brad brown_cc.jpgWhile some “Flat Earth” people in the U.S. political system deny climate change despite overwhelming scientific evidence, even to the point of refusing to allow President Barack Obama to establish a Climate Service in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that would pull together in one place the ongoing scientific work to make it more accessible, the rest of the world is moving.

It was important therefore for Africa to host the recent United Nations Conference of the Parties ( COP 17) negotiations on climate change.  Just like the soccer World Cup, hosting this conference advanced Africa as a player on the international stage. Climate change will impact the continent more than any other, given its location and geography.  In addition, financial conditions make it less likely to be able to adapt by throwing money at the issue. The only areas more vulnerable are the small island states, such as those in the Caribbean.

A significant step taken at COP 17 was establishing the Green Fund, which can bring resources to address adaption to climate change.

Not only did Africa host the conference but also South Africa’s  International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane chaired the meeting.  I participated in the side event called “Oceans Day at Durban.” Oceans Day was held at previous Climate Change negotiations and its purpose was to influence the preparations for the next conference, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to focus attention on climate change issues related to oceans and coasts. 

Lack of travel funds and other resources have caused some efforts to fail to fully consider Africa in Oceans Day talks but not this time.  The sessions had an African focus while covering the entire sweep of the ocean issues, such as those facing small island states. 

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Environment Rejoice Mubudifhasi, with whom I have interacted over the years and who I consider one of the best in the business, co-chaired the summit. She gave an opening address and she stayed the entire day, which is unusual for political people. South Africa’s former Minister of Science Dr. Ben Ngubane, gave a closing address.

However, for me, the technical sessions with strong African participation were critical.

For instance, the executive secretary of the Network on Fishing Policies in West Africa, Senegal’s Papa Gora Ndiaye, spoke on “Climate Change and Fisheries in Africa.” Also, the New Partnership for African Development of the African Union, an organization pushing to gain African control over donor efforts, had its scientific staff present and addressed fisheries under the environment of climate change. And a panel of African Large Marine Ecosystem Projects, which I have worked with, was well received.  Two thirds of program participants were from Africa.

As was obvious in the capacity development presentations, the technical cadre in Africa needs to be increased and empowered but they are not starting from zero and the donor agencies need to look to the continent for leadership.

Brad Brown is a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist. He continues to work as a consultant on African coastal and marine projects and scientific capacity development. He is also first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He may be reached at

Photo: Brad Brown