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Norwegian and South African Officials Discuss Ways to Combat Global Warming

African countries generate less than three percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which is the type of pollution that causes global warming. But Africans are likely to be hardest hit by the effects of that pollution. On Friday, officials from Europe and South Africa met to discuss ways to ease the impact of climate change on Africa. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick reports.

Africa's economy depends heavily on agriculture, which makes it especially vulnerable to changes in climate. Experts say the economic burden of global warming can offset the benefits of international aid.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says the problems have already begun.

"Africa is already seriously affected by climate change: flooding, droughts, reduced agricultural capacity," said Stoltenberg. "So climate change is very serious for the whole world but it's of particular concern for Africa."

Stoltenberg was speaking at a roundtable conference sponsored by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. He says wealthy nations created the world's climate problem, but African countries will have to help in cutting greenhouse gas pollution.

"It is the rich world that has been the main polluters during many years," said Stoltenberg. "But at the same time it is impossible to have big enough reductions without also including the developing world."

Stoltenberg's remarks have particular relevance for South Africa, which is one of the continent's biggest polluters. If power plants worldwide can clean up their smokestack pollution, more than 25 percent of the climate change problem could be solved. South Africa's Minister of Environment and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, acknowledges his country has a unique set of problems.

"We know as a country that we will have to make plans to adapt to the effects of climate change. But we also know that we have a role to play with regard to mitigation. Ninety percent of our energy is coal-fired energy in South Africa. And we know that we cannot continue in that way."

The United Nations Kyoto Protocol process aims to make clean technology available for developing countries, with wealthier nations paying the cost. The process is also creating a fund to help Africa prepare for the impact of changing climate.

But Van Schalkwyk is worried what will happen in 2012 when the current Kyoto commitments run out. He says the recent climate talks in Bali brought the United States closer to consensus with other nations. But he says there is more work to be done.

"The step that the United States took in Bali was a first step, but it was basically an infant step," said Van Schalkwyk. "So I don't think it's any secret to say that we will continue to put pressure on the United States."

Van Schalkwyk heads to the United States later this month, for another round of climate talks. Norway's prime minister is heading next to Antarctica, to see first-hand how climate change is melting the polar ice cap.