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Global warming

Waiting for culprits to act

by Mohamed Gueye
Like other semi-arid areas of the world, the Sahel zone is strongly exposed to the effects of climate change. In Senegal, NGOs and governmental institutions are working on how to adapt. Though there is a need to act at the national level, the Senegalese people feel that those responsible for global warming should do more to rise to their responsibility. [ By Mohamed Gueye ]

Mamadou Khouma is the programme coordinator of GES 31, an agency that is studying the impact of climate change in West Africa on behalf of the UNDP. In his view, Africans are wrong to argue that their governments are not doing enough to fight the consequences of climate change. He stresses Africa emits no more than three percent of the world’s greenhouse gases: “And more than half of that are from South Africa alone.” Any efforts made by African countries to mitigate climate change would thus be useless unless the major polluters – the big industrialised economies – act too.

Nonetheless, Khouma wants Senegal to take measures. “It is important to reduce the impact of climate change on the people’s everyday life. We need to be aware that everyone will suffer the consequences of climate change.” The problems Senegal faces already include soil degradation, coastal erosion, water scarcity and forest fires. Khouma says the behaviour of peasants, cattle breeders and factory managers must change. The GEF is focussing on training civil servants in these issues. Khouma says Senegal’s commitment to action is serious, even if the results are not evident yet.

With UN support, the government drafted a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) in 2006. It established an agency to coordinate all activities of environmental conservation. The coordinator of NAPA Senegal, Madeleine Diouf Sarr, says that the programme is not fully implemented yet because of a lack of funding. “We require $ 30 million to meet the objectives of NAPA, but we only received $ 3 million from the Global Environment Facility.”

Trying to make do without the money, her office is pressing projects “that take national priorities into account”. Nonetheless, members of rural organisations claim to have never heard of NAPA, which is supposed to coordinate agricultural projects in Senegal.

Diouf Sarr admits that a lot remains to be done: “We are good at predicting temperature variations and can make future projections for temperature changes. But we are unable to predict whether it will rain tomorrow or whether the next rainy season will be good enough for the crops. Yet those are our farmers the essential questions”.

She explains that NAPA assists industrial or agricultural projects, that are willing to comply with the country's environmental regulations. “Whoever wants funding for an industrial or agricultural project needs our permission to start a business,” Diouf Sarr reports, adding that various international donors require this.

It is common, however, for industrial or agricultural ventures to take off without the consent of NAPA; and up to now, such action has had no consequences. Diouf Sarr complains that there are too many projects, and that there are also too many agencies dealing with environmental matters. She considers it unfortunate that the government is not making clear commitments in climate matters, leaving it to NGOs and the UN to carry out such programmes.

Diouf Sarr criticises the fact that the programme manager of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in Senegal, Stephane Barry, receives more financial support than she does. His job is to convince small and medium-sized businesses in Senegal to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so would contribute to mitigating climate change at the global level, and entitle the companies to sell emissions-reduction certificates to buyers in rich nations.

Barry, in turn, admits that no Senegalese company has complied to CDM conditions in order to benefit financially. According to him, the CDM programme may look attractive, but was apparently not designed for small companies like Senegal. Reducing carbon emissions and complying with CDM requirements, he argues, is so expensive that it renders Senegalese companies uncompetitive. Accordingly, managers who took part in a World Bank seminar on carbon reduction in Dakar recently, showed a keen interest in the topic, but did not make any formal commitments.

One NGO that addresses climate issues is ENDA PROTECTION NATURELLE. It is run by ENDA TIERS-MONDE, a Belgian agency that assists cotton producers in Koussanar, 550 km south of Dakar, as well as vegetable producers in the Niayes region, 70 km north of Dakar. Mariam Sow, a programme officer with ENDA, says that adaptation has become “the trendy topic for world thinkers”. She accuses them of having forgotten that the Sahel region suffered terrible droughts in the 1970s, and that rural people had to find ways to adapt to the new situation. “They started to develop alternatives in agricultural production, in order to survive under the new conditions and sustain at least minimal production.” According to her, experts are now trying to present new ideas to the very people who developed their own solutions years ago. “That is what they call ‘adaptation to climate change’ ”.

Sow emphasises that her organisation helped to preserve grass-roots knowledge on top of finding ways for poor producers to cope with globalisation. For instance, ENDA helped farmers to grow organic cotton, making them the main providers for Max Havelaar, a European fair-trade brand. Fair-trade companies sell consumer products at prices above the normal market rate, and transfer that margin to producers in poor countries.

Similarly , the vegetables in the Niaye region are produced in compliance with environmental standards, and ENDA PRONAT helps producers to sell them directly to the consumers. Intermediaries are thus bypassed, and the farmers make higher profits. “It is also a way to discourage the use of pollutants,” explains Sow. Environmentalists point to the fact that approaches like this contribute to mitigating climate change as well as to adapting to its consequences, by making agriculture more resilient.

Khouma, Sow and others agree that, apart from establishing NAPA and its implementing agency, the government does not seem committed to act on climate matters. Both Khouma and Sow find that legitimate, pointing out other environmental problems that orginate domestically. Djibo Laïty Ka, Senegal’s minister for the environment, says action on plastic bags is a priority. “Those bags have invaded our landscape,” he says. “There is no town, no village, however small it may be, where you don’t find those bags flying in the wind. They are killing our sheep and cattle.” The animals eat the bags, but can't digest them. Moreover, it is difficult to cultivate land that is polluted with plastic bags. “So far,” the miniser says, “we have not found a way to destroy them. It is a problem we must solve soon.”

And what about climate change? Ka argues that African countries are paying the price for globalisation. He compares the situation to one after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. “In the Sahel, we were told not to let our cows and sheep graze, because of the clouds coming from Ukraine. That was something our shepherds didn’t understand, but had to abide by.” Climate change is indeed similar: “The culprits are elsewhere, but we have to cope with what they have allowed to happen.”

Implicitely, the minister is demanding that those who are responsible for emissions show more commitment to finding adaptation options. He sees little difference between established donor nations and emerging powers like China, India and Brazil. For him, the question is not ideological but practical: “The polluters should pay.”