Natural resources a blessing, curse for Africa

Tuesday, February 27th, 2024 01:00 | By
Elephants walking in Africa
Elephants walking in Africa. PHOTO/Pixabay

The sixth session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) that begins in Nairobi today provides a great opportunity for reflection on the looming threat to humanity.

It is welcome that UNEA-6 focuses on three crises facing the world – climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, providing an ideal opportunity for expert and public reflection.

Most importantly, the forum will be backed by strong science, political resolve and engagement with society as delegates monitor progress on actions emanating from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai last December.

With temperatures and sea levels rising rapidly, 198 member nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change resolved to “transition away” from fossil fuels, a highly contested driver of planetary warming as they negotiated a shaky deal to begin to phase out coal, oil and gas.

These natural resources were the subject of intense discussions at last week’s Geo-East African Conference and Expo organized by the Geological Society of Kenya and the Geological Registration Board.

The geoscience forum involved, among others, players in the oil and gas, geothermal and water sectors who deliberated on the significance of natural resources and the role of geologists in sustainable economic development.

Discussions emphasized public awareness in addressing the challenges posed by climate change and its impact on natural resources, an issue UNEA-6 has pledged to place as a priority on its agenda.

For Africa, UNEA-6 is taking place amid the raging debate on the phasing out of fossil fuels that is at the core of the dilemma in the continent where natural resources have become both a blessing and a curse for citizens.

Africa, home to vast natural resources including oil and gas, is caught in the crossfire of the global fossil fuel phase-out campaign and fossil fuel lobbyists. With a heavy presence at COP28, fossil fuel lobbyists were accused of asserting oil and gas influence at the summit.

African countries are low emitters of greenhouse gases and have critical minerals for the energy transition, rare earth minerals essential for wind turbines, electric vehicles and electricity-related technologies.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has large reserves and currently produces 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt. It has the seventh largest reserves of copper and produces significant quantities of coltan used in the manufacture of mobile phones. Coltan was recently discovered in Embu, Kenya.

To avoid climate catastrophe, the world needs to urgently and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by managing ecosystems and habitats that act as critical natural “carbon sinks”.

A carbon sink is anything that absorbs and stores more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases carbon dioxide. Carbon sources include the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil for energy, transport and agriculture.

Known as the “lungs of Africa”, the Congo Basin is the largest carbon sink in the world, absorbing more carbon than the Amazon.

While Africa is blessed with abundant natural resources and natural carbon sinks, citizens remain victims of the curse of corruption perpetrated by leaders, trapped in the shackles of a vicious cycle of poverty and underdevelopment.

Kenya, as the host of UNEP, must champion the UNEA-6 forum and work with the scientific community and the private sector to help save Africa from the curse of natural resources.

—The writer comments on environmental issues — [email protected]

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