On the eve of the Africa Union (AU) Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai is calling on African leaders to respond to the global climate change crisis – a crisis that disproportionately impacts Africans, particularly African women.
“Climate change does not affect everyone equally,” says Wangari Maathai, who won her Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work linking the environment, peace and sustainable development, while promoting democracy in Kenya. “Here in Africa, we are paying a high price for a rapidly changing climate – more droughts, food crises and it is set only to get worse. We can see how climate change is already aggravating the competition for resources and the economic stability all over this continent.”
In 2009, Maathai addressed the UN Special Session on Climate Change, and called on world leaders to commit resources to helping African countries address the destructive impacts of climate change. Now she is telling African leaders that they, too, must do their part.
“As African leaders, you must rise to the challenge posed by climate change,” says Maathai. “Many of our countries have experienced decades of environmental mismanagement or outright neglect. Indeed, some governments – including my own – have facilitated the plunder of the forests, the degradation of the land and unsustainable agricultural practices. Many communities in Africa are already threatened by the negative impacts of climate change. Children in Africa are dying from malnutrition as women struggle to farm on land that is less and less productive. People on coastlines are losing their homes as the seas consume the coastlines.”
The next UN Summit on climate change will be held in December 2011, in Durban, South Africa. Maathai says “COP17 – the official name is the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties – is an opportunity for Africans to show global leadership on an issue that is critical to the future of the planet, particularly of the region.
“The AU Summit is the last chance for African leaders to come together and focus on climate change before the global gathering in Durban. African leaders must use this opportunity to commit to some concrete actions that will increase the pressure on Western and other countries to accelerate their efforts to provide support to the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change.”
Maathai says heads of state should make every effort possible to reduce the vulnerability of their communities by giving them knowledge, skills and tools to adopt sustainable technologies and participate in the green economy. “Africa can leap frog the polluting and carbon intensive development model that is the legacy of most western countries.”
Maathai, who was made Goodwill ambassador to the Congo Basin Forests in 2005 and is co-chair of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, points to the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries Programme (UN-REDD). REDD is an example of a programme that, if implemented well, could help empower Africans in addressing climate change and protect the natural environment on which all Africans depend. REDD seeks to reduce deforestation and protect standing forests – deforestation is of the leading causes of climate change – by recognising the additional value of forests based on their capacity to store carbon and thus reduce greenhouse gases. REDD could lead to developed countries paying developing ones to reduce emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation.
“If programmes like REDD are going to help communities in Africa, especially those in the Congo basin, then we must show leadership to ensure that the people most impacted by forest management issues, including women, are present at the decision-making table,” says Maathai.