A DELEGATE to COP26 from Tanzania, Mathias Lyamunda, who arrived in Scotland this week after visa delays, welcomed the chance to be part of the African group at the conference: “We worked together to speak up for Africa. We are being asked to pay a climate debt that we didn’t create. I hope we are starting to be heard.”

Lyamunda, who considers the pressure put on the Home Office by queries from the National helped to speed up his visa so he could make the trips, said: “The UK emits more carbon each year than the whole of the continent of Africa. And for the last 200 years, like all developed nations the UK has benefited from the energy it created from its fossil fuel reserves. Africa is being hit twice – our populations are very exposed to climate shock – food is becoming scarcer. We are also being told that we can’t use our fossil fuels – but people don’t seem to understand the implications of that in the African context.”

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Lyamunda, executive director of the Foundation for Environmental Management and Campaign against Poverty (FEMAPO), explained that for example, in Tanzania even in the capital Dar es Salaam, a city of six million people, the electricity supply from the grid is mostly used for lighting. Most people cannot afford to use it for cooking or heating water and rely on either charcoal or gas. Gas bottles are becoming very expensive, and the huge demand for charcoal is consuming the forest.

“This is having a devastating effect. We now know that tree cover increases precipitation so when the trees are cut down, the rainfall is reduced. Tanzania has reserves of coal and natural gas, but if we can’t use it to make power, that will potentially make the situation worse.” Creating a renewable energy infrastructure would require massive investment from the developed world.

Lyamunda attended primary school in a rural area. The area was surrounded by forest, and plentiful crops grew in clearings. “There were areas that we were afraid to go because of the animals – cheetahs, lions.“ There was no shortage of food. But now, almost 30 years later, Matthias said: “The area around my old school is bare ground. Nobody plants crops because there is not enough rain.”

The school, like most in Tanzania, does not provide food, so many of the children go hungry all day. “We need to find power from another source and, for our particular situation, coal or natural gas may be the least bad option.”

The New York Times reported that proven crude oil reserves on the African continent total more than one hundred billion barrels spanning eleven countries, with Libya and Nigeria among the 10 biggest producers globally. The region is rich in gas, too: combined, Nigeria, Algeria and Mozambique hold about 6% of the world’s natural gas reserves. At this COP, for the first time the African delegation has put the case for a slower transition from fossil fuels for Africa. They also want to see much greater funding channelled towards a just transition.

For Lyamunda personally, the trip to Scotland has been of huge significance. “I am very grateful for the pressure The National put on the British Home Office to speed up my visa – I think that helped me to get here.

“The atmosphere at the COP and in Scotland generally has been great. I am forming connections with people and sharing ideas. At Cop for example, I met a French group who are training me how to explain climate change to rural people in ways they can relate to. I will also stay in touch with some of the people I have met here and we will continue to work together towards a just transition.”