Human-caused climate change is a global problem that is confounding in its scale, costs, and impacts. Understanding it alone requires significant knowledge and inputs from the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, economics and more. There is only one aspect of it that may present greater difficulty than negotiating the miasma of lies that surround all discussions and actions purported to be targeted at mitigation. This aspect is the adoption by the majority of people of a monolithic view of the challenge, which can loosely be defined as the naïve belief that we’re “all together” in this. This is a massive mistake.
If we consider ourselves an intelligent civilization, then we (especially those in ‘developing’ countries) must each individually adopt a higher-resolution approach to the issue. Notwithstanding the quasi-poetic speeches regularly given by the UN Secretary-General whenever there is a gathering or tragedy that can be linked to climate change, the only true unifying factor in this arena is the atmospheric impacts of climate change that include floods, hurricanes, droughts, ice melts and unpredictable seasons. There are no exceptions.
However, when it comes to emission levels, mitigation lip service, profiteering, policy making, and associated hot air, the world is very clearly divided between perpetrators and victims. The closest thing that we have to a single culprit to blame for the crisis we face today is unsustainable capitalist consumption patterns, and in a show of global cognitive dissonance, we have come to seek solutions from the same altar of capitalism at which we sacrificed our environment.
Climate science and politics first came to the front and center of global discourse at the UN Conference on Environment and Development or the “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The more astute scientists, policymakers, economists and academics who have been involved in it in the subsequent three decades have long since realized the core truth that mankind is neither going to stop, nor reverse climate change. Those outside the conservation field might struggle to understand this conundrum, but conservation actually embraces it. Environmental conservation is the only professional field that rewards perpetual failure. The most famous, wealthy, and highly-respected conservationists are those who repeatedly demonstrate how long they have been dedicated to a particular cause, and how urgent the crisis still is after all the decades. Their respective gravitas is directly proportional to the length of time for which they have been doing the work that hasn’t been successful.
Fast forward to CoP27, which was recently held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. The first lie that emerged in the period leading up to this conference was the mantra that certain nations (mostly in Africa) were the ‘victims’ of climate change. The truth is that the climatic and environmental impacts are being felt everywhere. One only needs to visit valleys where flooded rivers swept away entire towns in Germany, and Southern Pakistan, or visit the Florida coast to see the impacts of Hurricane Ian. The impact is global. Therefore, as Africans, we shouldn’t be under any illusion that the emphasis on our home is a result of the West’s love for us. In depth reading of 19th century colonial history reveals that capitalism and the attendant hunger for resources was the wind behind the sails driving imperial colonialism. This unexplained focus on Africa while addressing a global problem will reveal to careful observers the way in which capitalism has positioned itself to reclaim its position at par with contemporary sovereignty.
The first sign of this is when conservation interests provide avenues for corporations to further their capitalist objectives. Because of growing global concern over the environment and biodiversity loss, corporations have taken up these opportunities with alacrity all over the world in order to burnish corporate and personal reputations. A poster child (and fairly typical example) of this trend is Space for Giants, an elephant conservation organization based in Kenya and financed by the Independent News and Media corporation. The owner of this group, Lord Yevgeny Lebedev started an elite club called ‘The Giants Club’ which recruited into its membership a number of African heads of state, including those from Gabon, Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana at a summit held in Nanyuki, Kenya in 2016. Thereafter, on their website, they advertised for ‘natural resource corporations operating in Africa’ (read: mineral extraction, logging, oil exploration etc) to join the club by making financial pledges and offered them access to heads of state in return. At COP 26 in (Glasgow 2021), the import of these shenanigans played out openly as the former President of Kenya, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta (with four of his cabinet ministers in tow), shuttled between corporate “side meetings” cutting deals rather than in the plenary intergovernmental talks. The extent and normalization of this state capture were evident in the fact that these unseemly extraneous engagements were aired on Kenyan State social media handles.
Now in COP 27, top of the agenda is the clamour for the industrialized nations to make some sort of compensatory payments to ‘help developing nations reduce their emissions’. The ‘red herring’ is instantly visible in the fact that the ‘client’ developing nations are insignificant contributors to global emissions, and the reductions envisioned are unlikely to have any meaningful impact.
Secondly, this payment plan diverts attention from the core challenge, which is the level of emissions from the industrialized nations. However, the bait was taken, and African nations’ delegations arrived at Sharm El Sheikh with begging bowls in hand, already dazzled by the expected largesse. Looking at the official delegations (including Kenya’s) there was little or no technical environmental expertise included, so we were basically represented by politicians and economists seeking to cut financial deals at a meeting that was ostensibly targeted at addressing an environmental crisis. The caliber of delegations that Kenya typically brings to such meetings usually only sees the dollar signs, and sets ‘financial targets’ for immediate acquisition and announcement to a nation obsessed with real or perceived foreign exchange gains. The short answer to this query is that there is no money in it for us. The money will be given to ‘brokers’ who are conservation organizations headquartered in the source countries and staffed by their citizens. Their mandate will be to annex as much African landscape and seascape as possible, so as to give their principals ownership and access to the biodiversity and natural resources therein.
Again with reference to our history books, it is the colonial project all over again about 200 years later, but still about Africa’s natural resources. The normalization of this avarice has created a circumstance where these absurdities are planned at international conferences and detailed in public documents. This particular plan was formulated at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille in 2021 and detailed in this document, replete with maps. They even have a black African woman on the cover to create the correct impression. This is far more elegant than the Berlin conference of 1884 which only featured white men, but it’s just the optics. Most Africans were excluded from the Marseille meeting just by the 1200 euros per person registration fee, and our ‘voice’ was therefore only heard through the compliant individuals who were sponsored by the organizers. This was followed by the African Protected Areas Congress held in Kigali in July 2022 organized by the same interests to hammer out the detailed implementation plans, under the banner “A Sustainable Future for Africa”. No such documents of plans have been created for any other continent, despite the fact that the Marseille meeting claimed to be a “world” conservation congress.
As Africans, it is imperative that our experiences with external interests lead to some accumulation of knowledge amongst our leadership because the notion that Western countries will hand over untold sums of money without expecting any returns is as absurd as the expectation that capitalism will provide solutions to environmental degradation. Africa needs to escape from the grip of its ‘exoticism’ in the West’s deranged gaze and chart its own resource conservation future. We can implement our own resource stewardship aims without reference to those who have none left if we tap the rich human resources we have. The first step to achieving this is recognizing that these global meetings aren’t intended to help us, but to maintain the existing western hegemonies over our conservation narrative.