Climate change, COP27 and the African people
By Femi Olugbile
A huge meeting of the great and the good from all corners of the globe is taking place as we speak in the famous Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. It started from the 6th of November. It will be winding up, mercifully, today. It is the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, tagged as ‘Egypt 2022’. The actual name of the gathering is a mouthful – Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, or COP27. By the time the curtains are drawn later today, ninety Heads of States and 35,000 delegates from 190 countries, will have beaten tracks from their neck of the woods to Egypt. This is not counting hundreds of thousands of non-governmental advocates and purveyors of various causes, from the preservation of the Amazon to the defence of gender parity and the rights of LGBTQI, who will have found their way to the beautiful environment of Sharm Ek-Sheikh, to engage, to harangue, to criticise, to protest, to advocate and generally to articulate their fervently held views. Some wacky extremists among the activists, such as the group known as ‘Extinction Rebellion’ – who routinely block roads and immobilise trains in the UK by gluing their bodies to the ground or to the body of the train, may have found their way to Sharm El-Sheikh, despite the determined efforts of the notorious Egyptian Secret Police to keep ‘dissidents’ out. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, remember, has no stomach for ‘troublemakers’. Greta Thunberg, the young girl Swedish super-star of environmental activism has surely passed through the ritzy portals of Sharm by now, addressing the Press and the Heads of States with her pungent, Asperger’s taciturnity. Perhaps Malala, the Pakistani survivor and Nobel Laureate, another superstar, has been here too.
The gatherings of COP sometimes have the air of a jamboree that provides Heads of States and their retinues from various continents a chance to take a free holiday in an idyllic setting, at the expense of their taxpayers. They ‘sing for their supper’ by delivering the obligatory nice-sounding speech at the plenary, having a meeting or two with other leaders, and putting on their best suits for an interview with CNN.
All that aside, it is gradually dawning on most people in the world, given the experience of the past few years, with devastating floods, hurricanes and droughts, cataclysmic fires and winds, and extreme weather everywhere, that climate change is real.
The politics of Climate Change have become very complex. The Conference of the Parties (COP) has been held annually since the United Nations facilitated the first international agreement on Climate Change in 1992. The central danger, as identified at the outset, was a gradual rise of the temperature of the earth. There was a need, as concluded at that first conference, for governments to agree on a two-fold agenda – to take measures to limit the rate of rise of the earth’s temperature and device measures to adapt, and to help the most vulnerable nations to survive the already dire consequences of climate change, such as droughts, famine, and the flooding of islands and low-lying nations.
Over the years, scientific consensus has crystallized that a doomsday scenario would arise if the earth’s temperature was allowed to rise above 1.5 degrees centigrade from its norm. The general focus, coming into Sharm El-Sheikh, was that the wealthy of the West should reduce emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by such measures as phasing out exploration and use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, changing to ‘renewable’ power sources, especially solar, for domestic and public use, and carrying out some somewhat more challenging assignments such as reducing the carbon dioxide-rich flatulence released by cows that are bred for human consumption of red meat.
Donald Trump, naturally, had something to say about the whole business, poo-pooing the science, and refusing to support the costly economic measures needed to implement COP decisions in the USA, such as shutting down coal plants. President Biden has brought America back on board.
Regarding Africa, wealthy nations, who have contributed the most to the problem of global warming so far in the process of their own industrialisation and development, were supposed to spend $100 billion annually helping less developed nations to phase out use, and exploration for, fossil fuels. Not a lot of that money has been seen. Rather, the hardships brought about by the Russo-Ukrainian war and the attendant NATO sanctions have thrown a massive spanner in the works and made nonsense of ‘green’ energy targets.
Some people have queried the logic of asking poor nations to pay for the sins of the rich by effectively holding back their own industrial development. This is the origin of the parable about the poor church mouse and his right to eat the communion bread to stay alive. All the peoples of the world are bound together by one common destiny concerning Climate Change. However, every race and every nation has a right, and a duty, to participate in the discussion, and not just have the decisions of others foisted on them. There is something wrong if ‘Western’ governments and activists love African forests and African elephants more than they love Africans themselves, or more than Africans love their forests, or their elephants. There is a gulf of understanding and agreement that needs to be bridged to achieve a truly common purpose on the issue of Climate Change, and how to arrest it.
A final note for ‘environmental’ tourists on African government bandwagons. COP28 next year will be in Dubai. It is sure to be a tourist’s delight.
And a final note of irony. The Sham El-Sheikh COP27 is sponsored by Coca Cola. Coca Cola is an egregious pollutant in Nigeria and the rest of Africa due to weak government regulation and enforcement, selling their drinks in plastic containers that have been banned in other continents, because of the role of plastics in climate change and ocean pollution. It is a fact that leaves a sour taste in the mouth that cannot be erased by a sip of Coke.