African Climate Justice Groups Statement on COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the biggest global event in recent decades. The crisis is highlighting and exacerbating existing inequalities in the globalised neo-liberal and patriarchal socio-economic system.
Already in many of our African countries the cascading impacts of isolation policies are developing into deep social and economic crises where the most vulnerable are and will again suffer the most. Our people are struggling with limited access to healthcare, loss of jobs and incomes, facing electricity and water cut-offs, difficulties in paying bills and even risk of eviction where rent can no longer be paid. Across Africa, a major food crisis may be looming as informal markets are shut down and livelihoods are being impacted.
In this moment of crisis, we, the undersigned African social movements, civil society organisations and allies, salute the workers of the world, nurses, doctors, and other health workers, in the markets and supermarkets, street cleaners, waste pickers and garbage collectors, domestic workers and care-takers,transporters,truck-drivers, food sector workers, peasants, food producers, those providing us energy and all those who have to work daily to feed their families, for the courageous work and the sacrifices they are making, to maintain all our lives as many of us remain at home, also doing our part to contain the virus.
Where the climate crisis meets the Covid-19 crisis – Africa and the world must forge a new trajectory
Unfortunately the climate crisis will not stop whilst the world focuses on dealing with the Covid-19 health crisis. Both are human-made crises rooted in the way our political and economic systems treat the Earth and her people, driven by the lust for profit. The climate crisis was already ravaging our continent and so many other parts of the world when the globe was plunged into the Covid-19 health pandemic. Southern Africa is still reeling from devastating cyclones Idai and Kenneth of last year, facing debilitating climate impacts including droughts, floods, sea level rise, etc. The predicted rise in global temperatures for Africa is a foretelling of human, societal and ecological collapse.
Transnational corporations (TNCs) in collusion with African governments and other elites, operating with impunity and with disregard for people and planet, are among the main culprits in the current energy, climate, food, biodiversity and ecological crises. Their activities have impacted livelihoods of local communities by grabbing lands and capturing natural resources, including through carbon markets and other harmful false solutions, and have polluted our air, water, lands, bodies and communities. Most of the profits they generate is often illicitly transferred out of the region and makes it way into many tax havens around the world. However, as the price of crude oil dips below zero for the first time in history, we assert that the end of the age of extractivism, which harms people and the planet, is in sight. It is time to say goodbye to the dirty fossil fuel development and harmful industrial agriculture.
The current crisis has caused a temporary dip in carbon emissions and pollution due to stoppages or slow downs of some industries, but these are coming at the cost of jobs and livelihood strategies of Africans and others who have little or no safety nets.
This is not a ‘just transition’ which we have been calling for, along with our friends in the trade union movement. We also see many governments removing or relaxing environmental regulations and procedures in order to desperately boost short-term investment, which will undoubtedly result in further environment degradation and biodiversity collapse, and deepening the cycle of crisis. However, the way that the air has cleaned up in some places in lockdown is a remarkable testament to just how unsustainable the ‘normal’ economy – and ‘normal’ development – is.
The planet will thrive if we choose a different development pathway, young people will see a clear blue sky for the first time, millions of people with asthma will breathe easier as we are seeing now.
Structural adjustments, austerity measures, dismantling of the state and of public services, cuts to social services, privatisation of essential services and indebtedness, have ensured that African states have the least amount of readiness to respond to such crises. This is rooted in the African colonial and post-colonial history and our relationship with neo-liberal finance institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that have pushed large loans with high interest rates on the back of structural adjustment conditionality. We must not allow these same practices to be our relationship with the New Development Bank or any institutions of the kind. All conditionality on solidarity support and/or loans must be public as part of a new and open democracy.
No business as usual: What kind of Africa and world should emerge from this crisis?
The swift response of governments and other actors to the COVID-19 pandemic also lays bare the veritable global inaction in seriously addressing the climate crisis and other crises. The analysis is clear – dealing with the crisis is fundamentally about political will to unleash vast sums of resources and change to policies to address the crisis and to redirect all efforts to its containment and resolution.
We cannot go back to business as usual. We need to envision a different world, a different Africa, so that this moment can mark a turning point for our region and the world.
