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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Combatting climate change and promoting sustainable development through greening the economy

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By Lamin Momodou Manneh
Innovative development programmes consultant

The Year 2022 has come and gone almost like the twinkling of an eye, as the saying goes. Like any other year, it too will be remembered for a number of specific, and in some cases, very dramatic things that occurred in the course of it. For instance, 2022 will obviously be remembered as the year that saw the rather unprovoked and shocking massive invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has shaken people and political establishments across the world. But another set of prominent occurrences for which 2022 will also be remembered could be characterized by what many scientists described as “extreme-climate related events”. These include record breaking high temperatures, violent hurricanes and tornadoes, extensive floods, landslides and accelerated coastal erosions, vicious wild fires, severe droughts as well as continued deforestation on unprecedented scales in many parts of the world.

All of these extreme events have had very adverse impacts on infrastructures and economies of the affected countries and sapped human health and morale as well as their precious development resources. Virtually every household throughout the world either became instant witnesses of these dramatic climate related events from their sitting rooms as they were projected live by all the major international and local TV Networks or were direct victims of huge storms that blew away roof tops over them or fast – moving floods rushing through their houses and sweeping away their precious household possessions.

Some of the cases in point regarding locations of these climate-related incidents in 2022  include the following: very deadly landslides in Freetown and surrounding areas in Sierra Leone; flooding of almost one-third of Pakistan’s total land surface; vicious wildfires and landslides in some areas in California, USA and severe droughts in other parts of that State; destructive storms and hurricanes in Florida and the Caribbean; wild monsoons in the Pacific Islands, South-East Asia and Mozambique; unprecedented  droughts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions; and heat waves in most parts of the world, notably the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia but also in many parts of West Africa. Scientists reported that the warm weather experienced in Greenland had been the worst in 1000 years, which does not augur well for the melting of ice in the Arctic Region and rising sea levels, with all their adverse implications for low lying cities and island countries. We in the Gambia experienced our hottest temperatures in over 40 years during the Summer of 2022 and suffered from extensive and destructive floods and storms during the last rainy season. The country is also prone to serious coastal erosion and our capital, Banjul, has been identified among cities in the world that are at high risk of sinking.as a result of rising sea levels.

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There is broad agreement by now that these extreme climate-related events are due to the phenomena of global warming and climate change. Already in this early part of 2023, there are worrying signs that these phenomena continue to intensify. For instance, eight European countries have reported that they are experiencing temperatures that are 10 degrees Centigrade above the normal levels for January. Consequently, many European ski resorts are closed due to lack of snow. Record high temperatures are also being experienced in the US, Africa and Asian countries and climate induced natural disasters such as furious floods, storms and landslides are causing havoc to their critical infrastructure, dwellings and personal properties. Among other things, scientists estimate that 50% of the world’s total population experienced severe floods over the past year or two. Owing to the increasingly evident adverse impact of climate change on our planet, people’s livelihoods, infrastructure and health, the phenomena of climate change and global warming should be of high interest to all of us. A good starting point for this is fuller comprehension of these phenomena, their complexities and potentially huge adverse implications for planet earth and humankind as well as possible effective and efficient responses to them through both prevention, mitigation and adaptation.

In this article, we shall endeavor to present the key aspects of global warming and climate change, their effects and potentially effective measures for combatting them. But in the light of the vastness of this subject matter, we will focus only on one of the most important responses, which is greening economic growth and development, with special reference to Rwanda’s case, that is one of the most practical and successful in the Africa region so far.

Global warming, climate change and their implications for mankind: A layman’s synopsis

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Let’s start by posing the questions: What are Global Warming and Climate Change? What is the difference between them? I believe that a useful starting point for comprehending global warming and climate change and their implications is explanation of the notion of climate systems. It should be acknowledged from the outset that these are very complicated topics both technically and the sheer scope of areas they cover. In this regard, we will turn to Dr. D. Michael Shaffer, a foremost climate change researcher and practitioner, who notes that “the global climate is the connected system of sun, earth, oceans, wind, rain and snow, forests, deserts and savannas. The climate of a particular place can be described as its rainfall, dry spells, wind speeds and changing temperatures during the year. But the global climate is more than the “average” of the climates of specific places. A description of the global climate includes how, for example, the rising temperatures of the Pacific feeds typhoons which blow harder, drop more rain and cause more damage, but also shifts of global ocean currents that melt Antarctica ice, which slowly makes sea levels rise until cities like New York, (Banjul or an Island country like Maldives) could be under water.

