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Climate Change Advocacy in Africa: Why African Theologians and Churches Should Do More

“I get my energy from my people. I can go to all the biggest cities of the world, but I always have to go back to my community—drink the water they are drinking from the lake or the rivers, sit down on the ground with them. Talking with them, listening to how they are dealing with every single day in their life, gives me more energy to just get out and do what I have to do. They never stop, so I will also never stop.”

-Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

Chinenye Igboelina, a young Nigerian graduate who is working in the oil-producing state of Bayelsa for her National Youth Service (a compulsory one-year national service for all Nigerians under 35years after graduating from the university) sent me a distressing email in September. The high school where she was teaching was submerged in water; her residency and that of her fellow youth corps teachers was floating; like most people in that community, she is currently homeless. The road that leads to their school had been washed away and there is no means of transportation between the community and the outside world. Chinenye, like most young Nigerians, has a dream to be a change maker, and to contribute to the future of the country, the African continent and the world. Sadly, her dreams and that of so many young people in Nigeria, are being drowned in the flood waters that have turned many parts of Nigeria into a living hell.

According to Worldweather Attribution, with at least 612 fatalities, this year’s flood in Nigeria and the African Sahel was the deadliest ever. It is worse than the previous devastating flood that occurred in Nigeria in 2012 because in this case 34 out of the 36 states of Nigeria, and over 3.2 million people were affected with 1.5 million Nigerians currently displaced and nearly 3000 people injured and needing treatment. The flooding has inundated several hundreds of thousands of hectares of land and over half a million hectares of farmland, and damaged more than 300 thousand homes, schools, industrial complexes, and public utilities and health facilities. [1]

Worldweather Attribution conducted an extensive study of this current situation in the African Sahel and working with scientists from Nigeria, Cameroon, India, Netherlands, Francis, Denmark, South Africa, Sweden, U.S and the UK analyzed to what extent human-caused climate change altered the likelihood and intensity of the rainfall that inundated most of Nigeria and other countries in the West African sub-region. They concluded that the flooding was the result of an above-average rainfall throughout the 2022 rainy season “exacerbated by shorter spikes of very heavy rain leading to flash floods as well as riverine floods.” With the help of applicable models, researchers came to the conclusion that for both the 7-days maximum rainfall over the lower Niger Basin and the seasonal rain over the Lake Chad Basin, there was an increase in intensity of extreme rainfall as a result of climate change “that made the event about twice as likely and approximately 5% more intense.”[2]

Reflecting on how these unpredictable weather patterns affect the livelihood of the poor in Chad particularly the indigenous pastoral communities, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an expert on the adaptation and mitigation of indigenous peoples to climate change who belongs to the Mbororo pastoralist people in Chad and President of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), said, “Coming from pastoral communities where our life depends on nature, we are living climate change in our daily life. Rain is a very important part of our life. When the rains come, it is food for our cattle, for ourselves, and then when our cattle eat the grass, it helps them to get more milk—it’s our economy. When we don’t have enough rain, it impacts food insecurity and social life, where it creates conflict between the communities fighting to access natural resources, and internal migration in displacement of the people. It has an environmental, social and economic impact on the community.”[3]

The words of Hindou and the condition of Chinenye and millions of Nigerians, Chadians and other West Africans affected by flooding and drought this year were my points of reflection as I followed the deliberation at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt. The international community particularly the main polluting countries have accepted to set up a special fund “for responding to loss and damages” suffered by the least industrialized countries. A transitional committee will be set up to work out the administrative structure for the fund and determine who will contribute to the fund, how much will be contributed and which of the G-77 countries are eligible to receive help from the fund. However, this is not the first time a fund of this kind has been set up in over 30 years of negotiation. For example, no one really knows what happened with the 100 billion Green Climate Fund set up in 2010. This, however, is the highest and most extensive commitment by the international community. In my opinion, this signifies a universal consensus that there is the need for climate justice in the world for most countries in the global South, particularly in Africa, who are the least polluters but who are most affected by the pollution and emission from the industrialized nations like U.S and China (the two most polluting nations).

While this is a significant milestone, it is important to note that this fund is “an empty bank account” [4] at this moment and going by previous failed commitments by the industrialized nations (G-20) to meet their debt of climate justice to the industrializing nations (G-77), there is no guarantee that this commitment will be kept. No one knows when this money will be available and the actionable mechanism to enforce compliance. When it comes to climate change and issues around it, the world defaults to protection of national interests, ideological posturing, and politics. This is why, for instance, the mitigation and adaptation agreement of Paris 2015 to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and reduce greenhouse emission was not advanced at COP27. This has created the sad situation where emission will continue to rise, while the guilty parties will go home in self-congratulatory mode because they have accepted in principle to pay for their ecological sins as polluters. Sadly, these countries will continue to address their current energy and financial crises through aerosol pollution and greenhouse gases (eg coal-powered power plant, and other sources of fossil fuels and dirty energy).[5]

Greater Advocacy by Churches and Theological Ethicists in Africa

COP27 did not offer any concrete and immediate solution to the flooding in my homeland, Nigeria. How can millions of Nigerians in the oil rich Delta region submerged in flood waters, polluted airs and water sources, and farm lands get immediate solution through this fund that is an ‘empty bank account’? How can indigenous Mbororo pastoralist people in Chad, who are experiencing desertification find hope that someday there will be a reversal of some of the climate-change induced changes in seasonal patterns of rainfall and dryness in the African Sahel?

