TOPICS : Fighting injustice and climate change together

Post-G8 report cards are for the most part judging that the emphasis in Germany last week was on climate change, with the fight against poverty in Africa and the developing world taking a back seat. In truth, however, the two are so closely intertwined that they cannot be considered separately. Just as skewed global trade and political systems stack the deck against developing countries struggling to escape the poverty trap, it also limits their scope for effective action on climate change.

Progressive efforts to tackle climate change in Africa and the developing world are hamstrung by global political, trade and finance rules and realities. Attempts to crack down on energy leakage are too often stymied simply because the mostly international corporations affected can threaten to pack up and move. Poor countries are dependent on these companies.

Many developing countries have high levels of carbon emissions because they use dirty fuel such as coal to generate the bulk of their energy. These countries worry about the cost of rapidly turning to sustainable energy, when they have massive social obligations to their poor citizens. More than 25% of households in South Africa, for example, do not have access to affordable energy, let alone clean energy.

The developing world worry that they will find themselves left bearing the brunt of climate change, just as they have regarding health issues. The latest reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have identified Africa as the continent likely be hardest hit by climate change, thanks to plummeting food production and water shortages. And yet the industrialised countries are disproportionately responsible for global warming. China, India and Brazil are not blameless, but the western track record is hardly an example to follow.

After the G8 meeting, many welcomed the news that the US had agreed that a future deal on environment would be cobbled together under the auspices of the UN. But the UN is viewed by many in Africa with distrust, especially following its apparent manipulation by the US and “coalition of the willing” in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.

If the G8 is serious about climate change in Africa and the developing world, one proposal is to refocus the World Bank to help poor nations overcome the cost of shifting to clean energy.

Global warming has a disproportionate impact on poor countries, but it is, almost by definition, a pressing issue everywhere and for everyone. It cannot, however, be tackled in isolation, divorced from the other problems facing the developing world. Rich nations would be foolish to imagine that the fight against poverty can be postponed in favour of a focus on climate change. The solution to both demands an equitable partnership in decision-making and restoration of trust between the west and the developing world, and that must begin with genuine efforts to change the inequitable global trade, political and financial systems. — The Guardian