The bleak reality of global climate change becomes clearer with each new report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.1 North Africa is extremely vulnerable in the face of climatic and environmental crises, which are a daily occurrence in the lives of the millions of people living in the arid, semi-arid and desert areas of the region. Over the last few decades, drought rates and temperatures have risen continuously, leading to increasing desertification. The region also suffers from severe water scarcity2, land degradation and livestock depletion.3 The accelerated environmental crises directly and indirectly affect agriculture (including grazing) and fishing activities. They also intensify poverty and erode food sovereignty.4 Approximately 52 per cent of the total population in North Africa live in rural areas5 and this population, which includes small-scale farmers and farm workers, is among the poorest and most impacted by the stark effects of agroecological crises.
North Africa’s perilous situation in regard to climate change stands in contrast to the fact that the region accounts for a very small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, the entire African continent produced approximately 4 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, while the average emissions per African person were the lowest in the world, at approximately 0.9 tonnes per annum.6 In the North Africa region, Egypt produced 0.6 per cent of global emissions, Algeria 0.5 per cent, Tunisia 0.1 per cent and Morocco 0.15 per cent.7 A recent study shows the global unevenness of greenhouse gas emissions: while the Global North’s rates stand at 90 per cent, the Global South produces only 10 per cent.8 However, countries in the Global South bear the brunt of the crises brought on by climate change, and are in dire need of a just transition – to help mitigate the harmful impacts of environmental change and to adapt to their long-term consequences.
Agriculture is both negatively impacted by climate change and a significant contributor to it. Due to the dominance of global capitalist food systems and industrial agricultural production, land use and forest management accounted for a total of 23 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2016.9 North African countries are no exception to this pattern, dominated as they are by a high-emissions corporate food regime.10 Against this background it is vital to assess the possibilities for, and obstacles to, a just transition in the North African agricultural sector.