African Climate Leaders call for creative collaboration to battle climate change in Africa

Our changing climate is the greatest challenge of our time, but there is no challenge too big if people around the world come together and embrace this reality, not least in Africa.

This was the core message of the annual live 24-hour global broadcast hosted by The Climate Reality Project (CRP) on 5-6 December 2016, drawing attention to the scope and scale of the challenge and offering people targeted ways in which they, individually, can make a difference.

The theme of this year’s 24 Hours of Reality, ‘The Road Forward’, was a nod to the historic events in Paris last year when at last every nation became signatories to the United Nations Climate Accord, and alludes to the question at hand this year: what is required to ensure its success?

By continuing to shine a light on the world accord, the campaign hopes to encourage cultural momentum, ensure leaders’ action and raise ambition and optimism around solving the climate crisis.

The 24 Hours of Reality event was hosted by Nobel Laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore and featured presentations, interviews and performances from around the globe in a rolling 24 hour broadcast, taking on the 24 top carbon emitting nations.

The show harnessed the power of music, change-makers, world leaders, individual stories and visual content to inform, inspire and activate people across the globe.

Performers, dignitaries and celebrities including Edward Norton, Gisele Bundchen, Jon Bon Jovi and former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, were joined by African activists who shared their experiences and insights on the climate crisis in the continent’s 2 most emitting countries, Nigeria and South Africa, with a global audience.

Nigeria

Starting with Nigeria, Africa’s second biggest carbon emitter, the African review featured Climate Reality Leader Michael David Terungwa who talked about his work to green communities and combat deforestation through the planting of fruit trees.

Michael Terungwa on air during a 24 Hours of Reality watch party in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Joining the show from The Hague, the Netherlands, Minister Amina Mohammed, Minister of Environment of Nigeria explained that the government is looking into how the country can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and move to solar power, hydro and wind. Two of the most pressing issues she’s addressing at the moment are gas flaring, through collaboration with the Ministry of Petroleum and the commitment to fully ban flaring by 2019; and desertification in the country, saying that “the nexus between climate change and conflicts has exacerbated tensions in the North East of Nigeria where Boko Haram is present”. Building peace in that region involves to a large extent figuring out how to improve livelihoods in the desert – which will necessarily include investing in climate-smart agriculture, decentralised renewable energies through SMEs and aforestation. On the latter, she added that her country is part of the African Great Green Wall initiative. Nigeria will also issue its first sovereign Green Bond in 2017, which it hopes will help leveraging most needed climate finance for the country.

Minister Mohammed further highlighted that “women carry the burden of climate change, whether it is the scarcity of water and the distances they have to cover or the very difficult environment that impacts their livelihood”. Hence it is crucial that women and the youth are part of the dialogue on and the solutions to climate change.

South Africa

In the South African part of the show, host Primedia’s Africa Melane was joined by Kumi Naidoo, the former Executive Director of Greenpeace International and now Launching Director for Africans Rising, who took aim at South Africa’s electricity public utility Eskom for its continued refusal to embrace renewable energy. Naidoo said that “Eskom is setting ceilings on renewable energy” and that its motivations for refusing to embrace renewable energy are being driven by private interest. “There are certain people in the business community who are making truckloads of money from the current energy system and that have huge influence over our political leadership”, he added.

Naidoo went on to question Eskom’s determination to continue adding coal capacity in spite of the fact that these projects are invariably over budget and late, while “Renewable energy projects have shown that they can deliver on budget, on time and can create decent jobs”.

Naidoo believes that the separation between environmental activism and the fight against poverty is artificial and Africans needs to approach climate change as a social justice issue, saying, “It is the poor that actually suffer the most when there’s an environmental disaster and it’s the poor who stand to benefit the most from renewable energy – which means jobs, better health and access to reliable electricity.”

Naidoo further called on African governments to collaborate on creative solutions to the threats posed by climate change, suggesting that large-scale renewable energy facilities should be built near borders of less populated nations so as to share the costs – and benefits – of building energy infrastructure. He went as far as to make the tongue in cheek suggestion that “If Europe can have a Euro, why can’t Africa have an Afro?”

Former US Vice President also called out Eskom’s monopoly as a major contributor to South Africa’s continued reliance on coal.  He highlighted the disastrous effects of climate change across the country – including ongoing droughts, heatwaves and massive flood events and further used the opportunity to warn that South Africa’s water demand will outstrip supply by 17% as soon as 2030.

Also shedding light on South Africa’s climate challenges was climate activist and eco-guide Marshall Rinquest, a Climate Reality Leader and Director of the Greyton Transition Town initiative. He talked about his passion for raising awareness of the youth about climate change and inspire them to be part of the solution, starting in their own community. A hands-on activist dedicated to turning solutions into reality, Marshall presented an optimistic outlook rooted in the conviction that individuals and communities can make change happen. On moving away from fossil fuel energy, Marshall was confident that “South Africa is in a good position to lead the way into renewable energies with solar and wind power.”

Concluding the African part of the 2016 24 Hours for Reality, poet Mbali Vilakazi took the viewers on a journey triggered by a question: “Is there a Xhosa word for ‘climate change’? ‘Mitigation’ in Luganda? And what of ‘my carbon footprint’ in shona?”.

Hers is a fundamental question in the fight against climate change, one often overlooked: “While some are creating distant campaigns and others are calling on governments to action change, with concepts explained to people in languages they do not understand”, said Vilakazi.

“What will we say to the Ugandan mother who walks the lenght of her life in days, cutting and collecting possibilies, pockets long made empty with seasons of the familiar drought, her load of survival and hope carried like generations upon her head to build, feed and grown tomorrow on her own? What will we say to her when she’s the last and least to be informed and will have to take out another loan, one she cannot afford?”

“What will we say to our children about the JPMorgan Chase banker in his high rise office in Chicago, with the highest carbon footprint of us all, but he will not be the first to fall?”

“What will we say to the Xhosa as the Kalahari sands begin to shift beneath their feet?

“There are the overarching narratives, and when there are the people just trying to live their lives within them.”

Delivering her words with powerful pace and intonation, she concluded by urging all of us to “ask the difficult questions. Ask them again and again until we too are made vulnerable with our own longing to change.”

Listen, see, think, do, be different.