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Climate change is not a game: Zimbabwe needs a climate change law

By Michelle N Matsvaire, Byron Zamasiya and Rodrick Moyo

Climate change affects all aspects of the socio-economic landscape including food security, health and water supply. While climate change is a global problem, its effects are devastating mostly in developing countries in Southern Africa where the economies are facing multiple constrains and have low adaptive capacity. Zimbabwe, a developing country has set a to become a middle- income economy by 2030. This vision is hinged on sustained growth in the mining sector and an energy security anchored on fossilized fuels. The achievement of this vision cannot be thought of without taking into account the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from the associated economic activities. Plans are currently underway for the establishment of a 2,800 Mega Watt coal fired power plant at Sengwa Mine in Gokwe[1].This has seen the country coming under fire from various pro-climate change groups namely Community Based Organisations, Civil Society Organisations, with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association challenging the proposed project on the basis  whether or not due diligence which considers all aspects has been undertaken. There are also plans to upgrade the production capacity at Hwange[2]. One wonders whether Zimbabwe will be able to fulfill its climate change commitments to the UNFCCC. In this article, we analyse why Zimbabwe needs a climate change law. The pertinent issues for consideration are whether Zimbabwe has an adequate adaptation and/or mitigation strategy to deal with climate change and the contemporary realities associated with it. More importantly, now is the time for Zimbabwe to enact a climate change law.

Current legal position in Zimbabwe

The Government of Zimbabwe signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and over the years has made some efforts to domesticate this convention notwithstanding the absence of a specific law on climate change. The inclusion of environmental rights in the 2013 Constitution set the foundation for crafting laws addressing climate change. Citizens are rightfully exercising this right and the court has also ruled that what is important to highlight is that the Constitution gives every Zimbabwean the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations. It has also been argued that constitutional inclusion not only ensures protection at the highest level of the law, but also that it places environmental issues at the same level of concern as other human rights[3]. Currently, the main climate change legislation in Zimbabwe includes the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority Act [Chapter 13:23], the Environmental Management Act [Chapter 20:27], the Electricity Act [ Chapter 13:19] and the Forest Act [Chapter 19:05]. Several other policies are in place which include the National Environmental Policy and Strategies, the National Climate Change Response Strategy, Long -term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy (2020-2050), National Adaptation Plans, Climate Policy and the Zimbabwe National Energy Policy.

Highlight of existing best practices from the African context

The effects of climate change cannot be ignored with the memory of the disastrous Cyclone Idai which ravaged the lives of many in Zimbabwe. Even the incessant frequent droughts which continually pound on the country for example the  erratic rainfalls from the last season and climate shocks left more than 4.3 million people severely food insecure in rural areas of Zimbabwe, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, undertaken in February 2020.It is therefore imperative to learn what other African countries have done to ensure they work towards curbing the effects of climate change.

When a country ratifies a convention (in this context the UNFCCC), it shows that the country is committed to laying down the necessary framework to achieve the common goal outlined in the convention. Kenya is a leading example, a country which enacted its climate change law in 2016. What is significant to note is that Kenya is making deliberate efforts in ensuring that climate change issues are handled in a systematic manner through its National Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2022. The Kenyan Climate Change Act is applicable to all sectors of the Kenyan economy and warrants mainstreaming of climate change issues in development planning, implementation and decision making. From a legal lens, the deliberate proviso of obligations and duties of statutory bodies ensures that there is no ambiguity of functions or a perfunctory approach in implementing climate change measures. It rather imposes a positive obligation on the duty bearer and ensures an enforcement of rights in a court of law as this law is binding upon all persons and all levels of government. In addition, Article 5 of the Kenyan Climate Change Act is alive to the fact that a law must serve its people. Further, the act provides that the Cabinet of Secretary when formulating the national action plan shall be informed by indigenous knowledge related to climate change adaptation and mitigation whilst also cognisant of international law and policy relating to climate change. Criminal sanction is also placed upon individuals who fail to comply with instructions of the Kenyan National Environmental Management Authority.

A specific climate change law is a priority for Zimbabwe

It has been noted that the ‘SADC region will likely in future and under climate change, continue to experience warmer temperatures as a result of which will pose greater challenges for agriculture, water, health and other key socio-economic sectors’.[4] It therefore cannot be overemphasized that climate change will lead to even greater social vulnerabilities especially for developing economies such as Zimbabwe. As such government must play a critical role in safeguarding the environment and associated rights. What is critical in Zimbabwe is the enactment of a climate change law sooner rather than later. This will enable the country to move forward with an integrated and coordinated response to climate change. In addition, this will rid the understandable confusion that may arise over the applicable law. Climate change discourse must permeate all levels of government in order to receive the priority it deserves. Public debate and public participation are necessary in all facets including environmental issues.

Going forward

ZELA posits the following recommendations:

  • An adequate climate change legislative framework is central to the effective mitigation of the effects of climate change;
  • Zimbabwe must build on lessons learnt from other countries that have developed comprehensive legislative framework in order to create a hybrid structure that satisfactorily addresses the needs for Zimbabwe;
  • There is a real risk that if there is no climate change legislation in place, Zimbabwe may not be able to deal with the detrimental consequences of climate change. A cavalier attitude towards climate change issues must now change and Government must make concrete steps in this regard.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-28/riozim-seals-3-billion-zimbabwe-coal-plant-deal-with-china

[2] http://www.zpc.co.zw/projects/2/hwange-7-8-expansion-project

[3] Murombo, T (2011) The utility of environmental rights to sustainable development in Zimbabwe: A contribution to the constitutional reform debate, 11 African Human Rights Law Journal pg. 125

[4] D. Lesolle, SADC Policy paper on climate change: Assessing the policy options for SADC member states, SADC research and policy paper series 01/2012. Available at https://www.sadc.int/files/9113/6724/7724/SADC_Policy_Paper_Climate_Change_EN_1.pdf

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