“You will rarely find a climate denier in East Africa”

RRecently, I interviewed a 70-year-old coconut farmer, who told me about the hundreds of trees he was losing to drought ravaging his hometown of Rabai in southern Kenya. Fighting back tears, he told me how weather conditions he could no longer control or predict had left him without the means to support his family. He and the other farmers here may not know the science behind climate change, but it is part of their lived reality.

I now live in my home country of Kenya, but spent several years in the United States where I also experienced the effects of climate change. In 2015, when I graduated from a graduate program, Boston was experiencing one of its most intense snowstorms on record. About 108 inches (9 feet) of snowfall blocked roads and sidewalks, prompting the city to impose driving bans and shut down public transportation. At the university, classes were canceled due to extreme weather conditions.

My second graduation in 2019 coincided with the world’s second hottest year on record. In New York City, summer temperatures soared to highs of 95°F (35°C), making the scorching heat a topic of conversation: “Girls’ hot summer” became a catchphrase, and my non-American friends and I laughed at the country’s affinity for air conditioning..

People enjoy refreshing water from a fountain in the Unisphere Fountain at Flushing Meadow Corona Park in the borough of Queens on July 21, 2019 in New York City.
People enjoy refreshing water from a fountain in Flushing Meadow Corona Park in the Queens borough of New York in 2019. Photographer: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

It is strange, and often disturbing, to observe the different ways in which climate change has occurred in these two countries. It is still acceptable in the United States to question anthropogenic climate change, with some denying that the climate is changing, or dismissing the scientifically proven consequences of it. But you will rarely find a climate denier in East Africa. Most people have witnessed or been affected by extreme weather events.

In West Africa too, a friend of mine scoffed at the idea of ​​someone denying climate change while living on the continent: “What would someone in Nigeria gain to deny climate change? He asked . The country has been hit by its worst flooding in more than a decade, killing more than 600 people and displacing at least 1.4 million people. But why hasn’t it received more international interest? The prevailing sentiment, he said, is that Africa is “no stranger to tragedy”, and somehow this latest incident was no different.

Every week I see at least one story about how drought in northern Kenya is pushing millions towards starvation, and it’s a devastating story to cover. The situation there mirrors what is happening across much of the Horn of Africa, which is facing its worst drought in decades. Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all faced deadly floods this year, displacing thousands of people. The situation is much worse in southern Sudan, where last month record rains flooded two-thirds of the country.

The United States has faced fires, hurricanes and cyclones. But it is very obvious that the capacities of the governments of the northern hemisphere to respond to these emergencies are far superior to those that those of the southern hemisphere can muster. The US government can send huge rescue and support efforts in climate emergencies like Hurricane Ian, with thousands of responders and tens of millions of dollars to support affected families. That’s right – but it’s impossible for most developing country governments.

Weather-related disasters like drought attract much of the government’s attention and resources to put out fires, as well as the emergency food and water supplies needed. But the future hinges on a sustainable climate response.

We are all affected by climate change, but some countries are affected more directly and destructively. I even came across lists of “best places to live to avoid climate change”. But for people in many parts of the world, there is no escape and there are no signs of rescue.

The escalation over who faces the worst impacts often mirrors the “Black Lives Matter / All Lives Matter” debate and distracts discussions from context, nuance or weighted solutions. Yet every year it remains at the heart of climate summits. Technical proposals involving ‘carbon taxes’ and ‘carbon budgets’, which hold historical and current emitters accountable, make important contributions to managing impacts and adaptation options, and reducing future emissions.

Women and children in the pastoral community of Turkana are affected by worsening drought due to the failure of the rainy seasons.
Women and children of the Turkana pastoral community in Kenya are affected by worsening drought due to the failure of the rainy seasons. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Industrialized countries have failed to deliver on their promise to channel $100 billion a year to developing countries: a sum that is only a fraction of what is needed to tackle the climate crisis. Climate finance from African governments mainly comes in the form of loans – approved in boardrooms, by leaders who are somewhat isolated or remote from the situation – pushing a number of countries in the region to take on even more debt to make facing the crisis.

Calls for Africa to steer clear of coal and fossil fuels are seen as hypocritical and have provoked a fierce backlash from leaders across the continent. Africa emits less than 4% of global carbon emissions opposes the idea that they should curb the use of fossil fuels at the expense of development, when their global counterparts profit heavily from their use and millions Africans still do not have access to electricity.

Even as the continent continues to be disproportionately affected, African climate change activists are often excluded or tokenized at global summits or conferences: reflecting the continent’s struggles and power imbalances in international discussions on global warming. climatic.

As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, many are hopeful that COP27 will break with previous summits and that just solutions will emerge that recognize the seriousness of the crisis, especially in the parts of the world that are experiencing it the most.

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