Given the global climate injustice—another layer of structural violence that many poor people suffer in Africa today—and the environmental degradation in the continent of Africa caused by carbon emission, poor garbage disposal, rapid urbanization and destruction of natural habitats to mention a few, there is the need for theological ethicists and churches in Africa to rise to these challenges through advocacy.

Advocacy relates to different approaches that ethicists can undertake on behalf of people, particularly the poor and neglected communities to give them a voice in combating the adverse conditions that affect their lives.[6] Advocacy helps to generate collective action; to stimulate active participation of all the members of a community to combating those adverse conditions and bringing about better conditions for human and cosmic flourishing.[7] Viewed in this light, climate change advocacy in Africa will involve all actions (community moblisation, education, legal protection, environmental activism, modelling behaviors, identifying risk and barriers, preaching and catechesis on ecological conversion using the message of Laudato Si’ for example). These actions could be developed through an asset-based immersion into the context of particular communities, parishes, dioceses, religious congregations, nations and at the continental level.

Most often little attention is paid to the assets of the people. While the AMECEA bishops have made the environmental issues a cornerstone of their pastoral accompaniment, there is need to speak out publicly against African governments and international policies and programs that continue to worsen climate change or drown its impact through toxic charity to Africa. Climate change advocacy must be anchored on community assets, that is, church agents and theologians could begin by finding out what makes the people strong and how to generate more of it; and what makes them weak and how to address the communal weak spots and pain points in order to strengthen the people’s agency to resist these threats.

Particularly with regard to climate change, some of the causative factors for suffering and pain being felt today in Nigeria, for example, because of the flooding, can be addressed through identifying some of the local practices like human settlement, infrastructure developments, reclaiming of oceans and seas for building, and economic and political instability as identified by Worldweather Attribution. Theologians in Africa must become more aware of the issues and research on climate change as it affects Africa and Africa’s vulnerabilities with regard to mitigation and adaptation, while researching into what local knowledge and resilience can be developed to cope with the stress to people’s livelihood and carrying capacity. This is one of the many ways of strengthening the people’s agency through education on climate change and on why ecological conversion by individuals, and local and international agencies and governments should be promoted. There are three lessons that I think that Africa can offer to themselves and the world as we face the joy and sorrows of COP27 climate agreement:

First is the lesson of the leading female climate activist in Chad, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim: we cannot talk of human rights today in Africa or any part of the world without talking about environmental rights. Theological anthropology must also demonstrate how nature images God in a unique way and why the human person by recognizing and reverencing God in nature also sees and loves in nature what God sees and loves in the human person. An ancient Christian wisdom, which we find in all ages, is the recognition that, through the Incarnation, God has become near to humanity and the entire cosmos. The nearness of God to creation and God’s covenant with the earth is an act of humility on the part of God—a self-emptying. God always bends down to creation; God always accommodates Godself to creation as a way of filling creation with love and energy so that it can move and have its being in God. This divine action on the part of God is both a model and a mission for humanity. Eco-theological ethics today must deepen a sense of vulnerability and humility in human beings. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is the recognition of the value of humility in daily choices, and this reflects God’s own humility and vulnerability on the Cross.

Second, we must embrace some ecological virtues and practices in order live in harmony with nature and with one another in a shared world. The reason for the climate crisis is because of choices people are making both as individuals and as communities, corporate decisions, policies and programs of countries. Neo-liberal capitalism has created a sick world with sick people because humans have embraced a conspicuous consumption pattern that is draining nature without giving back to it; stripping nature of its inner capacity to regenerate itself because of our unlimited appetite for things without respecting as Hindou says, “each species and keeping the balance in nature.” With a strong emphasis on healing, caring, restoring, and reverencing the other as a co-participant in the bond of life, the African concept of ubuntu could help develop the global ethics of vulnerability, away from an obsession with power and domination.

Finally, we must embrace the vulnerability of nature and of the human. This brings to the fore the notions of incompleteness and finitude as inner dispositions that should move people to seek ways to improve connections, communality, and sharing among all. Thus, when Africans care for sacred groves, preserve and prune ancestral trees, or protect those species regarded as heavenly emissaries, they are speaking through their actions. They are asking the world to embrace as Hindou suggests, Africa’s traditional knowledge of biodiversity to meet the challenges of seasonal flooding and desertification and create conditions for a sustainable future for all creatures of God.

[1] Accessed: 11.22.2022.

[2] Accessed: 11.22.2022.



[5] Accessed: 11.22.2022.

[6] Chauvin, J. & Yeatman, H (2016). Advocacy for Health in Health Promotion Practice, 2nd edition. Ed. Nutland, W & Cragg, L. Berkshire, England: Open University Press, 83.

[7] See for instance, South, J. et al. (2019) Complexity and Community Context: Learning from the Evaluation Design of a National Community Empowerment Program. International journal of environmental research and public health. [Online] 17 (1), 91, 2.