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“Our Grandchildren Will Ask Us What We Did”

Posted on 07 December 2009 by editor

 

 

Local Government Climate Lounge. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch.

Local Government Climate Lounge. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch.

By Servaas van den Bosch

 

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – Global warming will hit Africa hardest at the local level, yet municipalities are grossly overlooked by the decision-makers in Copenhagen. In response Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) launched a continent-wide declaration on climate change.

“Our grandchildren will ask us what granny did to prepare us for the effects of climate change,” counselor Agnes Ntlhangula reminded an audience of African local government officials. “Global warming will affect Africa in the worst way, because our people use natural resources. Yes, the developed countries should carry us forwards, but we must also take action ourselves.”

The African Local Government Declaration on Climate Change outlines a set of demands and recommendations from local governments in over twenty African countries. Representatives of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda were present at the launch.

“The most immediate goal at this conference is to lobby for inclusion of local governments in the negotiating text,” said ICLEI Africa director Kobie Brand.

To do this, ICLEI has brought over 1100 local counselors, mayors and other representatives to the Danish capital. It’s the second largest delegation at the COP, and many of them are African.

“I am so impressed,” exclaimed ICLEI global president David Cadman. “Africa has to understand that it is an absolute leader when it comes to municipalities working together and getting organized. It needs to take that leadership role in this conference. Talk to your national delegations, urge them to step forward.”

“Politicians will only buy into something when they are supplied with lots of information,” Ntlhangula added.

“The voices of local governments are missing out. Not just here in Copenhagen but everywhere at national level,” argued Cecilia Njenga of the UN Habitat Centre in Nairobi. “It’s clear that we cannot incorporate the adaptation responses to climate change, but we are not there when the money-cake is divided.”

She urged local governments not to sit back in dealing with climate change. “We know that the biggest problems will occur with food security and water provision. Who else than the municipality is responsible for that? We have to think in a more holistic manner in solving these problems.”

“We cannot make the mistake that we made with HIV/AIDS,” warned Ntlhangula. “There we didn’t act until it was much too late. Let’s act on climate change while it’s fresh.”

Cadman said “The risky habits of the North are transferred to Africa, and the effects are floods and droughts alike. Africa has acknowledged this danger and is in the forefront in making the voice of local governments heard. I hope this declaration will become a much wider consensus statement.”

The document calls on Convention Parties to build a pro-poor framing of the global response to climate change and give a central place to cities and towns in mitigation and adaptation. “The African continent has the fastest growing urban population and our urban centres are the site of substantial development pressure, which are at the frontline of response to climate change,” the African Local Government declaration reads.

The flipside of this coin is the potential for African cities to contribute to the fight against global warming. “Imagine how much energy would be saved through a simple measure like installing ceilings in two million low-cost houses,” said Carstens Laugensen, environmental attaché of the Danish Embassy in Pretoria.

Two years ago the Danes initiated the Urban Environmental Management Programme (UEMP) and bankrolled it with 40 million dollars, eighty percent of which will go to implementation.

Municipalities can apply for grants under UEMP through the Ministry of Environment with a budget plan for projects of their own choice. “This is vital,” commented Laugensen. “How would we as Danes know what local solutions are required in Durban or Johannesburg?”

With UEMP money, Cape Town started a climate change think tank that must prepare the city for catastrophes. The city of Durban invested in both urban adaptation projects and community based initiatives in rural areas. Both cities, housing over three million people, are at risk from rising seas levels. Flash floods have badly damaged Durban in recent years.

According to Cadman UEMP can go a long way: “We should roll it out all over the continent.”

“The local governments that do well have to be our voice at a national level,” appealed Njenga. “We need our champions to speak for us.”
(END/2009)

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