The COVID 19 pandemic is showing that we need the solutions that we, as groups advancing climate justice across Africa, have urgently been pointing to. This is our hope. Going back to the current system of functioning cannot be an option. We need responses built on new forms of regionalism and solidarity for recovery and transition, and that are just and fair to all, especially the poor and most vulnerable. We commit ourselves and call on movements and civil society organisations across Africa and across the world to join us in the fight for a new world.
CALL FOR ACTION: Our demands for co-creating a new hope and just recovery for Africa and the world
Support essential services, food, water and healthcare system:
- Provide protective equipment for all health workers and essential workers on the frontline, including waste pickers and garbage collectors, food workers, small-scale and subsistence food producers, etc.
- Health systems across Africa need to be fully reviewed and overhauled, with free and accessible health services provided for all Africans as a human right. Africa must build up our own capacity to develop our own cures, produce medicines and equipment in our continent for our people, under public ownership, not private greed, with the principle of peoples sovereignty, so that we don’t need to import everything from outside.
- Any vaccine that is being developed to combat COVID-19 must be free from patents and freely available to all people worldwide. Africans should not be used as guinea pigs to test any new proposed vaccines and tests should be transparently endorsed and conducted universally.
- All African states should recognise peasant,small-scale and subsistence food producers as an essential sector in this crisis. All emergency measures implemented must be guided by the United Nations Declaration on Peasant Rights (UNDROP).
- African states should commit to prioritising the needs of water-stressed communities, including rolling out water tankers, as access to water is essential to combat this virus.
- Impose a moratorium on all evictions and on withholding of public services for the duration of the pandemic with priority given to the poor and most vulnerable families.
- Low-carbon public transport must be developed locally and regionally across Africa, so that we are not reliant on expensive and polluting flights and private transport as we are currently.
Reorganise the economy, support and redistribute care work:
- Recognise the injustice of the sexual division of labour and push for a redistribution and valuing of care work in sustaining life, which is currently largely done by women, in the home and also as the majority of healthcare workers.
- Support local economies, especially local food systems for local food consumption.
- Institute a universal and/or basic income grant to support livelihoods and families.
Stop all fossil fuel and extractive projects and preserve human rights:
- All fossil fuel, extractive and industrial agriculture projects (especially genetic modification technologies) should be stopped during the Covid crisis and beyond, across all African countries no matter where the corporations are headquartered. Also public subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and the military industrial complex should be stopped.
- Democratically-led processes should review and provide resources to people and communities affected by such extractive projects,including workers in these sectors and companies should be made to rehabilitate damaged and polluted ecosystems.
- Communities’ consent rights and their right to say no to harmful projects should be respected and given a democratic hearing. Governments should not flout laws and environmental regulations that ensure public participation, and other human rights.
- Most importantly, African states must hold accountable those in power, especially the police and the military, and the rising cases of abuse and unjustifiable violence must stop immediately during this pandemic and afterwards. Independent bodies of inquiry and ombudspersons must be put in place to allow citizens to speak up freely and safely without human rights abuses. The violence must stop.
Stop austerity, Stop the debt crisis, Accept Funding Support as grants NOT loans, Recognition of climate debt
- Funding to support the Covid response and recovery in African countries should be accepted as grants only, NOT loans, and should not have any structural adjustment type of conditionality attached which would undoubtedly further weaken social services.
- Austerity and structural adjustment measures should be halted and reversed, and there should be support for human rights, health, education and livelihoods for all Africans and all people.
- All historical debt imposed by International Financial Institutions should be cancelled with immediate effect. These debts will only further cripple governments in responding to the Covid crisis.
- Recognising climate and ecological debt, owed by the Global North to Africa and the rest of the Global South. Funding support to Africa should not worsen the debt crisis.
- African states must take strong measures to remove corrupt officials and corruption networks that are politicising support to vulnerable families during this pandemic, hindering responses and immorally using this crisis for increasing personal benefits.
Support a Just Recovery
- Recovery packages must support the poorest and most vulnerable people first with absolutely no bail outs for large corporations. Bailouts should only go to workers affected by shutdowns.
- Significant limits must be imposed on unchecked corporate power and accountability measures on them must be increased.
- A holistic and just transition must be the recovery we should build. This includes analysis on the joint root causes of, and action on, the Covid-19 and climate crises, and how we respond to build resilience in society. Climate must be at the core of any rebuilding efforts.
- We need political will to come out of this pandemic with an economy and society that supports people and the planet, we need a just transition and a just recovery.
Photo: Annie Spratt