As I write storm Ciara is causing chaos in Sheffield. Trees are down, Cineworld has had its doors blown through and local roads are flooded. Not very far away, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd have suffered severe flooding. Yet another example of the ever-increasing extreme weather the world is facing as a result of our overheating planet.
But Sheffield’s problems are tiny compared to many parts of the globe. Thirty years ago, few people were talking about climate change. I was teaching at a secondary school not far from Kampala in Uganda. People would come to me and say, “Mr Graham, what is happening to our weather?” They were very aware that their very predictable tropical climate was beginning to change, and they were no longer sure when the best time to plant their crops would be.
Since then things have got far worse. Today we see East Africa engulfed by massive plagues of locusts that are stripping trees of leaves and fields of crops. East Africa had an unusually wet year in 2019 with warming waters in the Indian Ocean producing a high number of tropical cyclones, which doused the coast and created exceptional conditions for locust breeding. Now, swarms of hungry insects are feasting on crops in the Horn of Africa, where millions of people already lack reliable access to nutritious food.
Desert locusts can travel up to 80 miles a day and breed at terrifying speed. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation are concerned swarms could grow 400 times bigger by the beginning of summer.
“What’s all this got to do with us?” I hear you say. Well for a start the UK imports large amounts of tea, coffee, cut flowers and legumes (mostly fed to livestock) from East Africa. Prices are bound to be on the up. But far more importantly, if the locusts are not tackled it may well result in a massive humanitarian problem, with vast parts of East Africa facing starvation. Without food, millions of climate refugees will be on the move looking for a new home.
We need to listen to Africa. They have been warning us about climate catastrophe for 30 years, but we have taken no notice. This was highlighted recently when Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate was cropped out of a photograph of activists with Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum at Davos. Nakate was the only black person in the photo and justifiably accused the Associated Press of racism in cropping her out. The media are culpable of more subtle and extreme racism every day, reporting from countries with a predominantly white population and largely ignoring the news of climate disasters in Africa and Asia.
At a press conference Nakate’s fellow activist Ndoni Mcunu from South Africa said “Almost 20 million people have fled the continent due to these changes “and major droughts have caused “almost 52 million people to become food insecure.”
My friend, former MEP, Magid Magid, has been writing about refugees in the Huffington Post. His article focuses on Ioane Teitiota, who lives in Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. “With some of their highest points just metres above sea level, the 33 small islands which make up the country of Kiribati are under particularly intense threat from the unfolding climate emergency. There is an immediate problem of lack of access to freshwater, while sea-level rise threatens to submerge the nation completely within a matter of decades. Some of the islands are already effectively uninhabitable, with the entire country likely to be uninhabitable within just 10 to fifteen years.” Ioane applied to move to New Zealand but was refused. But now the United Nations, although agreeing that New Zealand does not have to accept Ioane and his family, have accepted the principle of recognising climate refugees.
Magid concludes “It is a tragedy that Ioane and his family have not been granted protection, but he has forced us to face up to the facts. However, the law chooses to categorise us, there are millions more Ioanes who will need asylum in the years ahead. Whatever action we take now, sea levels will rise, disasters will intensify, droughts, floods and famines are coming. One day soon, the international community will have to recognise people displaced by this climate chaos as refugees. The alternative does not bear thinking about.”
We need urgent action to reduce emissions to slow down this crisis. Sheffield Extinction Rebellion is frustrated and angry by our Council’s continued prevarication. They declared a climate emergency more than a year ago but are still doing little to reduce emissions. Hopefully, the recent disruption of the Council meeting will have been a wake-up call. Other local Councils, the City Region and Parliament are no better. When will they start to act as if the planet is on fire?
Greta Thunberg puts Africa’s climate activists in media spotlight