By Philip Jakpor & Helen Neima
Mass mobilizations and marches happening across the globe makes these times very interesting. From the United States, to Europe, Asia and Africa people are saying enough is enough and demanding an end to global systemic injustice.
Ironically, these marches are happening at that time of the year when ideally, hundreds of government delegates and climate justice activists from all over the world usually converge on Bonn in Germany to assess the strategies and progress of the Paris Agreement in dealing with the climate change crisis. This year’s meeting will not hold; no thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that has engulfed the whole world.
Rather than bemoan the situation and do nothing, activists who were initially billed to attend the Bonn Intersessional, decided to strategize on how to reinforce the call to Make Big Polluters Pay which was first launched at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit held in New York in September 2019. At the summit, more than 220 organisations and 199,000 people from nearly 70 countries—including from the African region—called on world leaders to hold liable the industries and corporations that have knowingly fueled and continue to aggravate the climate crisis. And this call is already having an impact—recently, two jusridictions in the United States—Minnesota and Washington D.C.—filed lawsuits against fossil fuel industry actors including Chevron, Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil. While impacts of climate change differ from region to region, Africa, which contributes the least to the crisis, carries the biggest burden in form of inundations from rising sea levels and the resultant loss of livelihoods.
From Nigeria’s Niger Delta where fossil fuel extraction has led to dead fish littering the coastlines, to South Africa where tribal lands have been poisoned by coal mining, local community people are becoming more vulnerable to climate impacts including illnesses and social conflicts. A classic example is the Cyclone Idai –the worst tropical storm to visit Africa. When the storm hit the continent in 2018 the epicenter was Beira in central Mozambique.
But it left a trail of destruction in Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe killing at least 1,303 people and affected more than 3 million others. The magnitude of that disaster bewildered people of the continent and was seen as foreshadow of what is to come. After that, there’s been the worst drought in South Africa’s history brought on by diminished rainfall, the apocalyptic locust attacks in Kenya and Uganda that now threatens food security in East Africa, and many more happenings hitherto strange to the African continent.
Because of these, climate justice activists are mobilizing signatures to press home their demands that governments in the region take them seriously to hold Big Polluters liable and make them pay. The sign-on letter details the fact that transnational corporations have for decades misled the world about the consequences of their products and business practices, exploited local communities, seized our lands and resources, and taken control of our food systems—all for their own benefit. It narrated further that the Big Polluters have left Africa exposed and ill-equipped for any crisis hence the need to hold them responsible, criminally, financially, and civilly.
This is now the time for decision makers in Africa to play critical roles in making big polluters pay, and for protection of the lives and livelihoods of Africa’s people, especially those at the grassroots and frontline communities, from those that see and treat them as disposable.
We join our brothers and sisters across the entire Africa and the world to say enough is enough. It is time to Make Big Polluters Pay!
- Philip Jakpor, Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa
- Helen Neima is Regional Director, Corporate Accountability Climate Campaign