In January 2008, the 2007/2008 Human Development Report was launched under the theme: “Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a divided world.”
The launch provided an opportunity for Rwandans to assess the state of the fight against climate change in the country.
The report provided some chilling facts and argued that the world we live in is drifting towards a “tipping point” that could lock the poorest countries and their citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats and a loss of livelihood.
It is puzzling to observe that there is no mass uprising on environmental degradation similar to the ones in the West on poverty reduction today.
There is need for action if humankind is to avert a man-made environmental apocalypse that threatens our very existence. The consequences of climate change are already here with us. Africa is already suffering from frequent droughts and serious floods.
It is estimated that by 2036 Hemingway’s snows of Kilimanjaro will have no snow left on its summit!
Recent studies on energy use in Africa indicate that promoting cleaner, more efficient technologies for producing charcoal in Africa can save millions of lives and have significant climate change and development benefits.
The African continent is dependent on both wood and charcoal for cooking and heating homes. It is estimated that in 2000, nearly 470 million tonnes of wood were consumed in homes in sub-Saharan Africa in the form of firewood and charcoal.
This is more wood per capita than is used in any other region in the world.
However, more than 1.6 million people, primarily women and children, die prematurely each year worldwide and nearly half a million of these are from sub-Saharan Africa.
These people die from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution from such fires, according to previous studies by researchers from the Universities of California and Berkeley as well as the Harvard School of Public Health.
The conclusion made in a recent study by the said two Universities is that, by 2030, smoke from wood fires used for cooking will cause about 10 million premature deaths among women and children in Africa.
By 2050, according to the same study, smoke from cooking fires will release about 7 billion tonnes of carbon in the form of greenhouse gases to the environment – that’s about 6 per cent of the total expected greenhouses from the continent.
Africa looks to be caught up in an endless cycle of environmental degradation and poverty. What is perhaps needed is a proper international economic order in which more investment would ensure that farmers make better and less destructive use of the land.
But first we must have infrastructure, notoriously insufficient, to ensure that our people stay on the land, and to transport crops to the markets.
Africa’s climate is so vulnerable and fragile. And yet in today’s world, less than a quarter of the world’s inhabitants consume three-quarters of its resources – and these are not Africans.
The rich world is said to emit half of the planet’s carbon dioxide fumes, while Africa emits just 3 per cent.
And the rich world continues to chase our scarce resources like fish, timber and minerals with reckless abandon.
The much-hyped Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be reached unless the developed world invests in the continent so that we can transit to the use of clean charcoal without increasing pollution and decimating our diminishing tropical forests.
The many vehicles that ply our dilapidated highways and roads, particularly the 4-WD, emit gases that are equally hazardous to the health and safety of the people of Africa.
Our factories, many of which are located in urban centres, add air pollutants, which have negative health and environmental effects when emitted into the atmosphere in large volumes on a continuous basis, as is the case.
We seriously need stringent mechanisms in form of legislation or self-regulation to monitor and control emissions.
The said legislation must involve the investigation of all the factories and where available refineries that produce emissions so that a detailed emissions inventory is established.
The escape route from extreme poverty in Africa must take environmental conservation seriously. But first we must be ready and equipped to implement the legislation.