The World Economic Forum for 2018 may have come and gone, but the question that will linger remains what lessons African leaders took out of it. The summit in Davos had ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’ as its theme, and the issue of climate change was on the front burner once more.
From the forum’s global risk perception surveys, there is evidence that people see climate change-related issues like extreme weather and natural disasters as amongst the most critical problems of this planet. As such, climate change featured prominently at the forum discussions with the Governor of Bank of England, Mark Carney, calling on businesses to be more transparent on the risks they face from climate change. The founder and executive chairman of WEF himself, Klaus Schwab, broadened the discussions by calling on civil society, businesses and government to do more in creating workable solutions to combat climate change.
It is unfortunate that when talks on climate change are delivered, those who steer the conversation are those who contribute the largest to greenhouse emission but suffer less from its effects. Africa is the worst hit by the calamity, but it contributes the least to greenhouse emission and is usually at the backseat watching others decide on its behalf.
Across the continent of Africa, the agricultural sector still employs about 65% of the labour force, and most of the rural poor. In Nigeria, majority of farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture and rangeland, factors which are at the mercies of the weather. In some parts of Nigeria, rainfall doesn’t come knocking for at least half of the year. This increase in the severity of extreme weather events in this region of the country has been termed ‘the little hunger season’ as it has increased risk of hunger and malnutrition for the vulnerable populations.
Further repercussions of climate change, experts say, will manifest only in a matter of decades. If temperatures keep increasing at its current pace, 75% of Africa’s population will be at risk of hunger by 2080, according to the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa. The forecasted changes will be followed by a cut of 22% of crop yields in the sub-Sahara, as well as, desertification, drought, air pollution, and rising sea levels.
The report by the global poverty organisation, Oxfam, indicates that in East African countries, climate change has elevated food and drought crises. In Somalia, 2.9 million people face hunger and 3.2 million people are in urgent need of water.
The question these statistics raise is how serious was the climate change discussion at the World Economic Forum? The Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in an interview with CNBN Africa during the summit, believes that there is progress on the climate change discussion this year. She said: ’I think the climate and environmental issues are really being taken seriously. From the survey of CEOs by the World Economic Forum, the report and some of the infographics they produced show there is a convergence of identified risks around climate issues. These issues cluster around the environment, natural resource management, disasters, climate change, and even water shortages. It is amazing that over the last two years the perception of risk has clustered around these issues. The CEOs said they see the biggest impacts of the climate risk on people’s lives.’
Also, the Co-Chair of the Global Commission on Economy and Climate also believes that the CEOs are likely to put their money where their mouths are because they realise that climate change can wipe away certain businesses or even make them lose a significant market if the challenges are not mitigated.
However, another trouble with the CEOs’ commitment is that no particular standpoint has been adopted on what to do for Africa. The greater trouble is that Africa is yet to deepen its discussions on climate change as Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala rightly pointed out at the summit. This is worrisome on several layers because when you talk about climate change in Switzerland it could be an unusual amount of snow in a certain weather cycle, but in Africa, it could mean anything from heavy flooding in Lagos or heavy hunger in Mali, or even storms and droughts in yet another African city.
With one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa still living in grinding poverty and with hundreds of millions of people lacking the same safety net afforded those in wealthier, industrialised nations, Africa should be at the vanguard of ensuring more is done to mitigate the consequences of climate change, especially at the gathering of the movers and shakers of the world like the WEF.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom. In 2016, 26 African Union member countries agreed to set up the African Risk Capacity agency that stands today as the continent’s only bold response to climate change. The agency, also chaired by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, provides members with rapid funds in the event of natural disasters. The agency has so far paid out $36 million to four countries to manage drought events, and has supported over 2 million people and 1 million livestock.
While the African Risk Capacity is a great initiative, Africa needs to further exploit its best brains like Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to present solutions that will meet the evolving demands of climate on the continent. The Paris Agreement is not enough if Africa does not drive the conversation. African leaders should do more for the sake of future generations.