Prospects of America’s return to the Paris Agreement when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in early 2021 signals hope for the global effort to address the climate crisis, but Africa cannot expect a radical change, executives of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), said at a virtual news conference Wednesday.
America has been a reluctant player in international climate change governance as far back as the Kyoto protocol and even with the best intentions, Biden must overcome certain resistance from a Republican-led Senate, said Dr Augustine Njamnshi, the Coordinator of the African Coalition for Sustainable Energy and Access, (ACSEA) and Dr Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of PACJA.
Biden has pledged to reverse the US’ withdrawal from the Agreement, which kicked in on 4 November. His climate plans have been described as the most ambitious by any recent American leader and include plans to invest $2 trillion in clean energy and infrastructure.
Dr Mwenda said Biden must start by undoing the harm caused by the outgoing president, Donald Trump. Once he took power four years ago, Trump froze $2 billion, being the outstanding American pledge to the Green Climate Fund initiated by his predecessor Barrack Obama.
“Biden should start by releasing this money and scaling up resources for resilience building in developing countries, particularly African and Island state,” Dr Mwenda said.
Dr Njamnshi warned against fully banking on Biden to change the tide, saying past evidence revealed cases of a president’s hands being tied even after signing international treaties. Despite signing, the US, for example, failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol – and the Paris Agreement was severely watered down to accommodate the US’ reluctance to commit fully to the global effort to address the climate crisis.
“We cannot make the mistake of viewing America’s return as a panacea for Africa,” he said.
Both executives said the focus now needs to be placed on convincing the American people and getting them to demand climate action from their government. “We must be alive to the fact that climate deniers still exist in the USA,” said Dr Njamnshi. At least 71 million people voted for President Trump, most of whom are climate deniers, added Dr Mwenda.
American leadership is vital in avoiding dangerous levels of climate change.
The US accounted for roughly 16 per cent of global emissions, with the pumping of 5.1 billion metric tonnes of energy-related CO2 into the atmosphere in 2017, and is only second to China, which contributes at least 28 per cent of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“Let us not bank all our hopes in Biden,” cautioned Dr Njamnshi.
Salina Sanou, PACJA’s Head of Programmes, said partnership, as per the Sustainable Development Goal 17, had worked for the organisation, which works with at least 1,000 grassroots organisations within 48 countries in Africa.
“There is no let-up. This is a fight we must continue whether we have Biden at White House or whether it is a climate denier like Trump,” she said.
Dr Mithika encouraged journalists to focus on climate change and go beyond reporting catastrophes as news. “Media has a huge role to play in the climate discourse and can greatly increase focus on climate change as an emergency, hence champion mitigation.”