Africa tackles soccer and climate change

The South African venue for the soccer World Cup has inspired a flurry of debate about the influence of the sport on African identity and national unity.

A glance at the representation of the continent in the finals starting next week downplays such lofty ideals. Apart from the host country, the only participants from sub-Saharan Africa are Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte-d’Ivoire and Ghana, all close neighbours from one corner of West Africa.

This concentration has the hallmarks of a “cluster”, business-speak for a region where expertise relevant to a particular industry assembles, to the benefit of all participants, and to the exclusion of other areas. Evidently, this nook of West Africa is the hotspot for soccer.

From a OneWorld perspective, these countries form a cluster of rather less popular appeal. They share a worrying vulnerability to the rise in sea level that is caused by global warming. Lagos and Abidjan feature prominently in league tables of the world’s cities most at risk of serious flooding.

South Africa itself is far from immune to the threat. Cape Town is in the front line and the city authorities have commissioned reports with a view to forming adaptation strategies. In 2008 an official warned that “recreational amenities located in the coastal areas are particularly vulnerable.”

Such warnings had no influence on the construction of a spanking new football stadium at Green Point, at the tip of the city’s northern coastline. Cape Town’s 2010 tourism site proudly informs us that the altitude of the stadium is “0m”.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the immaculate turf of the Cape Town Stadium is about to be inundated with salt by the fury of the winter storms. But I would place bets that sea defences to protect what is now a posh residential area will be erected within the next 20 years.

The contest between Netherlands and Cameroon at the Cape Town Stadium scheduled for June 24th encapsulates this digression from the serious business of soccer. Netherlands is a low-lying country with very serious coastal problems about which it is fully aware and is spending billions of dollars to address.

Cape Town and other South African coastal cities have switched on to the threat but will undoubtedly struggle to raise adaptation finance. Cameroon has barely started to register the implications of climate change.

This global divide in adaptive capacity will not go unnoticed this week in the very different environment of the latest round of UN climate change talks in Bonn. As on the football field, the African voice is gaining strength.

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, a coalition of civil society groups, has kicked off by describing the Copenhagen Accord as “a political agreement that could lead to 3.9C degrees of global warming and the death of millions of Africans due to food and water shortages.”

Alas, the prospects of the UN referees blowing the final whistle on climate change negotiations remain as remote as ever.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK