The global environmental movement needs …
At a time when humanity faces its most urgent existential crisis, the global movement to literally save our planet does not include all of its inhabitants.
Africans are not sufficiently represented in the global conversation on climate change.
Less than 1% of scientists who have contributed to the most cited climate change research are Africans, according to a Carbon Brief report.
Last year there was a controversy centered on young Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate which was cropped from a photo with white activists in Davos.
Inclusion of Africans in the global environmental movement is non-negotiable
The language of global climate change does not include a significant proportion of humanity (16% of the world population lives in Africa) but it still has to bear the consequences although it is not responsible for its cause.
Words like “emissions” and “circular economy” do not resonate with Africans in a meaningful way that translates into their daily lives.
Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya in the 90s, I heard a lot about environmental conservation on TV, radio, newspapers, and at school (as part of agriculture classes ).
However, much of the language of the global movement is now detached from my reality in Africa.
Terms like “emissions are not well understood because we don’t have a lot of industries producing emissions because we have more of an economic system based on agriculture.
The circular economy, say in the context of fashion, is abstract to young people in an African city because they are heavily consumers of the second-hand clothes that Westerners donate.
They are therefore already thrifty by default because for most people second-hand clothes are the only affordable and accessible options.
A vegan diet may be a healthy lifestyle choice for someone living in Africa, but not primarily because it reduces methane emissions.
Africa does not raise meat on such a large scale and with the same highly industrialized methods as in the West.
A business leader in Africa reading the SDGs on climate action can understand the urgency and importance of moving to a more sustainable practice, but without relevant language to define local dynamics and mobilize locally, he is under- equipped to adequately deal with the climate crisis.
Africa victim of climate change
African countries have contributed negligibly to global emissions, but Africans are the most vulnerable to environmental and economic shocks caused by climate change.
To give an example, there is currently an unprecedented threat of famine in the Horn of Africa due to the highest intensity locust invasions known in 25 years.
This crisis has been linked to a change in the Indian Ocean dipole (higher temperatures) which was also linked to the destructive bushfires in Australia in early 2020.
Africans constitute a significant part of the world’s population and the continent is part of the global climate system. But overall, the speech does not significantly include Africans. They are not sufficiently represented in the design of global solutions.
“African countries have contributed negligibly to global emissions, but Africans are the most vulnerable to environmental and economic shocks”
As a result, the world is deprived of the knowledge and experiences of the African peoples, which have a great deal of value to contribute.
Nor is the world truly mobilizing to save the planet if a large part of humanity living on a large part of the planet is not deeply involved in global cooperation for change.
The global movement for climate sustainability must become truly inclusive, with those involved making a more concerted effort to seek out the voices from around the world that are missing at the table.
This would lead to a more tangible connection and coordination between global policies, national policies and local actions.
Melissa Mbugua is a member of the Advisory Board of Creatives for Climate. She works at the intersection of technology, business, development and culture.
Her work focuses on building inclusive, next-generation businesses that tackle border challenges such as climate sustainability and culture in a digital society.
She collaborates with a global network and seeks to center African history. Twitter: @melmbugua