Africa to Seek Declaration of Global Climate Emergency At UN Summit

Young people take to the streets in Nairobi as part of global climate strikes demanding more urgent climate action, Kenya, September 20, 2019.

Nairobi — African countries plan to call on the United Nations to declare a global climate emergency, among a set of demands to be presented at a climate summit in New York on Monday organised by the U.N. chief.

Backed by African climate change negotiators, the statement is also expected to say that countries' climate action plans should be made legally binding, to ensure the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming are met.

African governments will also likely request more international funding to implement their plans to brake heat-trapping emissions and help their people adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas.

The president of Gabon, the current chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, is scheduled to deliver the demands, drawn up at an August meeting in Ethiopia to prepare Africa's position for the U.N. summit.

"Declaring a climate emergency enables the adoption of certain actions at a global level," which could include a boost in financial support for African states, said James Murombedzi, head of the African Climate Policy Centre, a joint African Union and U.N. initiative which convened the Addis Ababa meeting.

Specifically, African governments are seeking ways to raise money to improve monitoring and forecasting of weather and seasonal climate trends, as worsening floods, storms and drought ruin homes, livelihoods and food crops across the continent.

Kenya and Somalia are suffering from drought this year, after weak rainfall in late 2018 was followed by a major cyclone further south that pulled moisture away from the Horn of Africa.

Kenya's agriculture ministry has declared a food crisis as the maize harvest is set to drop by about a quarter.

In Mozambique, cyclones Idai and Kenneth killed more than 600 people earlier this year when they struck one after the other, with flooding wreaking havoc on the lives of more than 2 million in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, according to aid agency World Vision.

While attributing individual weather disasters to climate change remains a complex task, scientists say droughts and floods are likely to happen more frequently and become more intense, while storms are fuelled by warmer seas.

They also expect more unpredictable rainfall and declining crop yields in large parts of Africa.

Murombedzi said it was getting harder for most African countries to meet a set of global development goals, including ending hunger and poverty by 2030, as their economies and ecosystems are hurt by climate change.

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Mohamed Adow, who leads climate change work at international charity Christian Aid, believes Africa is already suffering the damaging effects of global warming.

"Africans have known about the climate emergency longer than most," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that governments must cut emissions urgently to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The world has already heated up by close to 1C since pre-industrial times.

African nations have for years called for more money from rich countries to help them combat global warming and integrate climate risks into their long-term economic planning - and that plea will be heard in New York again this week.

But Seth Osafo, a legal adviser to African climate change negotiators, was sceptical about how far the summit's outcomes would influence annual U.N. climate talks in Chile in December.

A few countries last year blocked using a key U.N. science report on keeping temperature rise to 1.5C as a basis for climate action under the Paris pact, noted the Ghanaian lawyer.

Osafo wondered whether this week's summit outcome would be more than just another document to take note of. "How do we get this into the negotiations is the question," he said.

(Reporting by Sophie Mbugua; editing by Megan Rowling. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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