Interview with Stephanie Njiomo – Climate Change: Towards an Unbearable Planet?

Interview with Stephanie Njiomo,
Climate Programme Officer
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Cameroon and Central Africa Desk

Climate Change:
Towards an Unbearable Planet?

Steve Tametong (ST): Environment, biodiversity, climate change, greenhouse gases: these are words that are no longer really strange to our humanity. Could you enlighten our readers on the precise meaning of each of these words?

Stéphanie Njiomo (SN): The environment refers to the combination of natural and socio-economic elements that constitute the framework and living conditions of an individual, a population, or a community at different geographical scales.

Biodiversity means the variability of living organisms from all sources, including, inter alia, terrestrial and marine ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part.

Climate change, not to be confused, as is very often the case with the weather, is the variation in the state of the climate that can be detected by changes in the average and/or the variability of its properties and which persists for a long time, usually for decades or more. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, including modulations of solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, or persistent anthropogenic changes in atmospheric composition or land use.

It should be noted that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in its article 1, defines climate change as “changes of climate which are attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” The Convention thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities that alter the composition of the atmosphere and climate variability attributable to natural causes.

Greenhouse gases are gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic (linked to human activities), absorbing and re-emitting part of the sun’s rays (infrared radiation), causing the greenhouse effect. Water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3) are the main greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere earthly. There are also greenhouse gases resulting solely from human activities, such as halogenated hydrocarbons and other substances containing chlorine and bromine, which are dealt with in the Montreal Protocol.

ST: In April 2022, the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published a special report, the substance of which reports an alarming level of global warming. What are the causes of this warming? Should we worry about our planet?

SN: Fossil fuels are the main cause of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is the reason that justifies the April 2022 IPCC report, which is also recognized as a solutions report. He leans with as much acuity on the question of energy.

In order to limit the global rise in temperatures, IPCC experts suggest replacing fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) with low-carbon or neutral energy sources (hydroelectricity, photovoltaics, wind power, etc.). Faced with this observation, the IPCC also considers it necessary to set up techniques for the elimination of carbon dioxide (tree plantations, extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere, etc.). At the same time, the problem of methane emissions (another very powerful greenhouse gas) both through the production of fossil fuels and also from animal farming is a concern.

You have to worry to act urgently. Extreme events (fires, floods, waves of drought, etc.) occurring on both sides are strong alerts that should give an idea of the upheavals to come if the emissions curve does not decrease in the coming years.

ST: On December 21, 2022, the States gathered in Montreal for the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP 15) and made a commitment to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity by 2030. Is this bet feasible?

SN: The challenge for 2030 in terms of biodiversity is colossal. In the Kunming agreements that emerged from the Montreal meeting, the 23 targets highlight the restoration of 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The percentage of 30% that repeatedly recurs in the agreement is very modest. The ambition could have been greater when we know that the practical phase will inevitably experience withdrawals and the inaction of certain countries. If all countries respect the agreements to the letter, the bet can be to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss by 2030. But such is the burdensome and only condition.

In 2020, China, which was to host COP 15, presented major advances in landscape restoration and biodiversity preservation in Montreal. Between 2017 and 2022, the results are spectacular and encouraging in terms of preserving biodiversity. However, this same country, whose international activities have multiplied, is causing significant environmental damage through mining and other large-scale projects. This highlights a problem of the universality of environmental and climate policies.

The creation and protection of parks for the preservation of biodiversity will only make full sense if this spirit of conservation, preservation, and restoration goes beyond borders. The reversal of the decline in biodiversity will only be effective if and only if all the signatory countries take action and respect all the commitments made; because, whether it is Kunming or Paris, the Agreements represent a great step forward if the action plans are broken down into concrete projects on the ground.

ST: During this year, 2023, States will meet in Dubai on the occasion of COP 28 to make the first global assessment of global collective progress on mitigation, adaptation, and the means of implementing climate change. Paris Agreement. Do you think this first assessment will be positive?

SN: To get an idea of what the global balance sheets will look like, you have to look a little bit at the national balance sheets. According to the latest GermanWatch evaluations, the top 20 countries with promising environmental and climate policies are mainly made up of northern European countries (Finland, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, etc.), and very few vis-à-vis which real changes are expected (USA, China, etc.).

It should not be hoped that at the 28th Conference of the Parties, the world assessments will come as a pleasant surprise if, during the current year, drastic measures are not taken by the emitting powers to bring down the emissions curve. In terms of mitigation, we should not expect satisfactory results because of the energy crisis linked to the Russo-Ukrainian war, which has plunged some States back into the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels.

In terms of adaptation, the figures may be more encouraging for two reasons. The first is related to the local development of traditional adaptation techniques by rural communities and indigenous peoples; the second is due to a large number of financial flows made available and accessible to vulnerable States for adaptation projects.

ST: It appears that African countries are mainly affected by the negative effects of climate change and the degradation of biodiversity, even though they are not the biggest polluters. Can you give us a clear idea of this deterioration through a few examples from the continent?

