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Mithika Mwenda

By Mithika Mwenda

More than five years ago, in the dark negotiating halls of the Copenhagen climate talks, an agreement was struck that included a pledge of 100 billion dollars to help developing countries, like my beloved Kenya, cope with the havoc caused by climate change and facilitate a shift to low-carbon development pathways.

Back then, we didn’t call it a success. But it was something. A concrete manifestation of the understanding that rich countries caused climate change, and developing countries are on the front lines in the fight against it.

As momentum is growing ahead of the Paris climate talks in December, I’m hopeful that the time is right and world leaders can come together and build on that commitment and understanding. Because this is a crucial year when it comes to tackling climate change. The world has a unique opportunity to collectively turn one of the biggest challenges facing humankind into one of the greatest opportunities to build healthy planet. It’s an opportunity that we must capitalize on to ensure a better world for future generations.

But the question nagging me is: how can we reach a new agreement when old commitments haven’t been fulfilled? As of today, Development Agency Oxfam estimates that less than $20 billion per year of the $100 billion pledged for the Green Climate Fund have been flowing to developing countries.

As President Obama pays us a visit to demonstrate his commitment to his brothers and sisters in Africa, I’m sure that he also brings a renewed commitment to help the continent adapt to climate change.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that by the year 2100, a 4.1°C increase in global temperature will cost the African continent 10 percent of its net GDP. UNEP also estimates that the costs of adaptation in the Least Developed Countries alone will rise to $50 billion per year by 2030, with a total of around $150 billion per year in all developing countries.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not simply sitting by. Instead, they are collectively spending around $5 billion annually from their own budgets to adapt to climate change – far more than they receive from international sources in climate finance. Sadly, this is money that could be instead going towards building schools, roads and hospitals. Increasing financial flows to developing countries is essential to accelerate their transition to low-carbon energy systems and to protect vulnerable communities. And it is essential to bring about success in Paris.

Time and time again, President Obama has emphasized that no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that the United States stands up as a leader to ensure more governments deliver strong commitments on how to close the funding gap.

The climate crisis will never be tackled unless vulnerable developing countries receive the financial support they need to build resilience and cope with natural disasters and weather patterns. Taking actions now is not only important because of the dangers of disruptive climate change, but because a new climate economy will create better business opportunities, and improve our health, prosperity, and security.

Failure is not an option for Kenya, or Africa, and indeed for humanity.

The dramatic scenes of Vanuatu, where a Cyclone Pam left widespread destruction, will happen time and time again around the world, with increasing frequency. Even our own Mombasa will not be spared in the whole equation. It also is at risk of sinking.

I urge President Obama to stand in solidarity with the African continent, which has by far borne the greatest brunt of the global climate change crisis, despite us contributing the least.

Developed countries must demonstrate that they will abide by their previous commitments before entering into new ones. The survival of African countries – and our planet, depends on it.

It’s not about charity. It’s about justice. And survival.


Mithika Mwenda is the Secretary General, Pan African Climate and Justice Alliance (PACJA)