• Opinion
  • August 15, 2019
  • 9 minutes
  • 0

How Africa can win the climate change challenge

Opinion: Building resilient communities is a matter of life and death

This opinion article was written by Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of the African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA). For more like this, see our environmental policy newsfeed.  


The Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 13, provide key guidelines on tackling and adapting to the climate crisis.

It took activists and proponents of climate action time and effort to convince the global community during the SDG negotiations to accept climate change as a stand-alone goal.

For more than 20 years of negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the subject remained in the domain of science and environment, despite the fact that climate change has far-reaching effects on livelihoods and economies worldwide.

The situation has, however, changed over the past few years, and climate change is now a crosscutting concern, fundamentally shaping global economics and political discourses.

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Looking at climate action through justice lenses strengthens the voices of those affected, thus focusing much more on resilience building, accruing the win-win balance between the planet’s health and safety of humanity, particularly in Africa, the continent the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cites as the “most vulnerable”.

From the climate justice perspective, turning challenges into opportunities that come with the climate action has seen fairly good returns, with frontline communities resorting to agroecology, which has led to the adoption of transformative, environment-enriching farming methods and techniques.

There is an opportunity for trainers, dealers in seeds, those with leasable farm equipment, labourers, transporters of produce and governments that worry about food security, to mention a few.

No tourists in conflict zones

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) has implemented a project that focuses on capacity building of forest-dependent indigenous communities.

The communities are actively involved in forest preservation and conservation, which not only enrich environments but is also an opportunity to boost the economy and trade of goods other than timber, as well as services. The non-timber benefits include ecotourism, honey, gum, nuts, wild fruits, medicinal plants, foliage, peat, fresh air and aesthetic value, all of which can provide an opportunity for business by individuals, firms and governments.

There is a growing awareness of the link between these conflicts and climate change

So while communities are saving the forests, they earn a lot in return — opportunities that would otherwise not be available.

In some regions and countries, we Africans still suffer from a lack of security and legal protection. In some places, banditry, cross-border raids and cattle rustling are normal.

Such areas typically share similar features: they are mostly arid or semi-arid. The clashes between clans or communities are mostly triggered by fights over access to watering points, especially for pastoralist communities. In my country Kenya, for instance, areas in the Rift Valley, particularly Turkana, Baringo and West Pokot counties, are synonymous with inter-community clashes and cattle raids.

Such clashes have rendered education, agriculture, peace and many other desirable aspects of life a mirage. Children do not advance in life because they do not go to school, and hence have few other options to becoming bandits or marrying such. This has hampered development and economic growth in these areas, and despite the fact that the areas have beautiful features that would boost tourism, insecurity reigns.

Climate and conflict go hand in hand

There is a growing awareness of the link between these conflicts and climate change. The UN and African Union (AU) have hosted several conversations at the Peace and Security Council to discuss and develop the nexus between climate and security.

There is an opportunity in advancing mitigation of and adaptation to the climate crisis

As these discussions evolve among much divided global diplomatic circles, it is crucial that leaders and policymakers are advised to think of early action instead of being reactive. Climate-drought early warning technologies exist, but governments are still reluctant to make use of them, partly because of inefficiency on the part of the relevant departments and lack of frameworks to enable policy enactment and capacity building to move from conventional methods.

Building resilience of such communities would, therefore, be the initial coping strategy. PACJA has done this through training of farmers to prefer agroforestry to conventional farming. Communities have also been taught about drought-resistant crops and helped to get them. Others are beekeeping in Ethiopia, forests conservation in several parts of the continent, including the Central Africa Republic, to mention a few. Some of the beneficiaries of our capacity building programme, especially those in Togo, are now planting trees on a large scale.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), the flagship institution to support climate action, provides an opportunity for developing countries to access financing for low carbon climate-resilient development through the provision of a diverse portfolio of financing options.

The total approval of GCF stands at $5 billion, with $12.6 billion of co-financing mobilised. Based on an estimation of accredited entities, the projects could reduce 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases and impact 276 million beneficiaries directly and indirectly.

Several financial instruments are utilised under the portfolio as authorised by the Governing Instrument, with the largest portion being financed by loans and grants (44% each), followed by equity (8%), results-based payment (2%) and guarantee (2%). The problem is not a lack of money or technology, but rather making sure the money is invested where the need is greatest.

From need comes opportunities

There are many other tailor-made funds to respond to diverse groups worldwide. There is an opportunity in advancing mitigation of and adaptation to the climate crisis.

A clean energy revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, is necessary to win the fight against energy poverty. Climate action provides an opportunity to advocate for energy access and clean energy, while also providing a golden opportunity to deliver on the promise of AU’s Agenda 2063, the SDG’s in UN’s Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement.

Climate action can unlock sustainable economic growth, improve human health and well-being and enable women and children to lead more productive lives. Beyond direct economic and social benefits, clean energy access will raise human security and build resilience in states and communities to help limit the risk of large-scale migration across the African continent, which has seen hundreds of thousands risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea, escaping unbearable climate catastrophe.

Governments can be actively involved in the success of climate action by taking advantage of opportunities arising from responses. It is a win-win situation — but only if governments act now.— Mithika Mwenda

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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