SN: African countries taken together contribute less than 5% to global greenhouse gas emissions. The level of industrialization and low use of fossil fuels is the explanation for this low percentage. Because gases have no geographical boundaries, the emissions produced in the North spread to the South, disrupting people’s lifestyles. These upheavals are perceptible by the rise in sea level. In Senegal, by way of illustration, the commune of Rufisque has experienced a spectacular reversal in the lifestyles of the surrounding communities.

During the last 10 years, the surrounding cemeteries, residential houses, and businesses have been swallowed up by the sea. This has caused this significant municipality material and human damage, following which the very first adaptation project in South the West was created by the construction of a dam of about one thousand meters to contain the advance of the sea and allow the continuation of human activities. In Central Africa, the Lake Chad Basin has grown to a tenth of its area in the space of two decades.

In 2021, there was still a war in this area over access to water between the Mousgoum peoples and Shoa Arabs, which caused numerous losses of human life. East Africa, known for its spectacular landscapes and its diversified fauna, sees, day after day, the disappearance of animal and plant species due to the scarcity of water resources and recurrent floods. Examples are legion on the continent, and climate crises are gradually turning into security crises.

ST: States considered the biggest polluters offer to pay financial compensation to African States in order to respond to the climate challenges that are imposed on them. Do you think this financial compensation approach is effective?

SN: Financial offsets are a necessary approach to addressing the urgent mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries but an insufficient approach to slowing down global warming of the planet. The effective response to the fight against climate change is mainly the redefinition of development and the accessories of this development. “Business as usual” for developed countries will not invert the emission curve simply because of financial compensation in other parts of the world.

ST: The use of wind, solar and photovoltaic energy is recommended today as an alternative energy source in the realization of the ecological transition. Do you share this position?

SN: The diversification of energy supply sources is strongly recommended to cover the significant energy demand in Africa and gradually abandon polluting sources. However, we must not lose sight of the mining activity associated with the development of these energy sources. Countries with significant mineral resources are now the supply point for investors and builders of the renewable energy sector.

However, access to rare metals has been known and still known, in Africa in particular, unacceptable ecological and human damage. We are in favor of the transition to wind, solar and photovoltaic energy, provided that all forms of child labor are eliminated and the use of sites before, during, and after mining operations is restored. That scrupulous respect for environmental rules and those of labor law are the condition for a transition to renewable energy sources.

ST: How can an effective fight against climate change be envisaged on various scales (global, regional, state) in a global context where several countries, qualified as “major polluters,” refuse to commit to the climate?

SN: The climatic problem must be considered as a house that is burning and in the face of which the fire must be extinguished before asking who caused it. The responsibility of the so-called polluting states should not hinder the mitigation or adaptation initiatives of the states that are victims of global pollution. In reality, entering into a position of “blackmail” would be counter-productive at a time when erosion is devastating habitats, drought is generating climate migrants, but also and above all in these times when climate change has local impacts in the face of which it is necessary to act and sometimes in urgency.

On a global scale, an effective fight against this phenomenon would consist in real and not just textual awareness. This awareness would lead the so-called polluting states to adopt new development paths that would reject the key elements that have contributed since the industrial era to the significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions. At the regional and sub-regional level, it would be fruitful to speak with one voice when it comes to the climate crisis. And doing so first requires harmonizing the vision of development and less disparate policy frameworks from one country to another.

While it is true that the African Union has defined in Agenda 2063 “the Africa we want,” it is no less true that state sovereignties place states at very different levels in terms of adaptation and mitigation. While Morocco is becoming a kingdom of renewable energies, Central Africa is struggling to take its first steps in the sector. While Gabon is part of a forest conservation policy, neighboring states continue to flourish in an approach of massive exploitation of wood resources. Speaking with one voice, with one voice, would be an effective strategy to better address the issue and better address the emitting countries.

At the national level, what is urgent for the countries of Central Africa is to harmonize the sectoral development policies with the climate policies adopted and ratified at the international level. The current observation is that for several countries, we find ourselves in two contradictory trajectories where we have on the one hand the Paris Agreement, the National Determined Contribution (NDC), the national adaptation plans and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation strategy and on the other hand, a agricultural, energy and forestry policy prior to the texts and the climate vision.

ST: On a lower scale, how can the ordinary citizen contribute effectively to the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of the environment?

SN: The protection of the environment and the preservation of biodiversity are above all individual duties before being collective. The adage that “if everyone sweeps in front of their yard, the village will be clean” applies well in this case. This is why individual awareness of a contribution to environmental anarchy or well-being is essential.

ST: Tell us about the action of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Cameroon and Central Africa Office in promoting biodiversity and a healthy environment in Cameroon and Central Africa in general.

SN: The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is, as a reminder, a German political foundation committed to the promotion and protection of the values of justice, solidarity and equality. With regard to the environmental issue, most of the work contribute to the adoption of climate-smart development policies and the promotion of a low-carbon and decentralized energy system at national and sub-regional level.

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Steve TAMETONG is the Deputy Director of Democracy and Governance Division at the Nkafu Policy Institute of the Denis & Lenora Foundation. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Law from Dschang University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Governance and Regional Integration from the Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences of the Pan-African University (African Union).


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