US – Africa Leaders Discuss Climate Change

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — From August 4 to 6, President Obama welcomed leaders of the African government and state to the White House for a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. This was an unprecedented event designed to strengthen ties between the country and the continent, one of the world’s most rapidly growing regions. The meeting centered around economic, political and humanitarian partnerships. The discussions emphasized the devastating role of global warming in keeping impoverished communities underdeveloped.

Throughout the meeting both parties reaffirmed their dedication to poverty reduction and to the struggle with climate change. The two parties, however, are situated in rather dissimilar positions around the issue. The U.S. has contributed 26.8 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions from 1751 to 2010; this is more than any other country. On the other hand, Africa is responsible for only 3 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, the continent is hit hardest by climate change-caused natural disasters, such as droughts and subsequent famines.

The poverty-exacerbating effects of fierce weather include societal instability and erased developmental gains. Floods and disaster-related epidemics are serious concerns. Outside aid groups cannot make reliable and permanent improvements in vulnerable zones until the volatile landscape has been tamed, or at least been made more predictable.

China, owning 9.8 percent of the total carbon emissions from 1751 to 2010, still a fraction of the U.S.’, was thrown into the discussion as well. Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, a lead negotiator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, didn’t want Africa to be forgotten amid these economic powerhouses.

“We have a saying that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers,” he said, “We don’t want to be the grass under the U.S. and China.”

African leaders also pointed to the outdated Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty adopted by the U.N. in 1997 binding countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are countries, said leaders at the summit, who could be doing more to cut carbon emissions than they are now, countries that are pleased with doing the minimum established by the negotiations 17 years ago.

President Obama agreed to work with a bipartisan Congress and adopt new measures to mitigate the disastrous consequences of climate change. The leaders at the summit discussed many important developments to effect these improvements, including the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and the President’s Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI).

The former, the GRP, announced by USAID and the Rockefeller Foundation, is a $100 million plan to protect vulnerable African villages from “shocks” such as natural disasters. This plan, according to USAID officials, will “put many communities on the path to a more secure and sustainable future.”

The areas targeted will include regions of the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. One example of a protective measure already in place is a disaster warning system in Kenya and Ethiopia. This will improve communities’ resilience and readiness in the face of drastic and violent storms.

Another plan of action, the GCCI, builds resistance to climate change by investing in information services in countries like Uganda, Mali, Zambia and Kenya. It is designed to address issues such as deforestation, viable clean energy, conservation of water resources and other resilience-building techniques. Additionally, the initiative will chart a course for low-emission development, building African communities that rely on sustainable energy.

Although Congress is divided on the issue of global warming, often along Democrat-Republican lines, African leaders are hopeful that an agreement between the two parties, and an agreement between the country and the continent, can and will be reached. President Obama has pledged his assistance in making a cleaner and safer environment a reality.

Adam Kaminski

Sources: White House, Reuters
Photo: Reuters

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