Pope Francis will arrive in Kenya on Wednesday to kick off his first official Africa visit. And, as in previous tours, he is expected to speak about an issue close to his heart – climate change, a topic with special resonance in Africa.
During his September trip to the United States, Francis addressed climate change in speeches at the White House, as well as during a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, and at the United Nations.
Visiting the White House, Pope Francis called for action.
“It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” he said.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEP, says he is pleased that the pope has made climate change a priority.
“In part, because he transcends and goes beyond the science and the economics and let’s say, the metrics of climate change, to say look, if we know that this is something that can happen, that is beginning to happen already, then we must act on it,” said Steiner.
A recent World Bank report said more than 100 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2030 due to the impact of climate change, with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia the hardest hit. Steiner notes poverty is an issue many Africans know well.
“And it is 1 billion people who have contributed very little to the problem of global warming today but are on the front lines,” he said.
According to Steiner, richer nations can recover faster from natural disasters because of better infrastructure investments. Africa is more vulnerable because it has fewer institutional and financial resources to protect itself.
'Extreme weather event'
“For this continent, it is very difficult, whether it’s pastoral communities that will no longer be able to have their animals and livestock have access to pasture,” said Steiner. “Whether it is agriculture, that is rainfall dependent, whether it is the infrastructure that gets flooded away through just a 24-hour extreme weather event, these are the consequences that put a billion people and their development at risk.”
Twenty-two year old recent university graduate Samuel Gitau says he agrees that climate change is an important issue for Pope Francis to address during his Kenya visit.
“It’s good for nations and also for individuals to be cautious of what we are doing, our activities, in a manner to control those climatic changes,” said Gitau.
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with officials at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi during his visit, just four days prior to the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.