Nicholas Pythagoras Ndlovu, Environmental Talk
Never in the years gone by has the reality of climate change been as drastic and harsh as now. Our rivers and lake levels continue to drop and due to unreliable rainfall patterns food production levels are also plummeting. Seasons are shifting and changing. The effects of climate change are reflected in the expectant eyes of hungry children and in the lengthening footsteps of women carrying water.
It’s been over two months since the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was concluded in Paris, France, and a consensus was reached through a document called the “Paris Agreement”.
The impacts of climate change, however, continue being felt in our country and across the globe, with many developing countries being ravaged by continuous droughts, and others, by devastating floods.
Nothing suggests that these impacts will soon be a thing of the past. The big question is to know if this agreement will bring a solution to the climate catastrophe.
Paris discussions on climate change made it clear that the process of trying to solve the world’s biggest environmental and sustainable development crisis of our generation remained trapped in a competitive ‘zero-sum’ game where each State forever attempts to protect its short-term national interest, particularly defending industries and energy sources which emit greenhouse gases.
As with other UN forums, the individual states have clustered into blocs of states (Group of 77 and China, Africa Group, EU, Umbrella Group, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, and so on) with shared interests or strategies. Some of these are very broad coalitions, others tighter and more coherent.
The bloc system of negotiations is probably preferable to totally atomised interests but at the same time it creates strategic impasses and an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality whereby the different blocs try to pass responsibility for emissions reduction to some other group of states. An unhelpful political game has emerged where neither block wants to act virtuously, in a bid to avoid the benefits flowing to the other.
After two weeks of negotiations, COP21 came up with an agreement that many civil society organisations (CSOs) expressed that world leaders had once more failed to live to the expectation of those mostly affected, the majority of whom are on the African continent.
Civil society actors continue to say from this agreement, nothing is binding for the parties, especially the developed nations. They also say the mitigation efforts that have been pledged to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through what is called the national determined contributions lead the world to global warming levels of over 3°C, are a far cry from the 1.5oC goal which can only be achieved when the world stops burning fossil fuels by 2030.
The agreement only aims to keep the global average temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. This statement should be taken with caution as nothing promises that the 1.5 degree goal will be reached. It is merely an aspiration.
It is an open secret that adaptation to climate change is the key for Africa’s developmental success. According to the “People’s Test,” a document released just before the Paris negotiations by CSOs, Paris was burdened with the need to deliver justice for impacted people.
This would include the enhancement for support of adaptation in a new climate regime and ensure that there will be a separate mechanism to provide reparations for any losses and damages that go beyond our ability to adapt, and make a firm commitment to secure workers’ livelihoods and jobs through a Just Transition. My personal score on this test would be a virtual low.
Paris’ stance on adaptation requirements is merely voluntary, and as such, there is no legal or monetary requirement based on each individual nation’s contribution to climate change. In this sense, it is open to interpretation, giving nations the opportunity to change goal-posts based on their preferences.
A UN Environment Programme report mentions that vulnerable countries require over $150 billion per year for adaptation measures to protect them from the worst impacts of climate change. Uncertainty remains on where this money will really come from.
Crucially, it is imperative to note developed countries have caused the problem of climate change, hence the responsibility for them to solve it under a principle known as the “common but differentiated responsibility”. This has always been key in these discussions. From Paris, this principle seems to have been watered down.
Importantly, the agreement states that parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognising the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this agreement.
As such, it is important that over and above sharing of new technologies, scientists in developing countries should be trained so as to be able to gather information on adaptation needs and develop appropriate responses.
One advantage of the reporting mechanisms and 5-year meetings of the agreement is that developing nations will be able to build their capacity, and become active providers of solutions.
It is also paramount to state that addressing gender issues is a key part of tackling climate change and putting our nation and African countries on the path to sustainable development. While in the Paris Agreement there is no overarching article on gender, there is reference to special and vulnerable groups (Article 7.5).
Women play an essential role in caring for the environment and must be empowered to protect their livelihoods, communities, and nature.
Gender issues have been core for any development and as such this paragraph is an opportunity to build on the implementation of the Lima Work Programme, decided in Peru – 2014, on gender under these climate discussions while as a nation we continue to ensure that gender remains important in climate change policy.
The agreement lacks clear mechanisms and timelines on implementation of a lot of issues. While it is not entirely perfect for Zimbabwe and Africa, it is necessary and a starting point for further polished work ahead for continual engagement in trying to address climate change.
The new agreement only takes effect from 2020, by which time the chance to achieve 1.5°C warming will have already gone. Now is the time to continue putting pressure on the world’s largest economies and international corporations, to drastically change the course.
There’s a risk that if some countries are clearly not pulling their weight, others might take it as an excuse to call a halt on their own efforts.
Zimbabwe’s climate change strategy has been produced and the policy is almost complete. These efforts are a rallying point for the locals to also play their part in taking initiatives of protecting the environment from pollution, deforestation and land degradation.
Our potential to exhibit prowess in water conservation, water harnessing and harvesting remains to be realised. There is a need for a solution from the international level but also our own solutions to climate change will bring a better life, wealth and future to Zimbabwe.
Addressing the climate crisis will require profound social transformation in all countries and at all levels – local, national and global.
Nicholas Ndlovu is a Projects Administrator with BUMIRA Environmental Consultants in Bulawayo. Contact details: Twitter : @pydlovu email : [email protected], mobile : +263 771 373 994