A young Sudanese climate change champion stole the limelight at Africa Day, held on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow. In a passionate speech, Nisreen Elsaim spoke of the burden of climate change in her home country, evidenced by the worst flood in 100 years, followed by drought affecting seven countries in the region.
Elsaim, chair of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, addressed visitors at the Africa Pavilion, jointly sponsored by the African Development Bank, the African Union, AUDA-NEPAD, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
She reminded the audience that, at that very moment, millions of Africans were battling the all too real consequences of extreme weather events in places like Kenya, Comoros and Madagascar, parts of which have been gripped in a historic drought.
“We see it everywhere,” she said. “We cannot hold the burden because now we blame the previous generation. We say the previous generations did not do X, the previous generation did not do Y. But very soon we will become the previous generation and another generation will blame us for this. Yet, ministers, you hold this burden now.” Elsaim is also the chair of the Sudan Youth Organisation on Climate Change.
Young people have been an important focus at this year’s COP. In an address on Monday, former US President Barack Obama urged them to stay the course in making leaders accountable for climate change initiatives. “To all the young people out there — I want you to stay angry. I want you to stay frustrated,” Obama said.
Osvaldo Antonio Cravid Viegas D’Abreu, Minister of Infrastructure, Natural Resources and Environment for Sao Tome & Principe, described his small island nation’s struggle to cope with climate change.
“Sao Tome is one of the few carbon-neutral countries and, as a small island, we’ve been suffering because of climate change. The consequences are real for our people as people are not able to live their normal lives anymore,” the minister said.
“Europe and Asia have huge programs to protect small islands…We don’t see it. We have been suffering for decades…We are here to raise our voice…Don’t ignore us!”
Their messages followed speeches by senior African officials. Ambassador Josefa Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment, said a lot of African countries are already spending money earmarked for building infrastructure on adaptation as a result of climate change, despite being the least responsible for the crisis.
“All these funds should come from developed countries so that Africa can successfully implement its Nationally Determined Contributions. COP26 should look at it very well because what is happening is really unfair to Africa,” she said.
Sacko said African countries have remained committed to dealing with the climate crisis, as shown by the fact that 54 African countries had presented their Nationally Determined Contributions since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 at COP21.
Dr. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, was represented by Jean-Paul Adam, Director, Climate Change, Natural Resource Management and Technology. Via Adam, she said: “Africa Day has been held every year since COP17 to rally support for the continent’s cause and address issues affecting Africa. At this stage, Africa will need to mobilise necessary support to build true climate resilience.”
Opening the event, Kevin Kariuki, Vice President for Power, Energy, Climate & Green Growth at the African Development Bank, said adaptation should be the main focus of the continent.
“It is true that today, the slant is in favour of mitigation globally, that is why the African Development Bank has distinguished itself by meeting the parity threshold in 2018. The Bank appreciates that Africa is a low emitter compared to rich countries, so the problem in Africa is not reducing emission but ensuring that development is evident and that the impacts are managed,” Kariuki said.
In her speech, Eve Bazaiba, the Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave a gloomy picture of the climate crisis and calls for real and urgent action.
She emphasized the need for African leaders to come together and speak in one voice. “The adaptation we have been talking about is just talk. We need to pay attention to the reality and act,” she said.
The high-level panel emphasised that central coordination is important and this is at the heart of the African Union.