African countries must help fight climate change and halt rising temperatures that are hitting crop yields and causing floods and droughts in the region, US climate envoy John Kerry told a conference in the Senegalese capital on Thursday.

At the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Dakar, Kerry acknowledged that sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries emit just 0.55% of the world’s harmful emissions, but said every nation must come together in the face of the crisis.

“We’re all at risk from emissions — and Mother Nature doesn’t care where those emissions come from,” Kerry told delegates.

“The challenge of the climate crisis comes from the emissions crisis in every country.”

Twenty countries, including the United States, are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions, Kerry said. Climate experts agree that coal, oil and gas – the engines of the US economy – are the worst emitters.

As the effects of climate change come into focus, major economies have a difficult task in trying to convince African countries to limit emissions or reduce investment in fossil fuels at a critical stage in their own economic development.

Senegal will become a significant producer of oil and gas when new fields off the Atlantic coast begin production in the next two years. President Macky Saul said that ending funding for gas exploration would be a “death blow” to developing economies.

Still, Kerry’s message came at a telling time, with floods killing hundreds of people this rainy season in Nigeria, Niger and Chad, and millions facing severe famine in the Horn of Africa due to drought.

“We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Kerry said. “How you choose to approach the future will have a profound impact not just on Africa, but on our planet’s ability to deal with this.”

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