Cecilia Njenga, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme Office in Pretoria, called for urgent action or Africa must face the consequences. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

The pressure is growing on African nations to change its lacklustre approach towards climate change ahead of the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York later this month. 

“This is the last wake-up call to all countries to raise their game and step up climate action for multiple social, economic and environmental wins,” according to Aida Opoku-Mensah, the Chief of Staff, Economic Commission for Africa. 

Opoku-Mensah made the comments in a statement released at the eighth edition of the Climate Change and Development in Africa Conference – CCDA-8 in Addis Ababa last Wednesday calling for urgent and concerted action to fight climate change. The conference saw Africa’s environmental heads come together to prepare for the UN summit in three weeks. 

“Many African countries have submitted ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions to Climate Action – NDCs - showing that African leaders have made strong commitments to tackle climate change while striving to meet their national development agendas,” said Ethiopia’s Frehiwot Woldehanna, State Minister for Energy Sector, Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy. 

Despite these efforts on the ground, climate-induced frequent and more intense droughts “are putting our energy security and reliability at risk, with significant economic and social impacts,” said the Minister, warning that without urgent action to tackle climate change Africa will not meet the targets of the other sustainable development goals.

Cecilia Njenga, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme Office in Pretoria, called for urgent action or Africa must face the consequences.  “If we don’t act, and I don’t want to sound like (environmentalist Sir Richard) Attenborough, imagine yourself in a place where garbage is not collected, recycled and process, you will drown in that garbage. That’s what will happen, if we don’t act, we will drown in our own mess,” she warns. 

South Africa plays host to the continent’s green ministers when the 17th Ordinary session of the Africa Ministers Conference on Environment (AMCEN) takes place in Durban between November 11-15.

But the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has already challenged the world’s leaders expected to converge in New York on September 23 to produce concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.

Happy Khambule, Political Advisor for global environmental lobby group, Greenpeace Africa believes the UN Environment sessions are proving effective to a degree. But, he says AMCEN has been reduced to the consolidation of high-level political coordination on key environmental challenges. 

“There is a difference in the understanding of the ministers in AMCEN of what key issues and those are who are negotiators of Africa, to implementation agents and continental resource institutions. The political coordination tends to send strong political messages without the necessary support being devolved to lower spheres and stakeholders.”

Khambule says the continent is taking the climate crisis seriously although the approach is to leverage off disasters and extreme weather events, this not only presents a moment for public discourse to focus on climate change but the necessary response by governments tend to be swift. 

South Africa, which is the biggest emitter on the African continent, has a responsibility to deal decisively with climate change but is not responding to the challenges with any sense of urgency, he said. 

Khambule reckons that “the SDG goals on the environment will barely be met” because the current trend is that the development goals will not be met particularly on the environment.

“There is alignment on the environment SDG goals conceptually, but in implementation, there are a lot of gaps because climate change obligations, for the most part, are binding whereas SDG goals are voluntary,” he says. 

Climate change and energy expert Richard Worthington says the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 is not a negotiating platform but a challenge to heads of state to step up and push their countries in the right direction. 

* Naidu is a communications professional in the financial services sector and writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media