OPINION: Isolated poverty: Africa bearing burden of climate change in the Commonwealth

OPINION: Isolated poverty: Africa bearing burden of climate change in the Commonwealth

By Mohamed Adow

There is no region that is as badly affected by climate change like Africa. Whether it is droughts in the Sahel, coastal storms like Cyclone Idai or water shortages in Cape Town, we are on the front line. We are exposed and need to quickly cover up!

Africa also has a complicated relationship with its former colonial rulers, but in times of crisis, the Commonwealth of Nations, the remnants of the British Empire, has been viewed largely as a positive alliance.

However, when it comes to climate crisis, it is the Commonwealth’s big polluters that are causing the climate change which is leading to destitution on our continent. A new report by Nairobi-based think tank, Power Shift Africa, shows that per person, the UK burns more climate-heating carbon dioxide than 18 Commonwealth nations combined.

It gets even worse in Canada and Australia, which burn more carbon dioxide than 27 and 28 Commonwealth countries combined respectively. That’s over half the entire membership of the alliance.

This climate of inequality is shameful for those country’s leaders, especially considering that Boris Johnson, Justin Trudeau and Scott Morrison all gush about their love for the Commonwealth and praise our shared values and solidarity. They smile and shake our leaders’ hands for photo ops, but their belching emissions are killing our people.

We need our leaders to push their counterparts in these Commonwealth countries to back up their words with action.

They need to take urgent and rapid steps to cut emissions and support countries that are vulnerable to climate change, especially in Africa.

We need them to provide finance to help us adapt to the changing climate which we did nothing to cause, and to provide the technology to help us leapfrog the dirty energy of the past to the clean, renewable wind and solar of the present and future.

Maybe it’s time we started to flex our trading muscles and use our trade deals to drive action on climate change. For instance, French President Emmanuel Macron last year vetoed EU-US trade talks until the US returns to the global climate change accord, known as the Paris Agreement.

As the world grapples with the treatment and management of the Coronavirus, it is now even more critical to put the world on a path towards solution of the climate crisis.

Governments are allocating billions of dollars in COVID-19 stimulus packages to restart their economies. If spent wisely, these investments could be used to decarbonise the global economy, slash emissions and right some of the wrongs of climate injustice.

But so far, the COVID-19 recovery packages in these Commonwealth polluters have not been climate-sensitive, with billions of dollars being planned for bailout of carbon-intensive industries without any condition that these industries decarbonise. This is a huge missed opportunity.

This is particularly poor for the UK, considering that it will be hosting the crucial UN climate summit next year in Glasgow, a major opportunity to forge a new global consensus for rapid climate action.

But to be a credible leader of that moment, the UK needs to make deliberate and much swifter progress on its green recovery plans.

Prime Minister Johnson should back up his words of commitment to the prosperity of Commonwealth citizens by tackling climate change at home and abroad. Such action would also help him build bridges with the new Biden White House.

The post-Trump world of climate action and Commonwealth cooperation is a chance for Boris Johnson to open new chapter in climate action that benefits Africa, the most vulnerable and least responsible continent for climate change.

Mohamed Adow is the founder and director of Power Shift Africa, a climate and energy think tank.