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Hanciles: Africa needs $2trn yearly from Rich West to combat Climate Change

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Sierra Leone: Pictures of devastating landslide in August 2017.

Oswald Hanciles is CEO Greenlove and Founder, Slave Ship-Freedom Ship. He is an environmentalist and journalist. In this chat with The Guardian, he warns that many coastal cities in West Africa could go under water due to impact of Climate Change.

What is your understanding of Climate Change vis-à-vis the state of industrialisation in Africa?
Climate Change is a natural phenomenon that would take millions of years to stimulate significant change. But the Climate Change the world is experiencing, today, is largely as a result of human activities. Since the advent of Industrial Revolution about 400 years ago, people in the Western world have been spewing excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This has triggered the most accelerated climatic change since life began on planet earth. Africa has contributed a mere three percent of the gases that have caused Climate Change.

Comparatively, the state of industrialisation in Africa since the start of the Industrial Revolution has been almost non-existent. Tiny bits of industries can be found in North Africa, especially in Egypt, in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. Yet, Africa is going to be the worst hit by Climate Change – Africa would pay scarily the most for a global problem it has contributed to the least.

Have African countries developed enough to confront the hazards of Climate Change?
Absolutely no! No African country has developed enough to confront the hazards of Climate Change, when it gains momentum. Climate Change could mean, according to credible scientific forecasts, that countries in the tropical rainforests belt of Africa could have too much rain. Most of the forest cover has been removed in these regions through centuries of slash-and-burn farming; through cutting down the forests for cash crops like palm oil, cocoa and coffee, among others, as well as through commercial logging. If there is too much rain in this region, it will speed up the topsoil’s erosion and being washed into the sea. That will almost certainly lower agricultural yield. Already, most of the countries in this region import most of the staple food they eat – like rice. About 60 percent of the labour force in this region is in agriculture. If the soils are significantly eroded because of Climate Change, it will not only mean more import dependency, it will mean that those people who are employed in the agriculture sector will find themselves with no work to do.

Coastal cities like Lagos, Accra, Banjul and Monrovia, among others, would likely ‘drown’ with the forecasted two inches rise in sea level. Even Lagos, the megacity in black Africa, the most populous, with the highest level of industrial and commercial activity in black Africa, will mostly likely go under water. No matter the burgeoning investment in real estate in the city, developers appear to be oblivious of, or, are ignoring the realities of, Climate Change. Except there is massive infusion of financing from the West for Lagos to be able to do what has been done in the Netherlands to check rising sea levels in lowland areas, billions of dollars invested in the city will simply go under water. Lost!!

Already, in this region, unemployment among teeming youths of employable age in the cities is estimated to be about 50 percent. Experts call this a “Ticking Time Bomb” problem. If more youths from the rural areas suddenly find themselves unemployed because of Climate Change, it will absolutely speed up the time this ‘Youth Unemployment Time Bomb’ will detonate. On its own, no country in this region has resources to mitigate this problem, not to talk of solving it.

In the arid regions of Africa, experts predict two scenarios: Diminished rainfall, which will mean more droughts, further lowering agricultural yields. Or, spasmodic heavy rainfalls. The fragile soils in this region won’t be able to make use of the heavy rains. The rainwater would thus flow over land into a messy rivers of mud, sand, and debris…. down South, worsening environmental conditions as it flows into the sea. These countries are already the poorest in the world. Their people will be forced to migrate enmasse to other countries. We are likely to see a sea wave of mass migration that defies the imagination.

Even countries with enough forests and some measure of prosperity – like Rwanda, Ghana, Ivory Coast… – will be overwhelmed with an avalanche of refugees from Climate Change hit areas. They lack security to keep these refugees out of their borders. Besides, ethics will prevent them from shutting their borders against millions of refugees that would want to enter, as some European countries have done against Syrian refugees.

In view of this reality, I am advocating $2trn annually from the richest countries to Africa for Climate Change mitigation and adaptation. All previous cries for “Reparations for the Atlantic Slave” – given vim in the 1990s by Nigerian dollar-billionaire, presidential candidate, M.K.0. Abiola and “Marshall Plan for Africa,” should now be made into tangible reality to confront the realities of Climate Change. The annual $100bn pledged by the richest nations for Climate Change adaptation and mitigation in Africa will not be enough for even Nigeria alone; and is really an insult to Africa, given the centuries of rape and plunder of Africa by most of these richest nations.

From your readings and understanding, how can the globe be repaired to sustain life?
Perish that thought. The globe can’t be “repaired.” There have been about four mass extinctions of species in the past. Scientists estimate that 95 percent of species God once created have become extinct. What can be done to make the effects of Climate Change less devastating would be massive tree planting, massive planting of everything green on the planet by EVERYBODY, so that the green plants would absorb some of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

During Second World War, there was massive mobilisation of people in Europe, US and Japan to produce war material to fight the war. Climate Change must be regarded as the ‘ultimate war’. There has to be calculatedly-frenzied mobilisation of people to green the planet, far more than was done during World War II.

