We are not alone in counting the costs of a broken climate. Every country on our globe is taking a knock, the latest ones being Nigeria which suffered floods recently, and the Horn of Africa, which is in the grip of an unremitting drought. Further afield, Pakistan and China recently faced severe floods, while the Americas and Europe are grappling with both hurricanes and severe droughts. Island states continue to shrink, as more and more of their landmass is being lost to rising waters of the oceans. Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate; our own Kilimanjaro is losing its snowcap, as are other mountain peaks of Africa.
Global experts, collectively organised as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict more such disasters of global proportions in the future. Further, the experts tell us that this crisis is inexorably inching towards a point of no return.
This is a scary prospect for our human race. Zimbabwe thus cannot escape the blight from the ensuing climate crisis; it can only mitigate its impact, even then only up to a point and with diminishing returns.
Zimbabwe, alongside Africa, is a solution to this worsening menace. Our emissions are very low, well below a single percentage point. While this may sound good, and even worth celebrating, it does not itself insure us against the ravages of the problem caused by a highly carbonised civilisation from which countries of the West have profited in the last 400 years. Nor can we run away from the fact implied by our low emissions, namely that we are underdeveloped industrially. Whatever inadvertent benefits to global climate, Zimbabwe and Africa’s low emissions should never get us to make virtue of the vice of industrial backwardness. The costs of an un-industrialised Zimbabwe and Africa are just as dire as the consequences of unmerited costs thrust upon us by greatest emitters of gases which destroy our planet. Either way, we suffer, which is why our approach to the current climate crisis must be nuanced enough to balance climate safeguards which we all require, against Africa’s industrialisation which she needs. Our country and continent must industrialise, modernise, grow, develop and catch up with the rest of the world.
We go to Sharm el-Sheikh to press for our right, singly and collectively, to sustainable industrial development. Zimbabwe and Africa’s low level industrialisation also makes us a solution in that we still enjoy a fair measure of ecological balance and sustainability.
We have rich flora and fauna, even though both are beginning to register pressures arising from the global environmental crisis started elsewhere in the rich North. Because of this unique, yet delicate and potentially residual ecological balance, we have become one of the few remaining carbon sinks for a world whose ecosystem is stretched to near breaking point. To that extent, we must be recognised and rewarded as the last remaining solution to this one problem which threatens to consume our species and our civilisation.
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Again, Africa and similar continents will press hard this point at Sharm el-Sheikh. Thirdly, because of our low level industrialisation, we have an opportunity to forge an industrialisation pathway which is both green and sustainable, to the extent it is acutely conscious of the hazards of carbonised civilisation, and minimally ruinous to the already strained ecosystem.
Our continent can and should chart a third industrialisation pathway which saves our species, our civilisation and our planet. Except with each day that passes, the global environmental crisis deepens, fatally diminishing prospects and options for a third industrialisation pathway which we envisage. We are racing against time. COP27 must and should reflect this fast-closing window, which humanity must take full advantage of, or face its worst.
So, where are we as a species?
The positive side to the deepening environmental crisis is that we no longer have climate-disaster deniers. Or people and interests who contest the link between our broken climate and unsustainable human actions. Cumulative studies by the IPCC have now settled both matters, clearing the way for a concerted global response. This growing global consensus has translated into definitive steps we have made to date since the inaugural Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, and whose important outcome was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. Thereafter, we had the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which set targets on emission cuts for the developed world, themselves the greatest offenders. Even as the United States refused to sign this landmark protocol, the protocol still came into force in 2005, aiming for a fulfilment target of 2012.
Next, we had the Paris Agreement of December 2015 in which for the first time both developed and developing countries agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, through nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Zimbabwe developed her own targets, and we are well on the way to meeting these by 2030.
Today the United States has since come to the party by acceding to the Paris Agreement, thus committing itself to cutting down on its own vast emissions. All this progress notwithstanding, serious new threats are already upon us, so perilously close to COP27.
The current geopolitical landscape is fraught with tensions and conflict. There is war in Eastern Europe, making it harder to build global consensus on solutions to climate change bearing down on our planets .
