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Africa faces some serious environmental problems: Greenpeace

Q and A: Najia Bounaim: Greenpeace

Greenpeace joined other organizations in marking World Environment Day on Wednesday. (SABC)

What does World Environment Day mean to the Greenpeace?

For us, every day is World Environment Day (WED). As Greenpeace Africa, the continent faces many challenges and suffers from some serious environmental problems, including climate change, deforestation, water pollution, coal mining, nuclear waste, overfishing and industrial agriculture etc. The list is endless and the challenges immense but we believe that committing to a better world can be done by all citizens taking small but bold steps where ever they may be.

So, it is important for citizens to be vigilant and report on any environmental abuses. As well as raise awareness and information in their communities, schools, places of worship and civil society organizations. We must all take personal responsibility for our own impact such as saving water, energy, food etc.

What problems would you like to highlight?

African governments face several challenges in implementing environmental protection mechanisms. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from some serious environmental problems, including climate change, water pollution, coal mining, nuclear waste, deforestation, overfishing and industrial agriculture etc.

Climate change

Over 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die because of climate change by the end of the century. Unpredictable rainfall patterns, lower crop yields, soaring food prices and dwindling natural resources are already causing increased human migration, tension and conflict.

Warmer temperatures and altered rainfall patterns could also create new habitats for disease-carrying organisms such as mosquitoes, opening new areas to dengue, yellow fever and malaria.


Currently an estimated 93% of South Africa’s electricity comes from coal. There are presently 13 operational coal-fired power stations in the country. In addition, Eskom (the power utility) is currently constructing two new coal fired power stations. These new power stations will be the third and fourth largest coal-fired power stations in the world, and Kusile will require a massive 17 million tons of coal per year.

South Africa is a water scarce country, yet every step in the chain of using coal to produce electricity pollutes and consumes vast amounts of water. Together with coal mining, burning coal for electricity generation has several serious implications for both water quantity and quality.

Eskom uses just over a staggering 10 000 liters of water per second which equates to the same amount of water a single person would use in one year (i.e. based on access to 25 liters per day). Meanwhile nearly a million South African households still have no access to the minimum 25 liters of water per day.
As citizens, we should demand to have better management of our water resources.


While governments around the world are rethinking nuclear energy after the Japan nuclear disaster, South Africa is planning to build new nuclear power stations. The bottom line of SA’s race to build nuclear is that South Africa is poorly equipped to take on this technological challenge. There are many more reasons against going down a nuclear road. This includes the fact that the country lacks both the funding strategy and the qualified staff to realize the nuclear expansion program.

Furthermore, after 60 years of nuclear power, there is still no solution for safe, long-term storage of radioactive waste anywhere in the world.
The energy choices being made by the government regarding this nuclear proposal will fundamentally affect our country’s ability to combat climate change and create a clean, safe and secure energy future for all South Africans.


Up to a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation; more than emissions from all the world’s planes, trains and cars put together.
In Africa, 40 million people depend on the Congo Basin rainforest which is also home for 270 species of mammals, including the endangered gorilla, the chimpanzee and the bonobo, as well as 39 unique species of animals that are only found here.

Most parts of Africa are already suffering from increasing land-grabbing tendencies for the expansion of large-scale plantations, industrial logging, agribusiness, oil, mining and infrastructure operations.


Per the United Nations, over 75% percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Some species have already been fished to commercial extinction; many more are on the verge.

West African nations have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world; yet their food security is under threat. European and Asian fishing fleets have moved into West African waters over the past 30 years after depleting their own fish stocks. Sub-Saharan Africa is now the only region on Earth where per capita fish consumption is falling, partly because foreign fishing fleets have removed so much fish.

Industrial agriculture

Industrial farming presents one of the most urgent threats to environmental sustainability and food security facing the world today. It relies on inputs of fossil-fuel intensive synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) seeds. These expensive inputs result in debt and economic insecurity for farmers, especially smallholders. This debt-driven agriculture is a big contributor to global climate change, and it destroys biodiversity, degrades soils, pollutes land, freshwater and coastlines, creates health risks from field to fork, and consolidates control over the food system amongst a handful of corporate giants.

Those problems are aggravated by lack of financial resources, poor governance, corruption, significant illegal logging of natural resources and lack of local participation in environmental decision making processes.

Protecting the environment of Sub-Saharan Africa is an issue that needs to be incorporated into an overall strategy of sustainable economic development.
Protecting the environment of Sub-Saharan Africa is an issue that needs to be incorporated into an overall strategy of sustainable economic development.

Is there anything you are going to do as an organization?

As we mentioned earlier, for us, the consumer awareness is a long process and consumer empowerment to take positive environmental action must be done every day. In this perspective, Greenpeace Africa launched in 2012 the Consumer campaign which aims to encourage individuals to make greener, more sustainable choices every day in terms of what they buy, what they eat, how they look at the environment around them. The campaign takes existing issues from around the globe, and makes them accessible to the individual, because we are all responsible for conserving the Environment, and it is not as challenging as it sounds!

Everyone is a consumer, and with that comes great power and responsibility- more and more consumers are starting to question where their seafood comes from, or whether their crops are Genetically Modified- this year’s theme for WED is Think. Eat. Save. And this is exactly what Greenpeace Africa would like to encourage- educate yourselves, think about what you are consuming and save environment.

What can citizens do to preserve the environment?

Citizens can help in several ways:
1. Responsible consumption and a respectful attitude to the environment;
2. Ensure that environmental issues are among the priorities of government strategies;
3. Raise awareness their peers about the need to protect the environment;
4. Commitment and support NGOs and stakeholders who defend the environment.

To support an NGO like Greenpeace (, citizens can be:
1. Activists
2. Volunteers
3. donors

Are government doing enough to preserve the environment?

The South African Government adopted the main international declarations and conventions on the environment: he ratified the UNFCCC in August 1997 and he acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in July 2002. The South African government had also developed the National Climate Change Response Strategy.

Despite these advances, gaps persist especially in the field of energy. Indeed, conventional fossil-fuel powered development is unsustainable in terms of climate change. South Africa has a huge untapped potential for solar power, wind and other renewable energies.

For successful energy transition of South Africa, Greenpeace believes that a certain number of policies and actions must be implemented in the energy sector:
Phase out all subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

1. Mandate strict efficiency standards for all energy consuming appliances, buildings and vehicles.
2. Establish legally binding targets for renewable energy and combined heat and power generation.
3. Reform the electricity markets by guaranteeing priority access to the grid for renewable power generators.
4. Stop investing in more coal and nuclear developments
5. Increase research and development budgets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Najia Bounaim is Greenpeace Africa’s Communications Manager
Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over 40 countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over 40 countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, the Netherlands


Note: Interview conducted in June 2016 by SABC

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