African delegates at Cop28 fear losing natural environment to climate change

Delegates tell of deadly droughts, floods and cyclones as they demand tangible commitments on reducing carbon

Kabelo Mompati Tsiang, of the Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture in Botswana
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Cop28

African delegates to Cop28 have highlighted the impact climate change is having on their part of the world – even though the continent produces just four per cent of the world’s carbon emissions.

Government, private sector and non-governmental organisation representatives are hoping the conference results in strong commitments to cutting fossil fuel use.

They also say that African nations need financial assistance to transition their economies away from fossil fuels and to deal with the damage caused by climate change.

Kabelo Mompati Tsiang, of Botswana's Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, said it is “very crucial” that commitments to significant reductions in carbon emissions are achieved at Cop28.

“What we want is for parties to come to the table with tangible commitments. We expect parties to bring to the plate tangible means of reducing their carbon footprints,” he said.

“Climate change is disrupting the rainy season. There are more and more heatwaves. It’s becoming drier. All of this points to countries and states reducing their carbon footprint. Otherwise we’ll lose what we have in terms of our natural environment.”

Lindiwe Modise, founder and managing director of Green Loop Environmental Consultants in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, said events this year highlight the impact of climate change.

“Once again, this year the president has declared drought,” she said. “It’s going to be one of our worst droughts. Are we resilient? If it hits hard, can we survive? The water levels in the dams are already starting to drop.

“We aren’t even emitting one per cent of the pollution around the world, but we feel the impact more than most countries. We need people to come to countries like ours to understand what’s going on.”

Botswana is facing more significant temperature increases than the world average. If temperatures increase by an average of 1.5 °C around the world, the rise in Botswana would be 2.2 °C, according to the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project from the University of Cape Town, in South Africa.

“The heat right now is unbearable. When I left it was unbearable,” Ms Modise said.

Malawi, meanwhile, is seeing “a huge impact” from climate change, according to John Chipeta, senior manager for advocacy, communication, campaigns and media for Save the Children in the country.

“We have an increased frequency of droughts and floods and a trend of [greater] incidence of pests in crops. Seventy per cent of our foreign exchange [is] from agricultural products. Drought has a huge impact on crops and livestock in Malawi,” he said.

Drought was one of the factors blamed for a cut in Malawi’s maize output of almost one-fifth in 2021/22.

Other extreme weather events, such as Cyclone Freddy in March, have also resulted in significant damage to Malawi, including more than 1,200 deaths.

“In terms of the loss in economic terms, we’re talking around $700 million – a huge impact. The cyclone impacted over 15 districts in the southern part of Malawi,” Mr Chipeta said.

“Schools were closed. Unfortunately the roads and the bridges are so fragile, most were washed away. The impact of Cyclone Freddy is still being felt. We have children traumatised and affected mentally through the loss of their parents.”

Turn the clock back two decades or so, and farmers could be assured that rains would start to arrive in October and would continue until around April, Mr Chipeta said. Now, things are no longer so predictable and the start of the rainy season cannot be relied upon.

“That’s why at Cop28 we can no longer wait to see agreements … We look forward to agreements that support an increasingly resilient economy and agriculture,” Mr Chipeta said.

Updated: December 11, 2023, 7:55 AM