Defend Truth


The Russia-Ukraine conflict could seriously affect Africa’s environmental priorities


Dr Roland Ngam is programme manager for climate justice and socioecological transformation at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Southern Africa. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

As Europe turns away from Russia amid its ongoing aggression in Ukraine, Africa may find itself being wooed for its energy resources. We must not allow ourselves to be lured away from our focus on greener energy by the notion that European funding for gas and oil projects will help us fund our development agenda. Rather, we must keep our eyes on the climate targets we know we have to aim for and continue our fight to make peace with nature.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II has just released its Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report which, once again, highlights the negative impact of global heating on health and habitats. But what does this document, in the context of a post-Covid recovery and, now, the Russian war in Ukraine, mean for Africa?

The report delivered another warning on the adverse – and in many cases irreversible – consequences of global heating on life as we know it. It states, for example, that “[h]uman-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability…

“The rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.”

It highlighted the following:

  1. Climate change impacts are already more widespread and severe than we thought, and things will probably get worse due to locked-in emissions as well as slow responses to the climate crisis.
  2. Rapid heating will have severe consequences on our health; it will lead to habitat loss for many animal and insect species and cause a significant drop in crop yields (maize, coffee, wheat, etc.) with a drop of almost 34% expected in the medium-term.
  3. The world is doing something to limit warming, but our actions are not nearly enough. There is a closing window of opportunity to accelerate our efforts to limit warming below 1.5°C relative to preindustrial times, and we need to double our efforts now.
  4. Those currently most affected by climate change are the poor and vulnerable who live in peri-urban and rural areas (this underlines the importance for the nations that have caused the biggest damage to start paying up for loss and damage).
  5. The world has been focusing a lot of attention on mitigation and not doing enough to adopt long-term adaptation measures.

Shortly after releasing the report, the IPCC tweeted a message to our continent: “Africa has an enormous opportunity in terms of its rich natural heritage… to use that to deal with climate change.”

If we look back to 2021, two other key reports delivered a stark warning on the dangers of inaction on climate change.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s Making Peace with Nature outlined a number of climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies that the world needs to tackle urgently.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report also issued a code-red warning for humanity, with the stark message that “climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible”.

When this latter report was released, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged us to understand that “inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all, if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage”.

Unfortunately, that plea fell on deaf ears and there is little evidence that the world is going to sit up now and adopt the measures necessary to cap heating below 1.5°C.

We seem to be waiting for a global warming Armageddon to hit dozens of countries simultaneously and shut down economies à la Covid-19 before we will be moved to correct course.

As the Climate Change 2022 report was being launched, Russia was busy dropping missiles on Ukraine in a bid to pull the smaller country away from Europe and bring it back under Russian domination. This new crisis comes at the same time as preparations for a post-Covid economic recovery have caused massive energy price inflation across the globe. Africa will not be spared the implications of these twin factors.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted over 90 countries to adopt sanctions against the nuclear superpower, with a number of them already taking measures to wean themselves off Russian gas and coal.

New oil and gas reserves have been discovered across Africa over the last three years (Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Uganda, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, etc). Many countries were wary that these finds would become stranded assets, especially after the creation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, coupled with pronouncements at COP26 and recent decisions by the EU to label gas and potentially nuclear power as “green energy sources”. Now, it appears, the potential collapse of Russia’s Nord Strom One and Two projects, which feed gas to Europe, could mean a closer embrace of Africa by the EU.

The Brookings Institute’s Danielle Resnick reckons, for example, that EU countries are going to be queueing up to fund the construction of the Nigeria-Niger-Algeria Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline. Mozambique and South Africa, with a combined potential of 160 trillion cubic feet of offshore gas (Mozambique is understood to have 100 trillion cubic feet of gas while South Africa has roughly 60 trillion cubic feet plus approximately nine billion barrels of oil) will probably also find it much easier now to attract investors.

This is the scenario that emerged the day Russia attacked Ukraine. Overnight, Africa went from being clear that it had to transition from coal to more carbon-neutral energy sources, to a realisation that fossils had become attractive again.

An EU move closer to Africa could mean that the focus on greening our economies will be put on the backburner. Remember that the EU has taken steps to label gas in particular, and possibly also nuclear, as “green energy”.

The concerns provoked by the multi-year drought which caused water shortages in southern Africa pitted farmers against herders in Central Africa, caused crop failures in East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, etc.) and scorched the earth in West Africa would likely be overshadowed by a new commodity boom that would begin.

We cannot let that happen on the eve of COP27.

Africa must act now to define its priorities. We should be demanding reparations from the major G20 economies who bear the biggest responsibility for CO2 emissions, for the loss and damage they have caused to our continent.

This is how we should fund green new deal projects: roads, electrification, healthcare infrastructure, affordable housing, etc. To set our sights on a new commodity boom to fund these projects would be a cop-out – it is not even certain that corrupt leaders would use the money wisely.

The last fire sale of African commodities to China in the 2000s brought SUVs to the continent for a few, and devastated large swathes of nature for too many.

Now, as water becomes a scarce commodity and as the IPCC report warns us once again of the consequences of inaction, we must keep our eyes on the targets we know we have to aim for and continue our fight to make peace with nature. DM/OBP


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