African Leaders' Climate Message Unheard At Home

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks during an Oxfam international climate hearing in Copenhagen, Dec. 15. i i

hide captionArchbishop Desmond Tutu speaks during an Oxfam International climate hearing in Copenhagen on Tuesday. He is among the African leaders sounding the alarm that Africa will suffer most from the effects of climate change.

Attila Kisbendek/AFP/Getty Images
Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks during an Oxfam international climate hearing in Copenhagen, Dec. 15.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks during an Oxfam International climate hearing in Copenhagen on Tuesday. He is among the African leaders sounding the alarm that Africa will suffer most from the effects of climate change.

Attila Kisbendek/AFP/Getty Images

Africa contributes the least to global warming, but stands to suffer the most. That is the case African leaders are making at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, where they walked out of negotiations to make sure their point is heard. They are seeking a higher reduction in emissions by the industrialized world and more financial compensation.

But while the politics of climate change has galvanized the continent's leadership, daily survival remains the focus of many Africans.

In a video played at the Copenhagen summit, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and South African anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu echoed the concerns of many that Africa will suffer most from the consequences of climate change.

"All scientific prognoses show that the continent of Africa will be severely hit if we do not act now," Tutu said.

Frustration over the pace of the negotiations in Copenhagen prompted the African delegation to lead a five-hour boycott of the conference Monday. Sudan's Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping is the chief negotiator for the large and influential G-77 bloc of developing countries, plus China, which took part in the walkout. He told the BBC that the row showed how deep the divide remained between rich and poor.

"There is an ever-widening gap between developed countries and developing countries, because developed countries have accepted that condemning Africa, condemning the small island states, condemning developing countries to destruction and massive suffering is something acceptable to them," Di-Aping said.

African leaders have united over climate change in a way unusual for the continent, where national interests often trump continental concerns. Environmentalists say coastal erosion, desert encroachment, drought and floods, for instance, will only make life harder for Africa's impoverished population.

However, developments in Copenhagen haven't attracted much media attention in Africa.

Minielle Tall, a Senegalese environmental activist, says relatively few people in Senegal are paying attention to the international debate over climate change.

"I couldn't feel any engagement from the civil society here in Senegal. And even if they see that their environment is degraded, it's like — that's the way it's supposed to be and somebody will take care of it, but it's not our responsibility," Tall says.

In Rufisque, outside Dakar, the capital of Senegal, the effects of coastal erosion are evident. It's one of the problems in the country, which has a coast that runs from St. Louis in the north to Ziguinchor in the south.

Ladame Mbaye comes from the Lebu fishing community in Rufisque. Forlornly, sitting on the sea wall overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, she laments the fact that the waters have swallowed up most of the beach.

Mbaye says this is where she used to play as a girl. This is where her children played soccer, she says.

"This is where our mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles gathered to settle fishing village problems. But the ocean has eaten up the shore. There was room for everyone, there were houses right here. Now, they're all gone," she says.

In Copenhagen, Di-Aping stressed that President Obama and the United States mustered the necessary will for the financial bailout, so the president must now do the same to fight climate change.

"The world needs a few hundred billion dollars. He can enable that to happen the way he did in the financial crisis. We know what he did for Wall Street. He can also do that for the children of the world," Di-Aping said.

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