Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why we owe Africa for climate-change costs

Graham Thomson in the Edmonton Journal: Imagine that you live in a small town on a river downstream from an affluent, yet polluting, city. For decades, the city grows richer and richer while it continues to spew out pollutants into your drinking water.

You're not happy about this and demand the city stop polluting and pay you compensation. After years of dragging their feet, city officials finally acknowledge a problem but say everyone along the river should be responsible for cleaning it up, whether they contributed to the pollution or not. Not very fair, is it?

Now you know how Third World countries feel in the political battle over climate change. They are becoming as much the victims of human-induced global warming as coral reefs and polar bears. They didn't create the problem, but they will be hit harder by the effects of climate change -- particularly in areas such as arid regions of Africa -- and they don't have the resources to adapt.

…As simple as the physics is the moral responsibility we have to poor nations struggling with the effects of climate change. Yes, it is a transfer of wealth from rich countries to poor countries. But it is not a misdirected form of charity. Or a plot. Think of it as restitution or compensation. We in the industrialized countries have been happily burning fossil fuels, warming the climate and getting rich doing so. Third World countries have been left to suck on our exhaust pipes.

…Geoff Strong, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alberta, has studied the effects of a changing climate on subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, in an area called the Sahel that includes Senegal, Chad and the Sudan.

"One impact of global warming has been the intensification of subtropical high pressure systems that maintain the great deserts of Earth, and the subsequent southward expansion of the Sahara Desert, squeezing the Sahel against the immovable rainforests of central Africa," says Strong. "Severe, long-lasting drought has become the rule in recent decades, along with frequent famine and starvation of the population."

The people of the Sahel might be a world away from Canada and other western industrialized nations, but they are our neighbours nonetheless. They're the folks downstream dealing with the effluence of our affluence. We shouldn't begrudge them financial aid to deal with a problem we helped create.

The Sahara Desert in Mauritania, shot by Annabel Symington, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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