The impact of climate change in Africa and efforts to deal with it

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, Bishop of Mthatha representing SECAM at a meeting of Bishops with government delegations on the occasion of COP 20

1. The Impact of Climate Change in Africa

My brief is to share with you “how climate change is affecting the most vulnerable communities and how SECAM is engaged on climate change matters, and sustainable development goal” In 2010, SECAM was part of the dialogue of Southern Hemisphere Continents, called South to South Dialogue. In that dialogue, it was observede that ”Climate change which manifest in sea level rise, rainfall pattern changes, glacier melting in mountains, ice melting, increasing temparatures and extreme weather events (storms, heat and cold waves, extended floods, severe droughts, etc. is affecting in diverse ways all people of the earth and especially the poor“ (South to South Dialogue). These observations are backed up by scientific research that is hard to ignore.

For me the fact of Climate Change and its effect was confirmed in a recent workshop facilitated by Fastenopfer for the community of Pella in the Northern part of South Africa. Although these ordinary people were not able to articulate in scientific terms the fact of climate change and its effects, they were clear about how weather patterns have adversely changed from 1960 up to now.

Among other things that these ordinary people articulated in relation to climate change and its effects as they experience it were the “repeated droughts, higher temperatures, frequent dust storms and devastating floods caused by heavy rain falls” (Pella Workshop). They also noted the impact of these hazards on human health and on essential economic livelihoods. The observations made in this workshop find confirmation in the thorough and detailed analysis of the impact of climate change in Africa carried out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
So we are not talking here about something theoretical, nor are we as Church pushing our own ideology on how the world should be run, but we are talking from the experience of the people that we serve who feel the negative effects of climate change. We dare to make presentation in this international meeting because the effects of climate change know no borders. The environmentally unfriendly behaviours and practices carried out in one part of the planet affect other parts of the planet as well.
As it has been noted by some observers that while Africa, compared to Europe, North America and China contributes the least in climate change, it suffers the most from the negative effects of climate change, and will continue to do so in an incremental manner if nothing is done. The worsening effects of climate change will lead to resource scarcity, which will in turn lead to social and political conflicts due to scrambling for scarce resources. So it is not because we like to tour the world that we are here; we are here because we see the effects of climate change destroying the lives of our people, and we would like to put their plight to the decision makers in matters relating to climate. We are here so that the poor may not be forgotten on a crucial matter of climate change that impacts on them.

2. What can be done?

As is known, and as it was clearly stated by the CIDSE Press Release on UN New York Climate Summit Outcome in Sept 2014, Carbon based economy, destructive extraction industries, fossil fuel production and deforastation are among the major causes of climate change. As SECAM we align ourselves with the calls to explore and find more friendlier methods of economy and production in order to ensure a just and a harmonious living with the planet. Our call however, is not only limited to the international leaders, but also to the people close to us, namely our governments in Africa and also more importantly the people that we serve so that they too become active agents in the fight against climate change.

2.1 Call against the temptation to resort to destructive energy generation.

The biggest and most significant cause of climate change is the emission of Carbon Dioxide from coal, which is in large supply in Africa. Since coal based energy generation is the most widely used by the developed countries, Africa is tempted and may even be persuaded to follow the same route of coal based energy generation. Tempting as it is, Africa is called to set an example by not engaging in coal based energy generation, but to adopt cleaner and environmentally friendly methods of energy generation.

Another apparently environmentally unfriendly energy generation is fracking. Presently in South Africa there is a big concern about the planned fracking of the Karroo area of the country. While it is foreseen that the immediate effects of fracking will yield positive results of the supply of gas, weighed against its side and long term effects for ecology and for the people, this venture does not appear viable, and yet there are indications that it will be embarked upon. On account of its long term harmful effects, SECAM is opposed to fracking.

We argue that Africa must harness and manage well its resources, especially its natural and mineral resources to generate more income which will then be used among other things to embark on cleaner methods of energy generation. We call on African leaders therefore to halt the unjust and destructive extraction of resources so that the income from natural and mineral resources could be used to generate clean energy. Secondly, the developed countries must assist Africa with funds to embark on clean energy generation. It will be recalled that developed countries have pledged to set funds for the underdeveloped countries to cope with the effects of climate change. There is no reason why such funds could also not be used to assist Africa to generate clean energy.

2.2 Facilitating commitment against climate change among the people

SECAM seeks to involve ordinary people as agents for change in the fight against climate change, and not just the leaders. There are few examples where workshops have been held to create more awareness about the fact and the effects of climate change. As I have indicated already, in South Africa we had a workshop on climate change. Another similar workshop was held in Kenya for young people in July 2014 with the aim of creating awareness among the youth about climate change and its effects.