Climate Change will cause the speedy extinction of more species. No one can predict how this will affect human life. What is certain though is that human life in poor countries like in Africa will be much more pathetic. What needs to be urgently done is to alter the current ethos of global trade, global economics, international relations of ‘us-versus-them’ to one of ‘we-are-all-in-one-boat.’ We either sail together as humanity, or, we sink together. That is why I am re-energising, today, in Nigeria the project I ignited in Calabar, Cross River State, eastern Nigeria in 1992, called “Slave Ship-Freedom Ship.” There must be massive transfer of knowledge and financial resources from the richest countries to Africa.

How would you rate individual African countries in their contemplation of Climate Change and remediation?
Individual African countries? No, I can’t do that! There is no individual African country I am aware of that is lending the gravity and urgency to Climate Change issues in proportion to the magnitude of the challenges each country in Africa will face, when Climate Change gains more momentum.

Generally, Africans are in a “Time Trap.” In 1987, I was the brain/CEO of the Save My Future Conservation Society (SAMFU) in Monrovia, Liberia. Think over the words of the name of that organisation again: “Save My Future”! One of my mantras then (and now) is a quote from Kenyan theologian, Prof. John Mbiti, in his book, African Traditional Religions and Philosophy: “The African cannot think of the future, what is in the future does not exist.” Climate Change is essentially about the future; thinking about the future, and taking action in the present to prevent the worst from happening in the future; and to stimulate better things to happen in the future. But, largely, according to Mbiti, Africans are incapable of thinking about any future – out of the planting-growing-and-harvesting-season. In the cartoon magazine, which SAMFU produced and published in 1989, GREENLOVE magazine, we sought to use imaginative cartoon images to let Africans ‘see’ into that future. More of such imaginative methods need to be employed more aggressively.

Climate Change realities mandate that we should cease thinking about “individual African countries.” Pan-Africanism must be given economic and political palpability because of Climate Change. The borders that divide Africa today were carved out in 1884/85 by arrogant Europeans at the end of the Atlantic Slave Trade; a period when Europeans still felt Africans were sub-humans, when they were intent on exploiting Africa’s natural resources with the same wanton disregard for Africans, such as when they carried on with the Atlantic Slave Trade. The boundaries of Africa are artificial. Climate Change realities ignore these boundaries.

Last year, there was a devastating landslide in Sierra Leone, do you expect another one this year?
Indeed, on August 14, 2017, at about 6 a.m., a whole side of a mountain at Regent on the Freetown Peninsular in Sierra Leone collapsed, and mud roared down, burying over 1,000. A horrific way to die.

What experts said caused that landslide should be a telling lesson for not only Sierra Leone, but all of Africa, as to the attitudes to issues of environmentalism. The experts kept warning people: do not build houses or chop wood for cooking or grow anything above the “Green Line” – above the middle of the mountain. They ignored those warnings. They practised slash-and-burn methods to clear forests on the mountains. The rich constructed their mansions. The poor squatted on land the rich were not ready to construct more mansions on. The poor chopped down the remaining forests for firewood. The forest cover removed, heavy rainfall seeped into the rocks, and undercut the foundation of what held the entire ecosystem, and it just collapsed.

Can this happen again? A resounding yes to that question, according to geophysicists and environmentalists! It could happen this year. It could be a perennial phenomenon, except there is huge relocation of people, or an immediate halt to the illegal and unscientific use of forests on the many mountains in Freetown peninsular, one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate in the world. Except there is proper management of forests in the mountains of Freetown. Except the country begins to read closely, and adhere to the warnings of ‘green prophets’ like me; for I warned for several years in newspaper articles in my THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN and social media postings, about the deleterious consequences of chopping down the forests of Freetown.

We are told that Climate Change is responsible for herders coming forcefully from the Sahel to the Coasts, with resultant clashes and loss of lives. How bad can this get?
If the political, administrative, religious, and civil society leadership of Africa does not rise up to the urgency of Climate Change, what there is a crescendo of denunciation of in especially Nigeria today – cattle herders moving South from the North and almost regularly now unleashing violence on the locals they meet – is only the early glimpse of what could be the norm in not only Nigeria, but in most of Africa. Environmental experts are predicting not just conflicts, but full-scale WARS as a result of Climate Change. The human impulse of survival will mean that not only herdsmen, but millions of people will move from the North to the South, will move eastwards and westwards, in quest of land, water, food… sheer impulse to obey God’s principal injunction to all life: SURVIVE!!

There must be new movements formed in Africa – political, economic, social, religious – that defy the colonial-imposed boundaries that have trapped Africans in largely midget states, impotent to confront giant countries like the United States, Russia, and China, and mega-groupings like the European Union. Climate Change gives imperative to the Nkrumah-ist clarion call over half a century ago: “Africa must unite now.” Or, be doomed! Africa must unite to not only stimulate dramatic shifts in politics and society; to be more rational and scientific and to fight superstition, masquerading as Islamic and Christian beliefs, but also to adequately respond to the centuries-old war the West have been waging on Africa. My call for $2trn dollars for Climate Change adaptation and mitigation for Africa is just one shot.

At the time the Atlantic Slave Trade started revving up in the 17th century, the technology/scientific/management gap between Africa and Europe (hypothetically, put in figures) was about 2 points for Africa and 30 points for Europe. Today, the technology/scientific/management gap between Africa and Europe is about 1,000 points for Europe and 50 points for Africa. In other words, it is now 200 times easier for Europeans to enslave Africans should they choose to than it was in the past.


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