Washington, D.C. - Africa is at a tipping point when it comes to climate change, and leadership from the United States will be critical in helping the continent cope with what could become a massive humanitarian crisis, if food and water scarcities increase as predicted.
That stark warning was at the heart of testimony made today by the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, Dr. Jonathan Pershing, one of five expert witnesses who testified along with leaders from Conservation International (CI) about climate change in Africa before a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health.
Dr. Pershing warned that climate change will affect the world, “but will affect the poorest and most vulnerable, especially in Africa, perhaps the soonest and most severely.”
Dr. Fred Boltz, Senior Vice President of Global Strategies and Climate Change for CI, and Leon Rajaobelina, CI’s Regional VP for AMFD-Madagascar and Madagascar’s former Ambassador to the U.S., were also invited to share their expertise and ideas with the committee.
The hearing, convened by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, focused on questions about mitigating climate change in Africa, and the increased need for U.S. government aide and policies to devise and fund mitigation and adaptation strategies for the continent.
Committee Chairman Donald Payne (D-NJ) in his opening remarks said, “African nations emitted only about 3% of world carbon dioxide from human-related sources in 2007. However Africa [because of its arid landscape, development challenges, and surging populations] is most likely to experiences rises in temperatures first. That’s not fair.”
“We are greatly concerned by climate change and believe that we are already living with its impacts”, testified Ambassador Rajaobelina, from severe droughts, to increasingly devastating cyclones, and rising continental temperatures.
“For people in poverty and simply trying to survive on a daily basis, even small climatic changes that impact a harvest can be catastrophic. Adaptation responses that improve the ability of the rural poor to cope with events for which they cannot plan are clearly going to be needed.”
Rajaobelina, who lives and works in the Madagascan capital of Antananarivo, further explained a mapping project in the country which found that the most important sites for ecosystem services (freshwater, food and renewable natural resources that often provide incomes) are also the most important areas for biodiversity. "Human well-being, functioning ecosystems and climate change are intimately interlinked", he added.
“Climate change moves the [development] goalposts”, Dr. Fred Boltz warned the committee when it was his turn to testify. “On security issues like climate change, U.S. leadership will be critical to leveraging competing and divisive views to find solutions.”
“We have the knowledge and the experience.” Dr. Boltz also emphasized, in asking members of Congress to provide leadership for cost-effective climate solutions like REDD+ to be seized this decade. “CI’s long history of conservation success in Africa, supported by U.S. government efforts from Liberia to Madagascar, provides the very basis for securing the natural ecosystems critical for climate adaptation.”
“The world pays enormous attention to what we do.” concluded Dr. Pershing. “We will see enormous frustrations if there is not legislation... Countries [are] waiting on us.”
According to numerous reports, the much-anticipated compromise climate bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate later this month, allowing time for potential floor debate before the Senate adjourns for summer recess.
CI’s U.S. Policy Director Manuel Oliva says he will be watching for several key elements in the legislation.
“A well crafted climate and energy bill can provide long-term help to the countries of Africa and other vulnerable developing nations that are already impacted by the effects of climate change. By partnering private sector money through offsets to address deforestation, with public finance for climate change adaptation, we can infuse desperately needed funds for the protection of the natural resources of these countries – a long term solution for both climate change and development security.”
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About Conservation International
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, Conservation International (CI) empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. www.conservation.org