Africans are already facing climate change
Is Darfur the first climate-change conflict? In Kenya, a UN meeting begins Monday to set new fossil-fuel emissions targets.
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Jason Stearns, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, says that the competition for basic resources are behind many African conflicts.Skip to next paragraph
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"In Burundi, climate change, together with population growth and shrinking arable land is tightly linked to conflicts," says Mr. Stearns. He says that Burundi will have to work hard to meet the expectations of a population that has doubled since the early 1970s and where there are 400,000 refugees expected to return home after years of civil war.
But as bad as things are in Burundi, Stearns says, "it's even more true in the Horn of Africa, in Kenya, Somalia, as well as Ethiopia and Sudan."
Claudia Ringler, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, says Africa is more vulnerable to climate change because so much of it's agricultural lands rely on rainfall, rather than irrigation.
"All these lobbies say it's bad to build all these dams, but all the dams have been built in Europe, in the US, in Australia, not in Africa," says Ms. Ringler. She has a long list of things that would enable African farmers to better feed their people, including access to paved roads, better weather reports, higher yielding varieties that can survive in times of drought. But above all, Africa needs access to water.
"Water is the most variable input in a changing climate situation," she says. "Strangely enough, on a per capita basis, water availability is not that bad in Africa. In Ethiopia and Somalia, the water's there, but it's not getting to where it needs to be."
• Material from the wire services was used in this report
The Stern Report, issued by the British government last week, calls for drastic cuts in carbon emissions.
The former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern warns that:
• The world's overall temperatures could rise 5 degrees C (9 degrees F.), causing sudden glacial melt, severe flooding of low-lying areas, and displacement of some 200 million people.
• Warming of 4 degrees C or more is likely to seriously affect global food production.
• Warming of 2 degrees C could leave 15 to 40 percent of the Earth's species facing extinction.
• Global economic consumption per person will drop between 5 and 20 percent. But reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would only cost 1 percent of global gross domestic product by 2050.
• By 2050, markets for low-carbon technologies could be worth at least $500 billion.
• Deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector.
Mr. Stern's recommendations included:
• Carbon pricing, through taxation, emissions trading or regulation, will show people the full social costs of their actions.
• Funding for energy research and development should at least double; support low-carbon technologies should be increased five fold.
• International funding should go into researching new crop varieties that will be more resilient to drought and flood.
• Large-scale international pilot programs to curb deforestation should be started now.
While there is growing consensus among scientists that global climate change is occurring, there is still sharp disagreement on what to do about it.
Bjorn Lomborg, an economics professor at the Copenhagen Business School, and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Group, says that spending 1 percent of GDP or $450 billion each year to cut carbon emissions, as the Stern Report suggests, is likely to cause more harm than good .
"This is a 100 year problem, so you don't try to solve it in five years," says Dr. Lomborg. Instead, he calls for the world's rich nations to spend a fraction of that amount – $75 billion – on developing clean drinking water, combating the spread of AIDS and malaria, and providing universal basic education, and creating affordable energy alternatives, such as wind, solar, or fuel cells.
Noting economic studies that eliminating malaria alone would boost the global GDP by nearly 1 percent, Lomborg argues that the world should spend money where it knows it can do some good. A healthier, more prosperous population will be better able to solve its problems, than an unhealthy and overtaxed one.
"Look, Kyoto makes prices higher so that people will consume less energy, but 99 percent of the money will go into getting current energy sources, and only 1 percent of the money will go into finding alternative clean energy," says Lomborg. "Do we want to have 1 percent for research and development, or 100 percent?"