By Esther Nakkazi
A new report shows that the UK’s carbon emissions, and lack of action on a climate-friendly, post-Covid green recovery, threatens the future of other Commonwealth countries – especially those in Africa.
Climate change has been driven by the Commonwealth’s big polluters; the UK, Australia, and Canada. In the most recent Climate Risk Index, which ranks countries most affected by extreme weather over a 12-month period, 6 of the top 10 nations, were in the Commonwealth.
The report, Climate Change Inequality in the Commonwealth, produced by the Kenyan-based climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa shows that per capita, the UK, host of the next global climate summit COP26, burns more CO2 than 18 Commonwealth countries combined.
In 2002 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote about Africa: “The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”
As the future head of the Commonwealth, Prince Charles said during the opening session of Climate Week in September 2020: “[Climate change] is now rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Climate change is a major threat to Africa and its citizens so it’s vital that the COP26 summit is a success. For that to happen, Mohamed Adow, Director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, says it is essential that the UK upped it’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis both at home and abroad.
Besides the UK the figure is even higher for Canada and Australia who burn more than the combined per capita emissions of 27 and 28 Commonwealth countries respectively – that’s half of the bloc’s 54 member states combined. Post-Covid stimulus packages in these countries are currently making the climate crisis worse, rather than accelerating the energy transition, says the report.
Per person, Australia burns more carbon dioxide than 28 Commonwealth countries combined. Canada emits more carbon emissions per person than 27 Commonwealth nations combined.
“It’s remarkable that there is such climate inequality within the Commonwealth. Whether it is droughts and desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa, water shortages in Cape Town, floodwaters in Bangladesh and India, or rising sea levels threatening the Pacific Islands, more than ever, it’s now clear that the Commonwealth’s poorest citizens are already bearing the brunt of climate change,” says Adow.
“Africa has always looked to its Commonwealth allies but at the moment, faced with this climate crisis, it does not see a role model to follow. The vast emissions that the UK, Canada, and Australia produce compared to the rest of the Commonwealth are a direct threat to African lives and livelihoods,” says Youba Sokona, a leading African development, energy, and climate expert.
The report says the post-Covid stimulus packages in these countries are currently making the climate crisis worse, rather than accelerating the energy transition.
“It’s vital that these countries stop using their post-Covid stimulus plans to entrench further emissions and instead invest in a green recovery that will accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon world,” says Adow.
The report, as well as providing an analysis of the UK, Canada, and Australia, also highlights efforts being undertaken in Commonwealth countries in Africa to recover from the Covid pandemic.
“Thankfully Africa has the potential to take different, cleaner, pathways. It has huge renewable energy potential but it lacks the finances, capacity, and technology to harness it. African countries are doing what they can but investment from richer Commonwealth allies to help accelerate this transition and boost energy access would go a long way to levelling up the climate inequality within the Commonwealth,” says Sokona.
The report also highlights the positive efforts that are being made in Africa to recover from the economic downturn in a sustainable way that doesn’t accacerbate the climate crisis. Africa has a vast potential to become a renewable energy superpower if it can harness the abundant clean wind and solar energy on the continent. To do that will require a vision from African leaders and the ability to avoid the mistakes made by the polluting nations and demonstrate a cleaner and better path for development.
Commonwealth climate inequality
|Commonwealth Country||C02 per capita 2019
|17||Papua New Guinea||0.5|
|26||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||1.3|