African movements call for real action on climate crisis

As we celebrate Earth Day tomorrow, we are painfully aware that Africa continues to get pummelled by the climate crisis! The latest hit has been at the hands of Cyclone Freddy which ripped through Madagascar and Mozambique before making devastating landfall in Malawi. By mid-March, Malawi’s department of disaster management affairs confirmed that 326 had died, over 40 000 households affected, and 183 159 people displaced. These figures would no doubt be much higher now. Freddy is the third cyclone to have hit Malawi in the past year whilst Madagascar and Mozambique have been hit by multiple cyclones over the last few years alone. Scientists have been predicting for decades that impacts from the climate crisis such as cyclones and storms will become more frequent and destructive. The Indian Ocean, which fuelled Freddy, is one of the fastest warming seas in the world creating the conditions for cyclones and storms that follow.

What the scientists are now saying

These stark warnings tie in with the latest report from climate scientists under the body called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC recently launched its Synthesis Report from its Sixth Assessment, produced over eight years. The report confirms that climate impacts are already extreme and far-reaching, even more so than anticipated. Worse still, people are not able to adapt with the severity of some impacts and have to shoulder massive losses and damages. In places like Southern Africa which continue to be assaulted with disaster after disaster, people now seem to be living in perpetual crisis.  

Volahery Andriamanantenasoa of climate justice organisation CRAAD-OI in Madagascar shared,

“We are increasingly affected by the impacts of climate change in ways no one could have imagined. And the worst part is that the long-term impacts are still being overlooked. It’s not just about the loss of homes or crops. It’s not just about the loss of material goods, it’s about the loss of our very essence, our future, our hope. Women are so impoverished by these innumerable crises, combined with the latent injustices they already suffer, that in some regions of Madagascar, they are selling their own children in the marketplaces.”

The earth has already warmed to 1.1 degrees Celsius and last year we hit record levels of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. At this level of global warming, there’s already been changes to the planet that are unprecedented in human history. Every small increase beyond this point will only intensify these threats and even limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a temperature increase agreed to by countries in the global climate talks as a safe limit – is not really safe for all. Should 1.5 degrees be surpassed, even shortly, this will lead to “more severe, oftentimes irreversible impacts, from local species extinctions to the complete drowning of salt marshes to loss of human lives from increased heat stress,” says World Resources Institute in summarising the report.

The IPCC offers some hope that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible, but immediate and drastic action is needed. For this to happen, the world would need to peak carbon emissions before 2025 and halve emissions by 2030, reaching ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050.

Failed climate leadership and blocking action

But while the world burns, there’s been dithering on action at the United Nations climate talks. One of the main actions is for the burning of fossil fuels – the main cause of climate change – to be stopped. But far from this happening fossil fuel companies have been declaring record profits this year alone. In fact, fossil fuel companies represent some of the biggest delegations at the climate talks, outweighing many country delegations from the Global South. And this year the CEO of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) national oil company Adnoc has been appointed the President of the UN’s climate summit, called the Conference of the Parties or COP. The Guardian has also revealed that the UAE has the third biggest plans for oil and gas expansion in the world.

Fossil fuel companies also continue to expand their operations across Africa on the back of European energy sanctions against Russia for their invasion of Ukraine. The fallouts from new oil and gas exploration are felt most severely on women who produce food and local energy for their families and communities. These projects cut women off their land and also destroy the environment they live off. Lilia Hantanirina from FARM, Madagascar adds,

“Despite the meetings held by many countries regarding the COP on climate change, people are constantly worried and wrong solutions are being implemented towards the resolution of the climate crisis which is a form of indirect and modern colonisation for the countries of the South and their vulnerable populations.”

The past 27 years of the climate negotiations has in fact been a story of decreasing ambition and the failure of multilateralism, with the appearance and now dominance of fossil fuel lobbyists being more shockingly hijacking the process. It is now time to question whether the UN’s climate process has lost all credibility and legitimacy and that it instead needs to be structurally transformed to ensure real action.

Rise of the climate justice movements and the Counter COP

In contrast to the dominance of the fossil fuel industry in the climate talks, the space for the climate justice movement has been increasingly curtailed. And in defiance of the lack of action of the official space, part of the African climate justice movement has instead focused on building with people on the ground at an African People’s Counter COP (APCC) process. Under the Africa Climate Justice Collective, a convergence of 27 movements and allied organisations, the group has held two successive APCC’s and has been pivotal in demanding that our country delegations push for real solutions in the fight for climate justice.

It is people’s movements that are calling for real action in line with what the science is saying and putting climate justice at the heart of the struggle. Earth Day is a moment for us to listen to the movements and those most impacted by the climate crisis.

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