Glimpsing Africa’s “Tipping Point”

“We’re at the tipping point.”

Those chilling words echoed in my mind all day yesterday, after they were spoken by U.S. State Department Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, Dr. Jonathan Pershing, one of five expert witnesses who testified alongside leaders from CI about climate change in Africa before a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health.

Citing stresses like increasing water scarcity, compromised crops, and burgeoning populations in developing countries, Pershing told lawmakers gathered that climate change will affect the entire world, “but will affect the poorest and most vulnerable, especially in Africa, perhaps the soonest and most severely.”

I was able to hear these remarks from a front row seat inside the hearing, because my colleagues Dr. Fred Boltz, Senior VP of Global Strategies and Climate Change for CI, and Leon Rajaobelina, CI’s Regional VP for AMFD-Madagascar and Madagascar’s former Ambassador to the U.S., were also invited to share their expertise with the committee. It was an exciting and prestigious honor for CI.

Ambassador Rajaobelina testified that “we are greatly concerned by climate change and believe that we are already living with its impacts,” listing severe droughts, increasingly devastating cyclones and rising average temperatures as several examples. “For people in poverty and simply trying to survive on a daily basis, even small climatic changes that impact a harvest can be catastrophic”, he said.

Committee Chairman, Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) put things in perspective when he said, “African nations only emitted only about three percent of world carbon dioxide from human-related sources in 2007. [and account for about 12 percent of the global population] However, Africa is most likely to experiences rises in temperatures first. That’s not fair.”

“That’s not fair” is right.

“We have the knowledge and the experience.” Boltz assured members of Congress, in asking for their support of cost-effective climate solutions like REDD+ that he said should be seized this decade. “CI’s long history of conservation success in Africa, supported by U.S. government efforts from Liberia to Madagascar, provides the very basis for securing the natural ecosystems critical for climate adaptation.”

So it’s time for the U.S. Congress to lead – both in the passage of comprehensive climate legislation at home, and in climate negotiations abroad.

“The world pays enormous attention to what we do”, Dr. Pershing cautioned legislators.

Let’s hope the United States shows the leadership we know it is capable of.

Kim McCabe is the U.S. Media Manager at CI.

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