sinks," she said. The Greenbelt movement works to promote the planting of indigenous trees in forest catchment areas, private farms and public spaces so as to preserve local biological diversity, enhance natural beauty, and prevent soil erosion. Sensitization and mobilization seminars are held to disseminate information on the importance of tree planting6.
Despite the success of the Greenbelt movement and others, the argument is a notoriously tough sell. For years many efforts to stall the growth of the Sahara by planting trees at its edges have been undercut (literally) by people seeking fuel for food and shelter. The long-term solutions to Africa’s plight are difficult in a region of the world where today’s considerations are of paramount importance over next year’s or even next week’s.
The untold cost of the devastating floods in West Africa remains to be seen. Beyond the loss of property and the cases of loss of life, the flooding has ruined large amounts of food crops and land, risking food shortages and even starvation. Furthermore, flooding severely damages infrastructure in the areas affected, spoiling clean water supplies and inviting disease. Unfortunately the desperate times risk inviting more desperate measures and the cycle of extremes will continue.