Africa can't sit on Its hands and wait for climate justice

Category: Commentary
Published on Tuesday, 29 December 2009 08:18
Written by Professor Wangari Maathai, article first published by Daily Nation on the Web
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wangari_maathai_potrait_by_martin_rowe The Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change ended dramatically after delegates failed to reach a consensus. Millions of people were disappointed.

The UN will have to create a conducive environment to quickly follow-up on the conclusions in Copenhagen and arrive at a better outcome for the planet; probably a compromise agreement that would remove the impasse and move the process forward again.

Leaders know what humanity is up against as the clock continues to tick, and, indeed, many are deeply engaged with strategies that are preparing citizens at domestic level.

Industrialised countries committed to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions that would maintain levels of increase in global temperatures below 2°C, while more vulnerable developing countries prefer levels below 1.5°C.

But until we get there, leaders from the developed world went back home to face voters, the business community, colleagues and other interest groups, that wonder whether so much money should be committed to foreign countries.

Some need to be convinced that they have a historical responsibility to climate change and therefore, a moral obligation to help solve the problem they have caused. The focus is foremost on national interests and political and economic considerations.

Yet, climate change is also a security issue because it will cause large migrations of environmental refugees that will escape rising seas, loss of land to desertification, and lack of water.

Leaders have to balance between doing right and antagonising their citizens; they will only commit to certain levels of emissions of greenhouses gases and only a certain amount of money.

Their targets are made in the spirit of the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities" that recognises the historical responsibility of developed countries and the moral obligation to do justice.

Developing countries need to do much for themselves because they are especially vulnerable. A lot can be achieved without financial help from Copenhagen.

Here in Kenya, the government is protecting forests so that the country can continue to receive environmental services, conserve biodiversity and get hydro- and thermo-power. It is also investing in wind and solar power.

Kenya is also intensifying its tree-planting campaign. Environment minister John Michuki has already given directives that every person put 10 per cent of their land under trees.

This amounts to about 25 trees per hectare, and offers a great opportunity for agro-forestry. The trees can be fruit or multipurpose trees.

Mr Michuki also directed that any eucalyptus trees planted within 30 feet of a river be uprooted. This will protect waterways and watersheds. Steep slopes should be planted with grass, including fodder, to stop soil erosion.

Kenyans should harvest rain water by collecting roof water, making terraces, and creating cut-off drains and trenches to hold rain water. This also stops soil erosion, stops siltation in dams, and destruction of roads.

Unfortunately, there is still mistrust between developed and developing countries. The former have been slow to commit.

For sure, corruption continues to be prevalent. But unless the mindset changes on both sides of the divide, regions like Africa will continue to suffer from misjudgment and mistrust.

The deep suspicion that money will not be spent for the intended purposes will determine how much of the resources will be committed and directed towards the African region.

Therefore, countries should use this time to set up mechanisms to ensure there is transparency, and accountability and a way to monitor compliance.

Both the USA and China are major players. Both emit the largest amount of greenhouse gases and they are among the biggest economies.

Their divide is not only over the level of emissions by 2020 and beyond, but also over transparency, monitoring and verification that would not violate sovereignty.

Africa is vulnerable because it does not have adequate skilled humanpower and technology. It desperately needs committed, value-driven citizens, who will deliver honourably.

But, unless the people commit for the sake of their countries, much of the money will either disappear with experts or owners of intellectual property rights and technology.

Prof Maathai is a Nobel Peace laureate, and Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem.