Africa is sitting on a climate time-bomb. Across the continent, children and young people – including those not yet born – will suffer the financial, social and environmental costs of the climate crisis for decades, if not centuries to come.
One of the paradoxes of the climate crisis is that those who are primarily responsible for climate change are relatively better insulated from the impact, while those who have made the least contribution to the crisis suffer the most. Africa features at the top of the regions most affected by climate change, but it accounts for less than seven percent of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and its emissions per capita are less than half the global average. Yet, Africa’s children bear the brunt. Today’s rich countries reached the highest levels of material welfare the world has ever seen – primarily by harnessing cheap energy from fossil fuels, – but most of the negative consequences of this strategy have fallen on the world’s poorest countries. Consequently, there have been repeated calls for high-income countries to take responsibility for their carbon footprints and provide the necessary financial and technical support to low-income countries bearing the brunt of those footprints.
In 2009, in Copenhagen, wealthy nations made a pledge to commit US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to assist with climate change adaptation and mitigation. Twelve years later, at COP26 in Glasgow, African negotiators were calling for US$1.3 trillion per year by 2030. So far, however, the annual sums mobilised have fallen far short of what is needed: US$58.5 billion in 2016, US$71.1 billion in 2017, US$78.3 billion in 2018, and US$79.6 billion in 2019.
Tackling climate change cannot be left to western countries and governments alone. It is important that African governments also take responsibility to be accountable to the people affected, including children. They must develop comprehensive, all-inclusive national adaptation plans (NAPs) and respect what they have already agreed to contribute to adaptation and mitigation budgets. So far, only 13 countries in Africa have developed and published their NAPs, and very few of them mention children. Only three African countries have funded measures to address climate risks within their investment priorities.
For the most part, children are missing from climate change discussions and deliberations – both in Africa and globally. Children’s perspectives are not integrated into NAPs, hence the continent’s lack in child-centred adaptation plans. This is despite the fact that climate change is primarily an issue of youth. The majority of Africans are under the age of 18, and close to half a billion children in 35 sub-Saharan countries are at risk from the worst impacts of climate change. Despite this, African governments have given children and young people enough space to influence the climate change agenda. That has to change.
This week, the Ninth International Policy Conference (IPC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is focused on climate change and child rights in Africa. The conference aims, among other things, to underscore the gap in accountability among global and national actors to children in the context of the climate crisis.
As a civil society activist, Legal Resources Foundation champions the right of children to be heard and respected, and we strive to ensure the meaningful inclusion of children and young people in discussions and decisions about climate change.
We urgently call upon the Zimbabwean Government to put in place comprehensive adaptation plans that take full account of the plight of children, and Legal Resources Foundation commits itself to supporting the Government in that effort. We also call upon the government to step up its financial investment and economic policies to prevent and respond to the effects of climate change on its children and young people. We also urge industrialised countries to take serious technical and financial steps to support African countries’ efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change, and to undertake adaption interventions. Finally, we strongly encourage governments to use existing funds with efficacy and purpose.
For Africa and its children, the climate crisis is both an existential threat and an obstacle to development. And as such, it requires a concerted response from all stakeholders. As a civil society organization, Legal Resources Foundation renews its commitment to advocate for stronger climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, including public awareness programmes and supporting children to have their voices heard.
The only way we, as Africans, can redress the prevailing global climate injustice and the gap in government accountability to children is if we act now. As we head towards COP27 in Egypt in November, the voices of Africa’s children and young people must be heard, listened to and acted upon.
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LRF PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE