Freedom from Fossil Fuels, Imperative for Life




Ethiopia has just been hit by a wave of deadly flash floods and landslides. This is the second in just six weeks and the death toll has already climbed to 50. Over a thousand cattle have drowned. Roads have been damaged and bridges have collapsed.

Tens of thousands of people in the country’s South-Eastern region have been affected. And with El-Niño at the height of its rage in Northern Ethiopia, the country is facing the worst drought in the past half century. Needless to say, the climate has not been kind.

These shocks are echoed around the region as heavy rains, floods, and landslides trudge through Rwanda and Uganda. Drought-stricken Malawi has declared a state of emergency over food insecurity and hunger crisis. Food supply shortages also prevail across other Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zambia and South Africa. In a continent where the vast majority of farming is rain-fed, this means danger.

Climate adaptation costs could reach 500 billion dollars per year by 2050 across the African continent, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Finance Gap Report for 2016. The African Ministerial Conference on Environment Secretariat at the UNEP has stated that “no continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa.”

The prospect is quite bleak. As an entire continent, Africa contributes about four per cent to greenhouse gas emissions. That is 54 countries, 1.1 billion people and and only four per cent emissions. In fact, if the size of each continent were to match its emissions, the world map would not looks so recognisable.

But emissions are nothing like humans. While we are stopped and searched and stamped at border crossings, emissions wander freely. They hold the magical visas that render borders obsolete. Emissions may be emitted in startling proportions in the Global North, but that has very little to do with where they will wreak havoc. Climate change is an unequal force whose chaos is often inflicted on the world’s poorer places.

To break free, countries across Africa are standing up, and they are standing strong. This is part of the global mobilisation known as the Break Free Campaign, a worldwide movement to leave fossil fuels behind, and dive into a renewable energy powered world.

In Nigeria, actions are taking place along the country’s oil trail, starting at the very first oil well site drilled in the 1950s. Hundreds of environmental activists, affected communities, and civil society organisations are mobilising to showcase the plunder of local livelihoods and environmental devastation in the wake of oil extraction. Activists across South Africa are urging their government to shake off their coal addiction, whose emissions have doubled since the 1960s, and tackle industry corruption. Their voices are loud rallying cries to leave behind the destructive path of fossil fuels and ring in an era of renewable energy that reaches the masses.

Countless grassroots initiatives and organisations stand in solidarity with this movement. Ibrahim Ceesay, executive director of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, voiced enthusiastic support for the Break Free Campaign, saying: “As the biggest youth movement for climate change and environmental sustainability in Africa, we think it is important for civil society and non-state actors to stand up against the fossil fuel industry.”

As always, it is important to ramp up the numbers. While large scale actions are taking place in the most populous nations across the region, this movement must spread rapidly if we are to overthrow the age of fossil fuels. “We need a strong public mobilisation strategy,” stated Ceesay. “Young people, especially, have to take ownership of this campaign, because in Africa young people make up almost 55pc of the continent’s population.” Ceesay also emphasized that these campaigns must go beyond their conventional media, stressing the need to engage artists, religious and traditional leaders, in order to ensure a diverse and powerful movement.

As the momentum of climate justice gathers across the world, climate negotiators gear up to head to Bonn, Germany, from May 16 to 26, 2016, for an international conference on climate change held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This meeting is being held to lay the groundwork for the adoption of the Paris Agreement, and to develop the technical strategies for its’ implementation.

While these conference halls become filled, the voices of the climate movement across Africa remain loud and clear. Climate plunder is no longer an option, nor merely a philosophical conundrum. We can no longer remain blind to climate chaos. The devastating impacts compel us to break free from fossil fuels as an imperative for life itself.



By Seble Samuel
Seble Samuel is a geographer and an anthropologist. She can be contacted at seble.samuel@gmail.com.

Published on May 17,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 837]


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