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Climate Change and the Environment

This page updated on-line at http://www.africafocus.org/intro-env.php.

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Talking Points

  • Global warming and environmental damage from the fossil-fuel industry already affect all of us, although responsibility lies primarily with the rich industrialized countries and the newly industrializing powers. Africa is the most vulnerable continent, but extreme weather and sea-level rise have hit New Orleans and New Jersey as well as Lagos.

  • When industries make decisions based on short-term profits, encouraged by government subsidies to established industries, they systematically discount damages from "externalities." Visible results include the devastation of oil-producing areas in the Niger Delta and of coal-producing areas, whether in South Africa or West Virginia. The longer-term consequences in rising temperatures and more extreme weather will be even more devastating.

  • Action to combat climate change depends in part on decisions made in international conferences, where the primary obstacles to action are the rich countries and the newly industrializing powers. But efforts at many other levels are also of decisive importance. Fossil-fuel divestment campaigns, as they grow and multiply, can affect investment choices. So can technological innovation. Notably, clean energy can already be more cost-effective than large-scale fossil fuel plants in supplying distributed energy access to Africa.

Workers install off-grid solar panels in Kirambo, Rwanda.

 

Most recent bulletins on climate change and the environment

December 15, 2014  Africa/Global: Postponing Climate Decisions http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/clim1412.php
    "It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis. ... In the wake of the climate disaster that was Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago, I saw the same images of police, pointing war-zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. ... When crisis hits, the underlying racism in our society comes to the surface in very clear ways." - Deirdre Smith, 350.org, August 20, 2014

November 11, 2014  Africa/Global: Fossil-Fuel Divestment Growing http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/cc1411b.php
    The latest international scientific statement on the disastrous and potentially irreversible damage from climate change is unambiguous, as is the imperative for drastic action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But political obstacles to moving from rhetoric to action are virtually unchanged, despite massive demonstrations coinciding with the UN climate summit in late September. The dispersed fossil-fuel divestment movement, however, although still too small to curb the industry, is growing rapidly.

November 11, 2014  Africa/Global: Climate Change Summary Report http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/cc1411a.php
    "The world's top scientists and governments have issued their bluntest plea yet to the world: Slash carbon pollution now (at a very low cost) or risk 'severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.' Scientists have 'high confidence' these devastating impacts occur 'even with adaptation' -- if we keep doing little or nothing." - Joe Romm, Editor, Climate Progress

September 22, 2014  Africa: Climate Action & Economic Growth http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/clim1409.php
    It is still conventional wisdom to pit action to curb climate change against economic growth. But the evidence is rapidly accumulating that this is a false dilemma, buttressed by vested interests in the fossil fuel industry and a simplistic concept of economic growth. According to a report just released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, falling prices for renewable energy and careful analysis of both costs and benefits of low-carbon vs. high-carbon investment strategies point to a clear conclusion: saving the planet and saving the economy go hand in hand.

August 18, 2014  Africa: From Kerosene to Solar http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/sol1408.php
    The largest marketer of solar lamps in Africa, which recently passed the one million mark in lamps sold, has set an ambitious target for the industry. ""Our mission is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of this decade," proclaims Solar Aid. Although achieving this goal would require the pico-solar market to emulate mobile phone industry's exponential growth path, it may not be as utopian as it sounds. According to market research company Navigant Research, "Off-grid solar lighting for base of the pyramid (BOP) markets, the leading solar PV consumer product segment, is transitioning from a humanitarian aspiration to big business."

July 31, 2014  Africa/Global: Talking Points on Common Issues http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/tp1407.php
    As African leaders and corporate CEOs gather to meet with President Obama and U.S. government officials, a wide variety of civil society activists will also be meeting in Washington, some in officially recognized side events, others in alternative venues. Many more will be issuing statements and communicating their views, some appropriating the twitter hashtag #AfricaSummit used by U.S. government officials, thus inserting their views as well into that hashtag stream.

June 30, 2014  Africa: Clean Energy Most Cost-Effective http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/ces1406.php
    "From off-grid LED lighting to 'Skinny Grids,' we can now provide energy access with a fraction of the amount of power we used to need. More importantly, we can unlock affordable initial interventions -- like lighting, mobile phone charging, fans, and TVs plus a small amount of agro processing -- to help people get onto the energy ladder today rather than forcing them to wait decades for a grid extension that may never come. ... It's important to understand that we aren't just imagining this clean energy market growth -- it's already happening." -- Justin Guay, Sierra Club

February 26, 2014  Africa: Tracking Toxic Pollution http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/env1402.php
    The damages produced by modern economies, termed "externalities" by economists, most often do not figure in the market signals shaping corporate profits and therefore corporate decision-making. The result, both in advanced economies or around the world, includes not only the massive threat to our common future through global warming, but also extraordinary levels of toxic pollution disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. Of the top ten toxic threats around the world identified in a new report, three are in Africa: the Agbogbloshie Dumpsite for e-waste in Ghana, the entire Niger Delta region in Nigeria, and the now-closed but still deadly lead mining site in Kabwe, Zambia.

January 21, 2014  South Africa: Renewables Rising, Coal Still King http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/coal1401.php
    "South Africa [is] the world's sixth-largest coal exporter, seventh-largest coal producer, and thirteenth-largest CO2 emitter, with per-capita emissions twice the global average. Ninety-four percent of the country's electricity comes from coal ... The country's abundant solar and wind resources offer a promising renewable energy alternative. But entrenched political interests connected to the ruling party are fighting to expand coal's role in the national economy." - Adam Welz, "The Future of Coal"

November 18, 2013  Africa: Time to Pay for Climate "Loss and Damage" http://www.africafocus.org/docs13/clim1311.php
    "The U.S. delegation negotiating at the U.N. international climate change conference in Poland is pushing an agenda of minimising the role of "Loss and Damage" in the UNFCCC framework, prioritising private finance in the Green Climate Fund, and delaying the deadline for post-2020 emission reduction commitments, according to a State Department negotiating strategy which IPS has seen." Inter Press Service

Mar 10, 2013  Africa/Global: Fossil-Fuel Divestment http://www.africafocus.org/docs13/div1303.php
    The fossil-fuel divestment movement now gaining momentum on college campuses to fight climate change frequently evokes the precedent of the anti-apartheid divestment campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. But there are other Africa connections that are also beginning to be made. Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. American and other multinational companies have a long history of environmental destruction in areas such as the Niger Delta. And while many African countries look to fossilfuel exploitation to fund their development, the experience of the "resource curse" shows that the profits may fuel gross inequality and capital flight rather than development.

Dec 13, 2012  Africa: Time for Climate Justice http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/cl1212.php
    The latest international conference on climate change has concluded in Doha, with the predictable "low-ambition" results. Meanwhile, reports proliferate on the disastrous consequences for Africa and the entire planet if governments do not begin to overcome their lethargy in slowing carbon emissions and preparing for adaptation to the changes from global warming already built into the global system.

Oct 12, 2012  West Africa: Toxic Waste, Failed Accountability http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/tox1210.php
    "This is a story of corporate crime, human rights abuse and governments' failure to protect people and the environment. It is a story that exposes how systems for enforcing international law have failed to keep up with companies that operate trans-nationally, and how one company has been able to take full advantage of legal uncertainties and jurisdictional loopholes, with devastating consequences." - Greenpeace Netherlands and Amnesty International, in a comprehensive report on the 2006 dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan

Oct 3, 2012  Southern Africa: Climate Threat to Zambezi Basin http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/zam1210.php
    According to a new study released in September, "There will be a significant reduction in the amount of water flowing through the [Zambezi] river system, affecting all eight countries it passes through. The water that feeds the river is expected to decrease by between 26 percent and 40 percent in another four decades. But when the rains do fall, they will be more intense, triggering more extreme floods." Nevertheless, says the author of the study, planning for existing and new dams does not yet take account of the impact of climate change in reducing power generation and capacity for flood control.

Complete listing of bulletins on climate change and the environment, 2003-present