This is important because some of our people have submitted to the fate of climate change, thinking that it is something beyond their power and perhaps that it is even the act of God that the pattern of the weather has changed, whereas it has very little do to with God. Climate change is human made, and because it is human made, humans can reverse it instead of resigning themselves to it. Climate change needs to be presented as a matter of urgency, because the longer we wait the dire the consequences will be and sooner than later we will be sitting with an unimaginable crisis. As Pope Francis recently stated in his typical simple way, yet very profoundly that, “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature is wounded, it never forgives, it seeks revenge”, the damage to nature is reaching a crisis proportion. The Pope appears to be suggesting that if we do not curb this damage now, it will remain for a very long time with catastrophic consequences for generations and generations to come.

As one author puts it “we have to convince people that we are facing a massive, overarching moral problem, bigger than war, far more serious than financial meltdowns, closely linked to but transcending even social inequality, and certainly far outweighing our personal preoccupations. It is only then that we will be able to engage the community at sufficient depth to change behaviours beyond recycling and reducing their carbon footprint. To use explicitly biblical and Christian language, global warming has to be seen within the context of good and evil, virtue and sin. We have to talk in a language that indicates that what we are doing to the natural world is evil… we are killing the life system of the planet and we are killing the planet itself”. (Collins 2011: 52).

Since we are engaging in issues of climate change from the point of view of being Christian and Catholic, SECAM’s reflection on climate change is informed by the Catholic theology of creation and the Social teaching of the Church which is a formidable narrative (perspective) based on undisputed values of common good and intrinsic value of things. The intrinsic value approach is that one appreciates the importance of things and does not see them only in terms of what they provide for our needs, but also for their inherent value and therefore their right to exist and to be protected. Thus the planet does not only exist for use by human beings, it also has a value intrinsic to it as God’s creation.

The second principle is common good which suggests that if we have to use some parts of the planet, we must do so in consideration of others, because we are not alone in this planet and that in doing so, we do it also in consideration of the good of the planet itself. We do it in such a way that the planet is not destroyed. So these are the principles that we use by way of catechetising or creating awareness among our people about climate change in SECAM.

2.3 Poverty elimination as an integral part of Climate normalization

This awareness about pollution of the environment and the selfish exploitation of the resources must also be accompanied by the fight against abject poverty, because poor people become polluters not by intention but by default. They find themselves being squashed in non viable places, and in their instinct to survive, they begin to overuse the limited resources around them, and in that way contribute to pollution and destruction of the environment. An example of the poor being accomplice to Climate change is deforestation, which the poor people engage in for sheer survival.

A successful participation of ordinary people therefore in the fight against climate change, must not only limit itself to creating awareness through education and workshop, but it must also include efforts to reduce poverty, if not to eliminate it, otherwise poor people themselves inadvertently become polluters and destroyers of the environment. For this reason SECAM with its partners (CAFOD, Fastenopfer, etc) is involved in social and economic development projects to reduce poverty so that poor people may not contribute to climate change.

2.4 Immediate response to the present consequences of Climate Change

I have learnt about advocacy for a fund to deal with climate change consequences. I think that this is a good thing, because much as we try to instil behaviours and practices that will ensure that climate change and its effects do not occur in the future, the fact of the matter is that it is affecting us now, and so we need to provide funds for dealing with its consequences. On the same reasoning, we need to create awareness among people to find best ways of surviving while the present effects of climate change remain. We cannot continue doing agriculture in terms of what we plant and the method we use like we did in the past, because in the present climatic conditions, the past methods of food production are no longer viable. For this reason, SECAM with its partners is involved in training people on various methods of food production that can be successful under the prevailing weather conditions.

I guess this can extend to other spheres of life as well. In these present weather conditions, we cannot build houses as we built them in the past because they will not be able to cope with the weather conditions of today. We can also not build roads and bridges in the way that we did in the past because they cannot survive the harsh climate of floods and storms today. So what I am saying is that in dealing with climate change, we need to do more than just creating awareness, we also need to help people cope with the prevailing climate situations, we need to help them to build resilience against the effects of climate change.

2.5 Call African leaders against Destructive and unjust extraction

Cleaner methods of generating energy are expensive and resources to alleviate poverty are scarce. The last argument of this presentation is that if natural and mineral resources were well managed in Africa, and with the assistance from the developed countries, Africa would have enough money to generate cleaner energy and to alleviate poverty among its people, hence this call to African Leaders to manage the continent’s resources well. While destructive extractions of natural and mineral resources do not directly cause climate change as gas emissions do, indirectly they do as far the squandered income from them is not used to generate and sustain clean energy.
As is known, Africa is rich in natural and mineral resources, and yet the ways in which these resources are extracted are both environmentally unfriendly and unjust. They are environmentally unfriendly because when the supposed investors make moves to extract resources, no consideration is made for the long term negative effects of the extraction.

