Current Climate Negotiations Will Have Devastating Effects on Africa

Today, a draft agreement was released at COP26. It calls on countries to accelerate the phasing-out of fossil fuel subsidies and to make pledges to reduce emissions by 2022. The draft also urges wealthy nations to “urgently scale-up” financial support for developing countries to help them adapt to the climate crisis. This comes as a new report by the group Climate Action Tracker estimates world temperatures are on track to rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels based on current pledges to cut emissions — far higher than the 1.5 degree goal set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian poet and environmental activist, speaks to us about the latest developments at COP26. “There’s no force behind what’s being proposed,” says Bassey, who adds that the current trajectory of negotiations will have devastating effects on Africa. “That means setting the continent on fire. It is just sacrificing the continent.” Bassey also discusses the role of China in Africa and the impact of the climate crisis on the continent. He has been to climate summits over the years, but this is his last.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Glasgow at the U.N. climate summit. Earlier today, a draft agreementThe draft urged nations to strengthen their climate plans, accelerate the phasing-out of coal, and to stop subsidizing fossil fuels. The draft also urges wealthy nations to, quote, “urgently scale-up” financial support for developing countries to help them adapt to the climate crisis. The draft calls for nations to make stronger pledges to reduce their emissions by 2022, three more years earlier than planned.

Greenpeace issued a statement saying, quote, “This draft deal is not a plan to solve the climate crisis, it’s an agreement that we’ll all cross our fingers and hope for the best,” they said.

This is a new concept. reportClimate Action Tracker, an organization that monitors climate change, has estimated that the world’s temperature will rise by 2.4° Celsius from preindustrial levels. This is based upon current emissions pledges. That’s far higher than the 1.5 degree goal set at the Paris talks.

Now, we will enter the COP, to Glasgow, where we’re joined by the Nigerian environmental leader and poet Nnimmo Bassey. He’s the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and author of a number of books, including Oil Politics: Echoes from Ecological Wars To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa.

Nnimmo bassey, welcome back Democracy Now!Can you respond to the draft? Where’s the enforcement? What about the goals set in the midst this climate emergency.

NNIMMO BASSEY:Amy, thank you so much.

It’s very clear that this COPIt will end in the same way that other COPs have finished before, with very little ambition and very little seriousness, and without focusing on the fact we are in a planetary crisis.

For the first time, however, they’re talking of phasing out some part of fossil fuel, but then they’re choosing and picking. The burning of fossil fuels is causing the climate crisis that we face today. This is well known by the whole world. This is why they should only phase out fossil fuel subsidies and phase out coal. COP believes that fossil fuel use in energy production and whatever should continue — in other words, that the carbon budget is something that can be toyed with. This is extremely disappointing.

And the only hope we have is that this is a draft document, but the tendency is that a draft document may be further watered down, so that final document may actually come out to say don’t phase out anything, just reduce — remove subsidies. But this is nothing that is binding, nothing that can be — anybody can be held to account for. That is why at the same time we’re seeing the kind of contributions and proposals made by government to cut emissions. They are now talking about net zero, net emissions reduction. They’re not talking about actual emission reduction. They aren’t talking about stopping emissions at their source. They’re talking about how to continue with business as usual while showing means and ways of capturing equivalents of the carbon they are emitting.

And so, the document itself shows clearly that those who are drafting it are drafting — have seemed to have drafted it for other people to implement. The proposal is not supported by any force. For example, it shows — it expresses regret that industrialized rich nations are unable to raise the climate finance target of just a mere $100 billion. That is really a very serious disappointment, because it’s not for lack of funds that this money is not being raised. They spend close to $2 trillion U.S. every year on military warfare. And so, looking for $100 billion shouldn’t be a thing that they would scratch about and keep procrastinating or try to make it as loans to poor, vulnerable nations that are already being flooded, that are already facing serious climate impacts.