Much worse, the broken global supply chains and the energy crises arising from war in Eastern Europe have made most nations, including biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, backtrack on earlier commitments for self-survival. The global cost of living crisis is re-ordering priorities at the expense of the precious ground humanity had made in the intervening period since 1992.
Tensions in the Far East pitting China against the USA — themselves two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases — are unlikely to encourage the cooperative spirit we saw last year during COP26 in Glasgow.
COP27 will have to navigate this delicate environment of open conflict and tensions. But there is a glimmer of hope. Practically all continents are grappling with climate-related disasters. It is becoming harder to discount the climate factor in the calculus of national, continental and collective security. This is likely to generate stronger impetus for global action and commitments, whatever the current level of tensions.
Second, the recent triumph of a pro-environment leadership in Brazil — itself home to largest tropical forest ecosystem on earth — is likely to be a big boost to the global quest for the protection of forests which are crucial for global remedial action.
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Already, the incoming Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, is co-ordinating moves to save three tropical rainforests housed in three critical nations of Brazil, Indonesia and our Democratic Republic of the Congo. This strategic alliance and initiative, dubbed “the OPEC for Rainforests”, will likely enlarge as more countries with rainforests like Columbia join and support this initiative.
What, then, is Zimbabwe and Africa’s agenda at COP27 in Egypt?
First, Zimbabwe must join the rest of Africa and many countries of the world which are on the receiving end of a broken climate to make COP27 Africa’s Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC. Our voice must be heard, as, too, should our demands and expectations. We must unite as a continent, and speak with one voice. In addition, we must act as a countermanding bloc of victims of climate change. We need to negotiate and vote in a block, through the Group of 77 plus China. Only that way are we likely to carry the day.
Second, we must press hard on the issue of Climate Justice, through which we demand global actions which address the inequities behind the climate crisis we now face as a result of reckless actions by a few. The biggest fossil fuel polluters are known; they must be held to account.
Equally, we, the innocent victims, are also known; we must be compensated and helped out of the ensuing climate quagmire whose consequences are getting more dire and unsparing by the day. The recently published sixth report of IPCC is on our side in that it acknowledges the costs of a broken climate. We must insist that offenders act on recommendations of this landmark report.
Third, we must emerge from COP27 with a binding formula on Climate Financing. In Copenhagen, at the 2009 COP, developed countries and their private sectors undertook to spend US$100 billion yearly in helping developing countries adapt to climate change, starting from 2020. All this funding meant for developing countries would come in the form of grants and concessional loans. Three years later from 2020, very little of this pledge has been realised. Much worse, much of the amounts disbursed have been directed at preferred middle-income countries, with poor and more deserving countries either getting little or nothing, even then in the form of more debts. We who are already sinned against, and are on the receiving end of climate change we did not cause, are being trapped into greater debt through a skewed and usurious climate financing formulae! This must be challenged at Sharma el-Sheikh.
Penultimately, Africa’s right to affordable industrialisation, which is premised on her own nationally-determined needs, and powered by her own resource endowments, must be recognised and defended.
Zimbabwe and Africa cannot be denied the right to industrialise merely because of the misdeeds of a handful of rich, developed countries of the North. Such an approach would foist a climate restoration model which entrenches global inequities which compounds the long and painful history we already lived as Europe’s colonies.
Industrialisation requires energy; the burden of ensuring that clean energy gets to us and the continent cheaply and through technologies which are compatible with the global transition to a green era must be an integral part of global climate justice.
Lastly, those of us who bear the brunt of keeping and conserving flora and fauna within our borders, which now play a part of global carbon sink, must be assisted in our conservation efforts, and in foregoing certain opportunities of development as a consequence. Those forests are habitats of many of our communities, peoples and fauna. The rights of our people and communities who are now expected to be custodians of what increasingly is becoming a global solution to the climate crisis caused by industrialised countries must be recognised. This argues for carbon markets through which the protected resource in any one jurisdiction is quantified and dollarised for compensation, as should the costs of keeping it by foregoing opportunities like commercial logging, mining and agriculture.
Africa’s COP27 must and should be a turning point for our country, our continent and for the rest of humanity. It must evolve solutions which are tempered with the pursuit of global equity and justice.
By President Emmerson Mnangagwa for the Sunday Mail