columnBy Jeffrey Gogo
Fifty years on, the African Union has encountered sizeable successes and numerous challenges in politics and economics. One of the biggest forceful challenges it faces today, which was scant threat in 1963 when it was formed, is climate change.
Undoubtedly, a significant danger to any form of establishment, climate change adds to the mountain of political, social and economic crises that Africa grapples with today.
As a progressive institution celebrating its 50th birthday, how has the African Union responded, if at all, to climate change?
Have the responses been effective?
What needs to be done?
The AU response to the challenge of climate change has, unfortunately, been regrettably slow.
Slow continental response
Although the term "environment" was first used as one of the many core principles of the AU five years after its formation, climate change was only introduced as a common continental goal as late as 2007.
Some African leaders have not even understood the scale of climate change impacts.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda in 2007 called climate change an "act of aggression" by the West on developing countries.
Individually, however, several African countries subscribe to international principles promoting environmental protection.
More than 90 percent of African states have ratified major environmental treaties and all have ratified the landmark UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, by far the most binding and effective global treaty for controlling emissions.
In 1968, the Organisation of African Unity, which preceded the AU, showed its first interest in protecting planet Earth when it adopted the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
The Convention aims to conserve and promote the good use of soil, water, flora and fauna resources "in accordance with scientific principles and with due regard to the best interests of the people". Sustainable development ranks among the top objectives of the AU.
This is the new concept in economic development, which prioritises people, planet and profit. Economic development should be sustainable, equitable, responsible and socially inclusive.
But the AU only adopted a common position on climate change in 2007 with its Declaration on Climate Change and Development in Africa.
In the declaration, member states committed to, among many things, improving public awareness of climate change, promote integration of climate change into developmental processes and funding and promoting science and technology on climate change.
The declaration calls for integrated, focused action on climate, the major weaknesses for successful implementation of such programmes remains that of funding.
The AU relies on foreign funding to survive, and that tends to limit the effectiveness of its climate programmes.
Foreign money also has the capacity to dictate the pace and structure of adaptation or mitigation strategies, which may not be suitable for Africa's needs.
Also, the AU has not "institutionalised climate change as a security issue" despite the potential threat of conflicts arising from its impacts, such as those on food and water scarcity or ecological sustainability.
"A strategy or policy on climate security could help "address the implementation of measures to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on humans and the environment and to achieve sustainable development".
Better environmental plan not climate change regime
The AU's action on environmental protection far outweighs its action on climate change.
The body's multilateral involvement in climate issues through the UNFCCC, political partnerships with the G77+China and the Alliance of Small Island States "are based on members' cultural, economic or geographical interests".
Typically, such coalitions present numerous challenges including differences in objectives and strategies because every region is affected by climate change differently.
Moreover, at adoption, the UNFCCC did not specifically single out or mention Africa, as an immediate case requiring assistance to mitigate climate change.
The AU cannot depend on the Convention to deliver long-lasting solutions to the problem of climate change with the urgency, as required by Africa.
Already, multilateral climate talks have failed to produce outcomes that work for Africa, the region worst affected by climate change despite being the least polluter, with less than 5 percent of global emissions.
The Peace and Security Council of the AU has a broad mandate including the support and facilitation of humanitarian action in times of major climate-related disasters.
Although its actions have predominantly been concentrated in political conflict zones, the PSC "has the instruments to respond to the security concerns arising from environmental issues".
However, possessing "the instruments" alone is not enough. Such systems should be activated to fulfil the purposes they ought to serve. Disasters are striking hard in Africa with far-reaching implications including loss of life, food and water shortages.
"The PSC is bestowed with major power and authority which could be utilised to address the impact of environmental change on natural resources conflict on the continent," said Jo-Ansie van Wyk, a South African climate expert, in a 2010 paper, "The African Union's Response to Climate Change and Climate Security".
The AU regards environmental damage, as a human rights issue.
Its Charters on the welfare of children and women's rights incorporate this principle, emphasising the two groups' rights to a healthy environment and the right to sustainable development.
Since 2002, the continental body has strived to reverse desertification, one of the major impacts of climate change, through the effective implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
The changes needed
By 2020, it is estimated that up to 250 million Africans will experience water stress due to climate change.
The cost of adaptation or mitigation for the continent is costly, ranging between 5 and 10 percent of gross domestic product.
It is clear from the foregoing that the AU needs to do more within the next 50 years to address climate change.
The AU should raise alarm on climate change including the "integration of the environmental protection concerns into the manifold policies of African states in general and the AU in particular".
Continental structures that govern climate change should be strengthened aided by the development of a comprehensive and binding response strategy as well as improvements in early systems.
Member states should be encouraged to share experiences and information on adaptation and mitigation as well as implementing national climate change policies.
The continent needs stand alone agencies with clearly defined goals to deal with climate change and its impacts.
Such agencies should be able to address critical matters such as early warning and the mobilisation of adequate financial resources to support adaptation and mitigation.
Africa is expected to suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change in the next 90 years.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said five years ago that "Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate variability and change owing to multiple stresses and low adaptative capacity and despite the fact that some adaptation is taking place this may be insufficient for future changes in climate".
God is faithful.