The Politics of Climate Change in Africa
UNC Global Affairs
(Photo by Maggie Mcintyre).
Africa faces serious economic, diplomatic and environmental challenges because of climate change, but three experts each gave reason for hope during a panel discussion in Mandela Auditorium on Nov. 15. The event was the latest in UNC’s Diplomatic Discussions series, which provides Carolina students with inside perspectives on the world of foreign policy.
Bisa Williams served on the panel, and is a retired career diplomat and the former U.S. ambassador to Niger, who currently serves as the Knott Distinguished Visiting Professor in Carolina’s Peace, War and Defense curriculum and senior fellow at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs. She said she feels encouraged that current college students have a global perspective and are more connected around the globe.
“Don’t underestimate your own power,” she encouraged those in attendance. “If you go back to the conference of parties for climate change agreement in Paris, the reason why the U.S. ended up signing on… was because of world outroar, and not wanting to be a holdout.”
Aaron Salzberg, director of the Water Institute at UNC, pointed out that while several African countries face water issues with their neighbors, cooperation among these countries is more common than conflict.
“We may see that as water resources become more scarce and some of these climate impacts become more pronounced, countries start working together in new and creative ways,” Salzberg said.
Kwadwo Owusu, professor and director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies at the University of Ghana, said that when small farmers are brought into discussions about which crops to grow, the results are better.
“The opportunities for the farmers that are working, and working well, are the ones that are co-produced [with government] so that the farmers understand and also make input,” Owusu said.
The main economic issues facing African countries, Owusu said, are high levels of poverty and low access to capital. “The African economies are not going to be able to tackle the day-to-day, bread-and-butter issues, to be able to then engineer out of some of the challenges that are confronting the various governments on the continent,” he said.
Salzburg agreed that the economic impact of climate change is greater for under-resourced economies. Climate change means wet seasons will become wetter and dry seasons will become drier, he said. One consequence of many is that a prolonged dry period means a lack of vegetation, which makes soil more acidic, and acidic groundwater makes its way into pipes and ages them prematurely — requiring replacement in two rather than 10 years.
The African Studies Center organized “The Politics of Climate Change in Africa: Key Issues and Debates” in collaboration with UNC’s Diplomacy Initiative, led by the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs and the Water Institute in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Ada Umenwaliri, associate director of the African Studies Center, said, while African countries have contributed the least to climate change, they are at the most risk for its negative effects. She opened the evening by informally surveying the audience about the biggest issues facing Africa as a result of climate change. She listed rising temperatures, water scarcity, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, among others. And according to Umenwaliri, the answer to that question is “all of the above and even more.”
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