In DepthColumnsBig issues, small politics


Posted on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 17:00

Big issues, small politics

Patrick Smith

Within hours of Xi Jinping and Barack Obama – who run the world's two largest carbon-producing economies – announcing in mid-November a groundbreaking pact to cut harmful emissions, the US Republican Party responded that it will use all its newfound power to block such an initiative.

Coming days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released compelling new evidence about global environmental damage, the Republicans' reaction reflects much of current politics around the world.

Africa did not cause climate change, so it's up to the big economies to fix it

It is the 'new small': cringingly narrow-minded, ahistorical and egocentric.

Beyond the Republicans, who now control both houses of the US Congress, there are legions of others in the climate change denial business who share a common ideology: climate change is a hoax thought up by state interventionists desperate to control the market economy.

At the same time, so many captains of industry are themselves warning of the dangers that extreme weather events pose to food security and their own business operations.

Climate change's effects will be more devastating in Africa than anywhere in terms of spreading deserts, disease and flooding – yet Africa is far from immune from the 'new small' when it comes to politics.

As African activists urge governments to craft a common negotiating position ahead of a climate change conference in Paris in December, they complain of a dangerous complacency.

"Africa did not cause climate change, so it's up to the big economies to fix it," goes a common refrain.

That argument will not hold water next year. China and India have produced far less carbon than the West's industrialised economies, but their politicians are already lobbying other governments on the terms they want included in a treaty on climate change in 2015.

China and India are also at the fore-front of securing cash from global climate funds to finance energy projects.

In the face of worsening environmental damage, countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania are forced to divert funds from education and health projects to climate-change-mitigation projects.

Africa will have to put political weight into making these global climate funds more accessible for the hardest-hit countries.

That would be part of a 'new bigger' politics. Already, Africa has a seat at the table of the new international alignments, whether it is the Group of 20 or South-South partnerships.

In both camps, there are diplomatic openings for Africa to push for the reform of such institutions as the IMF and the UN Security Council.

For so many countries of the South, the new world disorder offers a 1945 moment, a time to remake international institutions.

Climate change is an excellent place to start.

It is Africa that has driven the world's fastest growth of mobile telecommunications and associated innovations.

Engineers on the continent are already working on a parallel revolution in solar-powered off-grid electricity.

Such practical responses to the problems of climate change need serious international funding, imagination and bigger politics. ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition










Music & Film



Keep up to date with the latest from our network :


Connect with us