It is this systemic connectedness that makes global climate change so important and so complicated”. (Dr D. Michael Shaffer). Therefore, no country can be a complete island by itself as far as climate systems are concerned. Occasionally, sand storms from the Sahara blow across the Atlantic Ocean and completely blanket out the skies over the Caribbean and southern United States or across the Mediterranean to Southern European countries, impacting on their climate systems during such periods. Thus, given that the Earth is an interconnected system, where everything is connected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others.

The United Nations defines Climate Change as the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat, instead of radiating it into outer space, and raising temperatures. Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane”. Others are Nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas), Fluorinated gases used as refrigerants and freezers, that are extremely warming, Sulphur hexafluoride, used for insulation in high voltage applications. The United Nations further points out that “the Green House Gases come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building or the burning of jet fuel in huge quantities by aeroplanes, for example. Clearing land and forests can also release significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Landfills for garbage are a major sources of methane emissions. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are also among the major emitters of Green House Gases.

Global warming refers to the above processes that trigger higher temperatures and other weather variabilities on Earth. Climate change on the other hand, encompasses these increased temperature trends (described by global warming) but also include changes they spur such as sea-level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and other extreme weather events, such as severe droughts, storms and serious floods.

In terms of global and national responses to global warming and climate change underway currently, it is worth noting that there had been a prolong process, first to reach a meaningful consensus that climate change actually exists as a worrying phenomenon that should be seriously addressed, and then to determine the most effective and efficient processes in that regard. It is reported in the literature that although Scientists began to focus their research in an explicit manner on the phenomena of global warming and climate change way back in the 1960s, it was only in the early 1990s when a global framework for coordinating research and actions on them through the United Nations was concretely conceived and its actual establishment initiated. This institutional framework was named as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and it entered into force on March 21, 1994. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention and its decision – making body is named as the Conference of Parties (COP).  A key function of the COP is to review and assess the “emissions inventories” submitted by the member countries. Based on this review. The COP determines the effects of the measures collectively agreed and taken by the member states towards containing and/or reducing the Green House Gas emissions. The first COP meeting took place in 1995 and the most recent one, COP27, was held in Cairo, Egypt, in December 2022.

Most assessments of the outcomes of the Cairo COP 27 have indicated mixed results. One of the prominent outcomes of COP 27 was the agreement reached among the Parties for there to be some compensation for “loss and damage” suffered by developing countries, which had been a bone of contention at many preceding COPs. The issue of “loss and damage” is of high importance to developing countries, particularly those in Africa, because as noted by the United Nations, “the emissions that cause climate change come from every part of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce much more than others. The 100 least-emitting countries generate only 3 per cent of total emissions. The 10 countries with the largest emissions contribute 68 per cent. Everyone must take climate action, but people and countries creating more of the problem have a greater responsibility to act first”. This provides the rationale for the demand by developing countries, which by all measures, are low emitters of Green House Gases, for compensation for their “loss and damage”. It is also useful to recall at this point that ground breaking decisions were taken at the 2015 Paris COP 21, and one of them was to strive to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Centigrade. Another one was agreement on Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs), which encapsulate commitments by all the member countries to take the necessary measures to reduce their emissions of Green House Gases as well as take other critical actions for combating global warming and climate change.

In terms of specific measures for containing global warming and attaining climate change solutions, it is comforting that many of them have the potential to deliver economic benefits while improving the lives of people and protecting the environment, which are key elements of sustainable development.. Three broad categories of actions have been identified as follows: cutting emissions, adapting to climate change impacts and financing the required adjustments.

Switching energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables like solar or wind will reduce the emissions driving global warming and climate change.

Adapting to climate change consequences protects people, homes, businesses, livelihoods, infrastructure and natural ecosystems. It covers current impacts and those likely in the future. Adaptation will be required everywhere, but must be prioritized now for the most vulnerable people with the fewest resources to cope with climate hazards. The rate of return can be high. Early warning systems for disasters, for instance, save lives and property, and can deliver benefits up to 10 times the initial cost. (United Nations).

