Concepts and Insights on Climate Change
By Prof. Tumai Murombo
Climate change is one of the most urgent global environmental challenges facing humanity. It is not the only environmental or non-environmental challenge, yet the prospect of its devastating impacts and its potential to change the biophysical and man-made environments is unfathomable. Other global challenges include poverty, insecurity, and inequality – evinced by the persistence of socio-economic stratification: the ‘haves’ continue to aggrandise more wealth while the ‘have-nots’ continue their descent into poverty and want. Human security and the resurgence of nationalism are further threats to global human well-being and peace. In the context of Zimbabwe, especially the past nineteen years, it may sound elitist to be writing of, and about climate change mitigation, adaptation and action when the country could be focusing on economic recovery and dealing with social inequality. However, a realisation that the country’s economy is driven by resource extraction and resource dependent economic activities makes one understand the urgency of climate change. It is inevitable that Zimbabwe, among other low to middle income countries, will face greater impacts from climate change.
The scientific evidence that has accumulated over decades of studies, monitoring and reporting demonstrates that human induced emissions of greenhouse gases is contributing proportionately the highest to global warming and its aftermath, climate change. It has also been overwhelmingly proven that the single largest source of these gases is the energy industry and the unrelenting reliance on fossil fuels and certain agricultural methods. Therefore, concrete action in the energy industry – how we produce and consume energy – will have a material impact on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the energy industry, other sectors also contribute to climate change and across these sectors international studies have distilled the key challenges for Africa.
Key Challenges for Africa and the International Regime
Climate change is not only an environmental problem but a larger challenge transcending disciplinary boundaries and frontiers of knowledge. In a review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) identified key lessons for Africa from the AR5. These are that:
- Africa’s climate is already changing, and the impacts are already being felt.
- Further climate change is inevitable in the coming decades.
- Climate change poses challenges to growth and development in Africa.
- Adaptation will bring immediate benefits and reduce the impacts of climate change in Africa
- Adaptation is fundamentally about risk management.
- Adaptation experience in Africa is growing.
- Some low-carbon development options may be less costly in the long run and could offer new economic opportunities for Africa.
- Africa stands to benefit from integrated climate adaptation, mitigation and development approaches.
- International co-operation is vital to avert dangerous climate change and African governments can promote ambitious global action.
Among other impacts, economic growth is seen slowing down by over 30% for South Africa and Zimbabwe. These key lessons for Africa and the forecasted impacts on Zimbabwe demonstrate the need for more research, development and policy formulation to implement concrete steps towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. These steps must be driven and informed by the internationally established climate change regime. At the international level, the original climate change convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), set the tone and provided the foundational principles of law and policy that should inform action on climate change. One of the fundamental principles anchoring the convention is seeking to ensure that the capability of each state party is taken into account in assuming obligations. The Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) was instrumental in enabling agreement and consensus on the UNFCCC as developing countries assumed less onerous obligations than developed state parties. Key provisions were inserted into the treaty to enable developing states to implement their obligations. The provisions of financial assistance and transfer of relevant technologies are central to any steps that developing countries may take to mitigate or adapt to climate change.
Nevertheless, the prognosis of the international climate change regime has seen a gradual shift from a strong north-south divide to a more unified approach which recognises that climate change is a global concern which every state should deal with regardless of its development status. From the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP) proceedings to the Paris COP, states have realised that bottom-up driven targets and proposals carry better prospects of effectiveness than imposed targets and goals. To some,these shifts from strict legal targets to flexible politico-legal undertakings represents an ‘erosion’ of the CBDR-RC principle, while to others it could very well indicate a maturity of the principle.The latter is more apposite as under the Paris Agreement states, based on their own capabilities, can determine individually what they are prepared to do to mitigate and adapt to climate change. While this could very well release developed countries from more stringent obligations, we should not forget that the clauses on funding and technology transfer in the UNFCCC remain binding treaty provisions. Hence, many Individual National Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted since 2015 retain as condition precedents the expectation by developing countries that developed countries will provide funding mechanisms and enable technology transfer.
Another development since the UNFCCC and subsequent protocols, is the increasing realisation by developing countries and small island states that adaptation is more urgent than mitigation. This is premised on the intertwinement of economic development and adaptation – the argument that development is the best adaptation strategy.Therefore, many developing countries have directed their energies at developing legal and policy frameworks and strategies to enable adaptation to the impacts of climate change rather than taking mitigating measures. This is largely because adaptation includes steps that may not be contingent on funding and technology transfer as many of the mitigation measures do. To this end, Zimbabwe’s climate change policy, and any legal instruments, show a prioritisation of adaptation whilst recognising the need for mitigation.
This edited volume is a culmination of several engagement among stakeholders, policy-makers, and academics on the state of knowledge and research on climate change in Zimbabwe. While international concepts, principles and methodologies of addressing climate change appear settled, national level dialogue and insights are necessary to align international concepts and principles to lived social, economic and cultural realities. It is one thing to assume treaty obligations and an entirely separate process to transpose treaty provisions into domestic policy and law that can function to achieve concrete results.
Central Hypotheses of the Volume
Our central hypothesis is that Zimbabwe must treat climate change as an urgent challenge that calls for immediate action in terms of creating an enabling legal framework and policy environment. Certain assumptions underpin this hypothesis. In particular the authors are reminded of the urgency of the climate change problem by recent extreme weather events such as Cyclone Idai and perennial debilitating droughts that have handicapped agricultural production.
This book was conceptualised on the assumption that law, governance and other regulatory constructs and social institutions that mediate the human/environment interface can, and should, play a central role in achieving climate mitigation, adaptation and the transition towards a low carbon developed economy. Secondly, we assumed that the pace of international climate change discussions and scientific evidence on the significant impacts of climate change is far ahead of what Zimbabwe is doing at national level to address climate change. This, in turn, has compromised the country’s capacity to sustainably meet its national developmental goals and global competitiveness. Granted that there are also other national and internationally motivated geopolitical developments in the last decades that have disabled the country’s economy.
Zimbabwe must undertake a range of regulatory initiatives towards a climate resilient and low carbon economy, without compromising social and economic capabilities of its citizens. As such, there is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive, systematic and (increasingly) multi- and trans-disciplinary understanding of the legal and extra-legal issues on climate change – the facts, science, law and policy.Read more here