Secondly, the extractions are unjust because they do not benefit the people. Again to make an example of a situation well known to me in South Africa, (there may be many more similar situations), the Rustenburg mining area in South Africa where two years ago strikers were killed by police is the second biggest supplier of platinum in the world. Yet Rustenburg with all its rich mineral resources is one of the poor areas in South Africa because the proceeds of the resources go to investors.

As it is known, many of the areas in Africa that are infested with civil war and conflict like DRC, Sierra Leone, Angola, etc. are rich in natural and mineral resources. Analysts have suggested that part of the reason why these conflicts continue, is that there are some countries that benefit from the civil war situations by having free or cheap access to the minerals. It is suspected that some of the developed countries, passively or actively support conflicts so that they can have access to African natural resources.

Thus natural and mineral resources in Africa are both a blessing and a curse. They are blessings because we have them and a curse because on account of having them, the continent is being plundered, and in the process of plundering it, social and political cohesion is destabilised by fuelling conflict. It is for this reason that the Bishops, at the 2nd Synod for Africa, made a clarion call to African governments and politicians not to collude with the so called investors in the deforestation of the continent and pillaging of its natural and mineral resources.

The pillaging of the African continent considered as a justice matter is bad enough, but when you consider also its long term negative environmental effects, it is even worse. As a follow up on the call of the Synod Fathers to politicians, SECAM in its message to Rio Summit, made concrete proposals to governments of Africa to be transparent about deals made by developers to extract resources. It noted that deals with investors should not be detrimental to environment, and that they should enhance common good, and not the investors and few politicians who are sometimes bribed.

To repeat the words of the Synod Fathers, “Multinationals have to stop their criminal devastation of the environment in their greedy exploitation of natural resources. It is short-sighted policy to foment wars in order to make fast gains from chaos, at the cost human lives and blood” (2009 Synod Message). Our task as SECAM is to persuade African leaders to adopt good governance of their countries by being accountable to their people for the common good. Engagement with African leaders includes dissuading them from colluding in the destruction of African resources. With the newly acquired status as an observer in African Union (AU), SECAM hopes to use this status among other things to lobby against destructive and unjust extraction of resources in Africa.

3. SECAM’s Pastoral Plan on Climate Change

Allow me to conclude by putting into a summary form what SECAM seeks to do about climate change from now till Paris and beyond.

1. Increase the Awareness Programmes at all levels of the Church from the Small Christian Community to the Bishops Conference by using all the means and spaces available;
2. To set-up a monitoring mechanism to regularly report on the impacts of Climate Change on the local communities and the Church as Institutions;
3. To develop a Policy advocating for simple and ecological lifestyle among Church constituents;
4. Train local Church members for them to be able to engage into dialogue with their respective government on the issues related to Climate Change and their impact on the Development of their countries;
5. Promote Best Practices in favor of the environment which can help in mitigating or adapting to the impacts of Climate Change;
6. Develop and adopt SECAM Prayer on Climate Change in view of the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change;
7. Ask each Bishops Conference to organize a national event (Policy or Advocacy Initiative) in 2015 as part of SECAM Contribution towards a successful COP 21 in Paris with strong and courageous commitment from respective African Governments;
8. Make use of SECAM observer status at African Union to lobby for a just and constructive extraction of natural recourses and minerals.
9. Avail information about funding funds for coping with consequences of Climate change

4. Sources

1. SECAM Papers
1) South to South Dialogue: Climate Change: A call to Justice (Rome)
2) SECAM Message for Rio+20 Summit: The Church in Africa Advocating for Natural Resources transparency to support Africa Development
3) SECAM Position Paper on the MDGs: Maximazing our potential for the Benefit of our people
4) SECAM Work and Progress on Climate Change Issues
5) Statement on Value based post-2015 Framework

2. CIDSE Papers
1) Position Paper: Catholic international organisations facing up to climate change
2) Press Release on UN Climate Outcome. September 2014: New York.

3. Papers on Impact of Climate Change in Africa
1) Background Paper on Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Africa for the African Workshop on Adaptation Implementation of Decision 1/CP.10 of the Unite Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): Accra, Ghana, 21 – 23 September, 2006.
2) 2010 Make peace happen

4. Workshop Reports
1) Pella workshop on Climate Change 12-16 May 2014: South Africa
2) Environmental Sustainability Workshop for the Youth: Kenya

5. Church Documents
1) Message to the people of God of the 2nd Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.

6. Books
1) Collins P. 2011. The Judgement, the struggle for life and death. Orbis.
2) Susan S et al (Eds) 2007. Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Subscribe to SECAM Newsletter
Church-Family of God in Africa, Celebrate your Jubilee! Proclaim Jesus Christ your Saviour.
Your Information will never be shared with any third party.