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Climate Change Threatens More Destruction in Africa


As heads of states from throughout Africa attend a U.N.-organized meeting in New York City to tackle global warming, African scientists and civil society leaders say crop production, lives, and entire villages on the continent are being destroyed because of governments' inaction. But leaders say they have few resources. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's Central and West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Benin climatologist Michel Boko, the lead researcher for Africa on a U.N. scientific panel that studies climate change, says he is discouraged by governments not acting on scientific reports that climate change causes many of the natural disasters they face.

"If they put it in a drawer, I do what I can, but I cannot oblige them to use it if they do not believe in science, that is a problem," said Boko. "Now if it will be really used by them. Basic knowledge is available in Africa, from [the scientific] community in Africa. But there is no connection between policy decision makers and [the] scientific community."

Sometimes called global warming, climate change is an increase in temperatures largely believed to be caused by carbon-dioxide emissions that scientists say intensifies droughts and flooding.

Some government policy-makers, scientists and industrialists dispute these findings.

But scientists with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say global warming could cut African crop production by half in the next dozen years.

Some scientists link Africa's more intense flooding this year, which has displaced more than one million people, killed hundreds, and contributed to the spread of cholera and malaria, directly to climate change.

Boko says despite government leaders' theatrical gestures of attending international environmental conferences, they do not support long-term environmental change at home.

"They are always looking at the duration of their own mandate, how to be reelected in four to five years, and so on," said Boko. "They are always asking for some development projects, the benefits of which could be perceptible in short-term perspective. Global change is a matter of long- term perspective."

But in Senegal, officials say they are doing what they can with little money to find environmentally safe solutions to their energy problems. Senegal's rural electrification program director Ousseynou Ba says even though the process is slow, Senegal is trying.

Ba says despite start-up problems seven years ago when newly installed solar panels were stolen, the company has been able to run solar projects in almost 40 villages cut off from the national electricity network.

Ba says government officials draw up an annual plan of villages they want to provide solar energy, but the number of villages to receive power depends on donor support.

Top U.N. climate change official Yvo de Boer has said 85 percent of the funding to fight climate change will come from businesses. De Boer suggests making businesses pay if they pollute over a certain limit in order to raise funds for new energy programs.

Also known as trading carbon credits, companies that pollute the least can sell their right to release carbon dioxide to companies that pollute more.

U.N. officials say climate change is one of the most wide-ranging humanitarian challenges faced by African leaders, because of its impact on disease, poverty, food production, and population migration to cities or overseas.

Discussions from Monday's climate-change meeting are scheduled to continue in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali.

The U.N. Secretary General is pushing for negotiations of a new international climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, a voluntary agreement among more than 160 countries to cut carbon emissions that will expire in five years.

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