Africa emits only 5% of world greenhouse gas emissions yet is most at risk from worsening heatwaves, droughts and floods.
African youth activists urged their governments to do more to combat climate change to safeguard food and water supplies on the continent most vulnerable to rising temperatures.
Deforestation in Africa and local energy policies promoting fossil fuels were all adding to the crisis, said Makenna Muigai of Kenya. “I urge African leaders to take into consideration that all of us at the end of the day will be affected by climate change,” she said.
Ndoni Mcunu, an environmental scientist at Witwatersrand University in South Africa, said that African nations should make their economies more efficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Africa only contributes 5% of the greenhouse gases yet we are the most impacted,” she said. China, the United States and the European Union are the top emitters.According to African Development Bank, Africa has 15% of the world’s population, yet is likely to “shoulder nearly 50% of the estimated global climate change adaptation costs”, noting that seven of the 10 countries considered most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa: Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Among policy advice, Vanessa Nakate, 23, of Uganda urged a halt to construction of a pipeline to export Ugandan oil via Tanzania to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga.
She said that activists in Africa often felt ignored, both at home and abroad. “The biggest threat to action in my country and in Africa is the fact that those who are trying as hard as possible to speak up are … not able to tell their stories,” she said, adding that some feared arrest if they took part in local protests about climate change.
“If their voices are silenced it means they won’t be able to explain to the people that we are facing a climate crisis. It’s important for every voice to be listened to no matter where they come from.”
East Africa is currently facing its worst locust invasion in decades after one of the wettest seasons in 40 years came on the back of a drought — a situation scientists say is becoming the new normal.
“Uganda mainly depends on agriculture and we’re really affected by climate change, for example by extreme weather conditions — droughts in some places, floods in other places — that means food prices are affected and only the more privileged can get something to eat and the less privileged are left with nothing,” said Nakate.
Last January, Nakate won unwanted attention after she was cropped from a news agency photograph at a meeting of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland. Her absence meant the image showed only white activists, including 17-year-old Thunberg.
Nakate said that the controversy about the photograph – subsequently reissued to include her – might end up helping. “I’m actually very optimistic about this. I believe it is going to change the stories of different climate activists in Africa,” she said.
Teenage activist Ayakha Melithafa of South Africa said it was difficult to galvanise local action on climate change when many people in Africa suffered crises, of poverty and unemployment. “It’s hard to convince people in Africa to care about the climate crisis because they are facing so many socio-economic crises at the same time,” she said. She called for better public education to show that climate change would exacerbate strains on water and food supplies.
Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg and her “Fridays for Future” youth movement, said that African nations have a role to play even though global warming has been caused overwhelmingly by major industrialised nations.