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If African leaders had an ounce of self-respect, they would be expressing their absolute condemnation of the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, or using this moment as an opportunity to speak out on the dangerous consequences of not taking climate change seriously.

So much has been written about the US pulling out of the Paris climate accord last week. For most of us, the move was just another circus act by the world’s clown; another moment of lunacy to mock and jeer. And then to move on.

But US President Donald Trump has a point: the climate deal signed by 194 countries at the end of 2015, the first of its kind to tackle climate change, was pretty ordinary. While world leaders lauded the deal, many environmentalists close to the cause described it as “weak” and “lacking ambition” – the non-binding deal only urged countries to do more.

Most climate change activists, fighting against the use of fossil fuels and the like, have argued the Paris deal was a sham. It made the best hand in a poor pack of cards.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the climate deal has nothing to do with the environment, and more about Trump wanting to exert his tyranny over the globe.

He may have cited the deal as treacherous to American interests but given that the goals were voluntary, and put forward by the US government itself, it was nothing the Trump administration was actually compelled to carry out.

Make no mistake, when India, China, or a raft of European countries now confirm their commitment to the climate deal, they commit themselves “to acting on their own time”, that is, doing nothing if they don’t want to.

The deal is a liberal dream: the perfect mix of industrialisation, green-capitalism and white guilt. Nations get to continue as they were, but now, with acknowledgement. Nothing has to really change.

As argued elsewhere, Trump’s obstinacy, crass and pithy manners towards the climate, and just about anything, has allowed more traditional presidents and prime ministers such as the Justin Trudeaus and the Narendra Modis of the world to spew unchecked rhetoric of caring for the environment, while pushing on with a disastrous industrialisation agenda.

In many ways, Trump has only dismantled the sham.

Leaders with an ounce of charisma have managed to capitalise on his comparative idiocy, forcing our hand in believing our leaders are not that bad after all.

But our leaders, precisely those on the African continent, are really just as bad, after all.

If our continent’s leaders had an ounce of self-respect, they would be expressing their absolute damnation at the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, or using this moment as an opportunity to speak out on the dangerous consequences of not taking climate change seriously.

The Department of Environmental Affairs described “its profound regret over the decision of the US to withdraw from the Paris agreement… (and called) on the US to reconsider its position and to recommit to the multilateral process.”

But in March, the South African government signalled the green light to the fracking of shale gas in the Karoo, which would be harmful to the country’s environment.

The disapproval of the US is as perfunctory as the climate accord itself.

Africa contributes the least to global warming, however, it is the continent that stands most to lose from climate change.

Scientists say that by the end of the century, it is likely that land temperatures on the continent will rise faster than the global average, rainfall will decrease substantially in parts of north and southern Africa, the ocean ecosystems will suffer damage and the chances of flooding in Ethiopia will increase dramatically, among other sizeable consequences.

As urban dwellers, we might be okay in the interim: the price of maize, rice, vegetables will rise, but as long as they are available in Shoprite or Woolies, we will “adjust”.

But not everyone has such a luxury. For those reliant on crops, it means hunger, loss of livelihood, even death. Climate change is not just about failed crops or inconvenient higher prices. In 2009, between 30 000 and 50 000 children died on the continent due to malnutrition.

In fact, so many of the wars and conflicts, be they in South Sudan or Somalia, Central African Republic, Nigeria or Cameroon are over resources, and particularly, over land.

If you are living in Sandton in Jo’burg, or Westlands in Nairobi, it is easy to forget that the continent remains overwhelmingly rural; that entire wars start over infringement over land by goats and sheep searching for grazing land. We often fail to recognise that millions of people have been forced to vacate their land to move to so-called greener pastures as a result of poor or extreme climatic conditions over the past decade. In countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somali and South Sudan, climate change can mean another reason for conflict as the poor are forced to compete with each other and animals for space, for resources and a livelihood.

While we sleep, foreign governments, be they from the Gulf, Israel, India or China, are predicting a food crisis in the decades to come and splashing gifts upon our leaders in exchange for land. Developing agriculture is paramount to pulling people out of poverty on the continent. Yet, our leaders remain willing to sell it all to the highest bidder.

To quote an oft-repeated line of former international executive director of Greenpeace Kumi Naidoo: “The struggle has never been about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving. If we warm it up to the point where we cannot exist we’ll be gone, the planet will still be here.”

* AZAD ESSA is an Al Jazeera journalist and co-founder of The Daily Vox.



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