So, I view the draft agreement, draft pact or draft decision (or whatever they call it), as an indicator of lack of seriousness. And it’s a big threat to those who are already on the frontlines suffering impacts of global warming.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Nnimmo Basey, can you speak about the impact on the gathering of all the fossil fuel lobbyists present? Global Witness estimates that at the most, 503 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted entry to COP26. Did it become more of a carbon stock trade than a meeting for the people of the planet to decide what to do about climate changes?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Clearly, with the — having so many fossil fuel company delegates at the COP is a clear indication that we can’t really expect anything good from this COP. The fossil fuel industry has captured the COPThey have been supporting the cause over the years. They have supported the COPSponsoring the COPAdvertising the COP. This year there’s less of the advertisement, but they are all here, over 500 delegates, far more than many countries’ delegates put together. The overwhelming presence confirms suspicion and the fact that there is no doubt that the COPThey are not serious about tackling global climate change. And if they are not seriously tackling global warming, if they keep depending or listening to the fossil fuel industry, we don’t see how they’re going to do what needs to be done.

And what needs to be done is to keep fossils in the ground and then rapidly, rapidly wind — move away from this civilization that’s driven by petroleum resources and by coal and by gas. The existence of these people and the financial institutions supporting them is extremely troubling. We are right now. We’re hearing, for example, the fossil fuel industry is planning to invest about $250 billion U.S. over the next one decade in Africa and about $1.4 trillion U.S. by the year 2050. All this don’t paint a good picture for the future. It’s like they’re looking for profit, for speculation today, and they don’t just care what happens tomorrow.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:What about those who claim that the process, the structure of COPIt is doomed to fail because it requires consensus from all nations and not a majority rule. Because one or two countries can stop the process, consensus meets minority rule. How does this affect the majority of the nations of the world, who may have different perspectives from the industrial — the giant industrial polluting nations?

NNIMMO BASSEY:People see consensus over majority vote as one of the best things about the country. COPThe entire United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change processes. This notion of consensus was broken in the COP at Cancún. At Cancún, at least one nation, which was Bolivia, stood up against the agreement, and they were just pushed aside, and then they went ahead to celebrate the adoption of the Cancún outcome. Consensus here is defined by those who are driving it. COPThe presidents of COPOrganizers of it. It is not in their best interest. It’s not about listening to those who are suffering grave impacts.

Imagine the world celebrating or accepting 1.5, which is the flawed Paris target, 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the preindustrial level. And now estimates show that the nationally contributed — nationally determined contributions would amount to about 2.4, 2.7 degrees Celsius temperature increase above preindustrial level. What does this leave Africa? This would be Africa’s equivalent of at least 3 degrees Celsius. That means that Africa must set the continent ablaze. It’s not about sacrificing the continent. These things are still tolerable, however. To put it mildly, this is criminal.

AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmo Bassey, the text doesn’t mention the contentious Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which would establish the rules of a global market for buying and selling carbon. This is a complex topic. Can you please explain it in layman terms so people can understand your thoughts and where you see this going?

NNIMMO BASSEY:Now, let’s talk about bringing carbon markets into the mainstream. COP is also one of those issues that kind of pretends to push the idea — or to pushing the idea that the market can solve a problem that has been created by the market. It’s completely impossible. Profits are all that matters in the market. That’s about power. It’s about control. It’s about domination. And this is not the way to build solidarity and cooperation between countries around the globe today.

And so, we’ve got before — in terms of carbon market and so on and so forth, we had elements like carbon trading, like reducing emissions for deforestation and forest degradation. To make it more acceptable and to make it sound better they now talk about net zero. So, pricing carbon is just about — is pricing hot air. That’s what it means. It’s just a — it’s a device. It’s a device for avoiding action.