“Climate action requires significant financial investments by governments and businesses. But climate inaction is vastly more expensive. One critical step is for industrialized countries to fulfil their commitments to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries so they can adapt and move towards greener economies”. (UN) It is noteworthy that the financing commitment made by the developed countries at the Cairo COP 27 for “loss and damage” was only a tiny fraction of that amount.

Greening economic growth and development, with special reference to Rwanda’s practical green growth strategy

What is greening economies and what does it entail? The United Nations Environment Programme defines green growth and development strategies as those that “promote expansion of employment and growth of incomes of the majority of the people through directing public and private investments into such economic activities, infrastructure development and assets that allow reduced carbon emissions and pollution, enhanced energy and resource efficiency, and prevention of loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services”. As noted above, greening the growth of economies could be highly challenging but could also be hugely beneficial for poverty reduction, tackling inequalities, protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development. A comprehensive and deliberate approach to greening the economies could also enable African countries to introduce much-needed innovations, support a significant number of start-ups and tap into the new and emerging technologies such as ICT, solar and wind energies, electric vehicles and other opportunities for renewable and clean energy.

A key challenge that is encountered in promoting green growth and development arises from switching from fossil fuels (gasoline, coal and gas, for instance) to clean and renewable sources of energy. But these challenges are not insurmountable. An illustration of this is the fact that many African countries are already making significant progress in greening their entire economies. One country that stands out among them is Rwanda and a brief presentation of its experience so far in this area underscores the point that it could be done with strong leadership and mobilization of the population behind the greening initiatives, underpinned by well-conceived holistic approaches and sound institutional arrangements.

In responding to the development paradigm shift to the imperatives of combatting climate change and promoting more sustainable approaches to transformation and development, the Government of Rwanda put in place in 2011 the national Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy. The strategy provides the framework for transforming along greening lines sectoral economic activities under its 14 programmes of action which cover both climate change mitigation through low carbon development and climate change adaptation, which paves the way for climate compatible economic growth and development of the nation through synergies among them. The strategy has been developed within the context of a long-term vision for Rwanda to be a developed climate-resilient and low-carbon economy by 2050.

The 14 programmes of action include diversifying energy sources with low carbon energy grid and promoting green technology and resource efficient industries throughout all production levels from the primary stages such as agricultural production and mining to manufacturing industries and tertiary activities as well as transport and urban development. The programmes also aim to promote sustainable land and natural resources use, food security, preservation of biodiversity, social protection, improved health and disaster risk reduction which reduces vulnerability to climate change.

Rwanda also pursued comprehensive but concrete downstream activities, notably the establishment of green villages and cities of medium size. Impactful programmes for restoration of the country’s biodiversity and reforestation were put in place and their implementation placed on accelerated trajectories. In order to ensure that funding constraints do not become serious binding constraints on the implementation of the green growth and development strategy, Rwanda established a Green Growth Fund, which rapidly grew from US$10 million to several hundreds of millions within a relatively short period of time. As we write this article, the Fund continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Since this process of placing Rwanda’s entire economy on a green growth trajectory requires the active participation of the entire population, the institutional arrangements for effective coordination and capacity building, knowledge management and mobilization of all the actors were recognized from the outset as of utmost importance for its success. Furthermore, to realize synergies and requisite impact, integrated planning and data management by each sector as well as mechanisms for translating the strategy into other national mid-term strategies and priority interventions were also recognized right at the outset as of critical importance.

Regarding the situation in the Gambia, we have noted above that it has been increasingly experiencing the adverse effects of global warming and climate change over the past decades, from severe droughts, damaging coastal erosion, recurring heatwaves, deforestation, salt water intrusion in the main waterways, notably River Gambia, to recurring storms and damaging floodings. It is, therefore, encouraging that the Government has put in place a Long-term Climate Neutral Development Strategy 2050, whose implementation is being actively pursued presently. It is also notable that the Gambia has been identified by the international stakeholders in climate action as among the few countries globally that are presently on track to meeting their nationally determined commitments (NDCs) agreed under the Paris COP 21 Agreement. Notwithstanding all this, much remains to be done in the Gambia towards meeting its mitigation and adaptation to climate change goals. All this will be examined in detail in a subsequent article.

The author was Director of UNDP’s Regional Support Hub for Africa and UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative

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