Over the last decade, the impact and adverse effects of climate change on human rights and the environment have led to the growing global concern and shifted emphasis to the intrinsic relationship that climate change actions, responses and impacts have with equitable access to sustainable development and eradication of poverty.[1] The 2015 Paris Agreement recognized the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.[2] These are all key areas relevant for the African region—whose large population depend on the utilization of land for largescale farming, food production and natural resource exploitation. The continent heavily relies on the extractive industry and food production systems to drive the economy and advance human capital development. As such in order to meaningful realise sustainable development there is need to assess and address the impacts of climate change on key sectors of resource exploitation, production and utilization. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), “if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be achieved by the 2030 target, the risks posed by human-induced climate change must be understood and addressed.”[3]  The WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas noted that “in the face of ongoing climate change, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, understanding the connections between climate and international development is a matter of urgency."[4] As such at the regional level, it remains important that national and regional development agendas critically interrogate the impact of climate change on human rights and the realization of the SDGs.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, in its 2009 Resolution 153 on Climate Change and Human Rights and the Need to Study its Impact in Africa,[5] and the 2016 Resolution 342 on Climate Change and Human Rights in Africa noted concern on the lack of human rights safeguards in various draft texts of the Conventions under negotiation, which could put at risk the life, physical integrity and livelihood of the most vulnerable members of society including indigenous and local communities, women and other vulnerable social groups.[6]  

The Commission requested Member States to adopt and implement special measures of protection for vulnerable groups and other minorities as well as victims of natural disasters and conflict. It also tasked its Working Group on Economic and Social Rights, in collaboration with the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations, to undertake a “study on the impact of climate change on human rights in Africa.” In Resolution 271 on Climate Change in Africa, the Commission further emphasized that the conduct of an in-depth study on the impact of climate change in Africa would contribute to the development of effective human rights-based measures and solutions.[7] However, more that 6 years on this study is yet to be undertaken.

Notably, Africa largely relies on the extractive industry  which, without a doubt has immense potential to drive growth, support sustainable development, and reduce poverty.[8] According to the World Bank, the extractive industries sector plays a strong economic role in 63 countries, many of which face challenges such as resource dependency and weak governance.[9] However, the actual contribution of extractive industries to sustainable development in countries rich in raw materials has often been mired by financial, economic, governance, social and environmental concerns, leading to the so-called resource curse or paradox of plenty.[10] Currently, mineral resource extraction plays a dominant role in the economies of 81 countries that account for a quarter of global GDP, half of the world’s population and nearly 70 per cent of those live in extreme poverty.[11]

This notwithstanding, the extractive industry has been associated with rising cases of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and biodiversity loss, major threats and impacts extraction processes pose to climate change in Africa.[12] In Africa, even though climate change and related hazards are projected to rise in degree, the nexus between climate change and the extractive industry is yet to be robustly explored. Implementation of the African Commission Resolutions 153 of 2009 and 342 of 2016 would greatly address this.

Furthermore, extractive sectors in Africa exacerbate climate change through deforestation.[13] For example, while coal and oil are resources of great economic value to Africa, unsustainable mining often involves clearance of large areas of forest where the resources are located, thus, resulting in deforestation.[14] Similarly, extractives-related activities relating to oil drilling and exploration such as infrastructural developments including road construction, gas plants, drilling of pipelines and the settlement of workers, usually involve the clearing of forests in tropical countries such as Nigeria, Gabon and Cameroon.[15] In Southern Africa, a broad area of formerly intact natural vegetation is giving in to the extractive industry—resulting in high levels of emissions connected to deforestation.[16]

All in all, Climate change reflects a fundamental failure of global development that is rooted in the extraction of natural resources. In Africa, natural resource exploitation has been associated and still remains one of the key drivers of massive displacement and conflict—exacerbating poverty, inequalities and causing severe environmental damage that drive climate change. It has been well enunciated that whether natural resources aggravate or reduce inequality depends on who controls those resources, how the benefits that derive from them are distributed across different communities, and whether those resources are used in ways that foster ecosystem restoration or degradation.[17] Hence, it has become more crucial than ever to spur meaningful conversations and engagements to better understand and gauge how and to what extent the activities of extractives’ industries in Africa have impacted climate change and what steps can be taken to monitor, report, mitigate and control this impact.

[1] Preamble of the Paris Agreement (2015)1 and Goal No. 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2015), accessed at https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf.

[2] Id.,

[3] Claire Ransom., et.al., World Meteorological Organisation, “Climate Indicators and Sustainable Development

Demonstrating the Interconnections,” (2021) accessed at https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/.

[4] Id.,

[5] ACHPR/Res.153(XLVI) 2009

[6] ACHPR/Res.342(LVIII)2016

[7]  ACHPR/Res.271(LV)2014 accessed at https://www.achpr.org/sessions/resolutions?id=318.

[8] The World Bank “Extractive Industries (2021) accessed at https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/extractiveindustries/overview#1.

[9] Id.,

[10] Addison, T. (2020). Extractives for Development (E4D)- Risks and Opportunities, UNU-WIDER. Available at https://www.wider.unu.edu/ project/extractives-development-e4d-%E2%80%93-risks-and-opportunities.  Quoted in World Bank “Extractive Industries (2021)

[11] https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/sg_policy_brief_extractives.pdf.

[12] https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/extractives/why-does-extractives-matter> accessed 3 December 2021

[13] Id.,

[14] Jegede, A.O. (2016) The environmental and economic implications of climate change and extractive industry nexus in Africa  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311862871_The_environmental_and_economic_implications_of_the_climate_change_and_extractive_industry_nexus_in_Africa/link/585e607708ae329d61f906a5/download> accessed 6 December 2021

[15] Id.,

[16] Id.,

[17] Ford Foundation, accessed at https://www.fordfoundation.org/the-latest/news/ford-foundation-announces-new-fund-to-strengthen-natural-resources-governance-in-west-africa/.  


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