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Climate change: our common challenge, our common opportunity

Rural Nigeria

With last year’s dramatic drought in East Africa still fresh in our minds, we have witnessed yet another summer of unprecedented extreme weather events around the globe, with heat records and severe droughts in the US and Europe; and heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides in Northern India and the Philippines.

The recent extreme weather should not be a surprise. Scientists have been warning for years that as the planet heats up, we will have to deal with more severe weather.

The severe droughts contribute to global maize, wheat and soybean prices soaring. Several UN organisations warn that these price shocks might affect tens of millions people over the coming months. Africa is particularly vulnerable. According to the World Bank, prices for maize and sorghum increased by 113% and 200% respectively in some markets in Mozambique and in Sudan!

It is not my intention to set out an apocalyptic vision of how the world will look with a changing climate. On the contrary, I believe it is not too late to act. Moreover, I believe both developed and developing countries can benefit from climate action.

Just one example: the world’s poorest countries spend about 2.5 times more money on importing oil than they do on food. We could slash this bill by investing in producing energy locally like more in solar, wind and bioenergy instead.

Not only would the climate benefit from it, through a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but renewable energy also carries a promise of new economic growth and new jobs. It can also help accelerate access to energy for the almost 600 million Africans who are still without electricity. Renewable energy can also provide low-cost and energy-efficient alternatives for wood, dung or charcoal stoves, thus improving air quality and the daily lives of millions of Africans.

Africa is incredibly rich in renewable energy resources. Let’s seize this opportunity to boost climate-friendly economic development in Africa. This will be one of my main priorities during my participation in the 14th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.

The EU is fully supporting the development of renewable energy capacity in Africa and other actions to adapt to an already changing climate while securing a sustainable growth path. Although struggling with a severe economic crisis at home, the EU remains fully committed to raising climate funding through fast start finance and other programmes. We intend to significantly scale up funding for climate and environmental actions in the least developed countries by 2020. So Africa can count on the EU!

Finance is only part of the story, though. The world also badly needs a new global, legally binding agreement to accelerate cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, at the Durban climate talks, it was agreed that such a deal would be finalised by 2015, to take effect by 2020.

We must now start fleshing out this future global climate regime. We have no more time to lose, if we do not want to further reduce the chances to keep global warming below the dangerous ceiling of 2°C.

The drumbeat of warmest-ever years and extreme weather disasters demonstrates that climate change is happening, that it is happening faster than scientists predicted and that it exacerbates a whole range of other global problems, of which Africa will bear the full brunt.

The EU has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17,5% over the last two decades and we plan further cuts. We are for the moment the only developed region that has agreed to sign a second commitment under the Kyoto protocol.

We now count on Africa to help us bringing all other major economies on board of the future climate regime. It is in our common interest to push for immediate and more ambitious global climate action, for the benefit of our children, our environment and our societies.

From: European Commission