And so, you could say, “Well, I could keep on polluting. Then some trees we paid for — we paid for a forest in the Congo or in Uganda or somewhere in Amazon that hasn’t already been burned down,” and then you continue with pollution, continue consuming things at levels that are intolerable. The whole carbon market mechanism is about avoiding climate change, avoiding action, and then profiting from the inaction of the majority of people today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nnimmo, could you talk about — two of the world’s largest polluting nations are absent from the COPthis year: Russia and China. Could you talk about China’s role, especially in Africa with its Belt and Road policies and also with its voracious desire for more minerals?

NNIMMO BASSEY:Sorry. Could you please repeat that?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I don’t know if you heard me. I asked you about the absence from the embassy of Russia and China. COP this year and China’s role in Africa in terms of the environmental harm.

NNIMMO BASSEY:Yes. Thank you. It’s really very concerning that the big polluters, such as Russia and China, their leaders, would actually stay away from the COPIt is. It speaks poorly of their leadership, and of their concern about a problem that is clearly global. Many other leaders view climate change as global warming, rather than national warming. That is why the Paris Agreement relied on nationally determined contributions to its actions rather than global, scientifically determined decisions about who would be cut and at what level.

China is now attempting to run Africa. They are driving deforestation on the continent and investing in fossil fuel facilities development, such as the exploitation pipeline. They’re investing in a pipeline that would take oil from — very waxy oil from Uganda to a seaport in Tanzania for export. And this is something that’s really threatening not just climate change but the livelihoods of millions of Africans who live in the Rift Valley and who depend on freshwater system from the Lake Victoria basin in East Africa.

So, right across the continent, the influence of China and the investment in fossil industry development on the continent is a big problem in terms of global warming, in terms of livelihoods and in terms of local economies, because right on that continent, I would say, the total workforce of the continent, only — out of the total workforce, only less than a percentage, 1%, of Africans are working in that sector. So it doesn’t in any way multiply or adapt to the local economies. It’s just another way of — another wave of exploitation. And that’s what China is driving on the continent.

Russia is only pushing outdated technology for nuclear power in some parts of the continent. They should have been at the table, I believe. They should have faced the nations that they are — in which [inaudible]you are taking actions that will only worsen the crisis.

AMY GOODMAN:Nnimmo, let’s wrap up. Can you first describe the true effects of the climate crisis on Africa? And, second, what gives hope? When we see you every year at the climate summits — we’ve been together from Copenhagen on — you’ve been arrested at protests, yet you keep going. What gives you reason to believe?

NNIMMO BASSEY:The effects of global warming are enormous on Africa. One thing to remember is that Africa is located in the center of the planet, with most of its continent lying on the Equator. The temperature impact on Africa’s continent is therefore far greater than the global average. Global averages are extremely threatening to me personally and others living on the continent.

The continent is now surrounded by water bodies. So there’s serious sea level rise impact, has been predicted by the IPCCOther than the Pacific island states on the continent, they have a greater impact. Already, Nigeria is losing approximately two meters each year to coastal erosion from sea level rise. And this is having grave impact already on communities, on infrastructure, and it’s a big problem.

What gives me hope now? I’m thinking that this may be — I’ve been to most COPs, and we’ve met, and I really enjoyed, appreciate the amount of influence and that you’re helping to promote the right solutions from these COPs. This could be my last appearance at a COP. COPIf the process continues in a negative direction. But the COPThis is a great opportunity for civil society actors and movements to meet outside. Right now, as we sit in COP in Glasgow, there are very real, grounded discussions going on in the People’s Summit outside of the COP. And I’m looking forward to a time when the outside will be the arena for decision-making, just as we find in Cochabamba, but this time enforceable decision-making, because the COPIt is a playground for politicians.

AMY GOODMAN:We want to thank Nnimmo bassey for being with us. He is a Nigerian environmental activist, poet, and director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation. He was the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award in 2010, and is the author of several books, including Oil Politics: Echoes from Ecological Wars To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa.

Coming up, we look at the “Global Climate Wall,” a new report examining how the world’s wealthiest nations are prioritizing borders over climate action. Stay with us.