Climate change is challenge humanity will have to solve together. On this challenge, there is no race, tribe, ethnicity, religion, and any other classification. For us to proffer solutions to climate change, we need to be ‘ONE’. The good news is, Syria is now part of the party, awkwardly leaving out the big brother, United State of America. So what exactly is the ‘party’? What is Climate change which has warranted consensus effort from humanity? What is a nation’s INDC? Let us do a quick guide, before we get to the real discussion. (Kindly skip the next two paragraphs if you are acquainted with Climate Change and the COP).
To know climate change, it is necessary to understand the meaning of weather and climate. Weather is the short term state of the atmosphere at a specific time and place. These conditions include, temperature, humidity, wind, cloud cover, etc. It is indisputable that most of us observe more than one weather condition in a day. For instance, it could be cloudy in the morning and be sunny by afternoon and probably cloudy again in the evening. Climate on the other hand is the typical statistical average of weather over a long period of time in a specific place. This is why Lagos, Nigeria, has an average temperature of 29° Celsius, which is higher than the temperature of New York, USA with an average temperature of 4° Celsius.
Climate change, therefore, is the alteration of the average weather condition of a place. This change causes extreme distortions in the regular weather conditions of the Earth, which then leads to changes in annual rainfall, temperature, etc. A good question to ask is “Is this the first time Earth’s climate is changing?” – No. According to scientists, climate change is not new; the planet is thousands of years old and it has experienced warmer and cooler periods. This leads to an ensuing question “Why are we concerned about climate change now?” – The reason is that previous periods of climate change have been somewhat natural, caused by the Earth’s orbit, intense energy from the sun, or volcanic eruptions, etc. Scientists have called the present climate change, which started in the mid-1900s, as man-made.
Man’s need for energy over the ages has resulted in the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere, which absorbs them. These gases are known as the greenhouse gases (GHG), and they absorb heat energy emitted from the Earth’s surface and re-radiate it back to the Earth’s surface. This cycle restricts the Earth’s ability to lose all of its heat from the surface at night. The five most profound greenhouse gases in terms of prominence are: carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Surface-level ozone (O3), Nitrous oxides (N2O) and fluorinated (halocarbons), and Water vapour (H2o).
To tackle Climate Change, The United Nations established the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-UNFCCC). The COP is the supreme decision-making body of the convention. All states that are parties to the convention are represented at the COP, at which they review the implementation of the convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts. The COP reviews national communication and emission inventories submitted by parties. This helps to know if your country is genuinely contributing to saving the planet. The Intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) is a document drafted by countries that are parties to the COP-UNFCCC, wherein they describe their pledges to combating climate change. Literarily, it is your country’s promise card to humanity on climate change. An INDC must have, a reference point (indicating year from which emissions will be reduced), time frame, scope and coverage, methodological approach towards calculating emissions, and how its fits the objectives of the COP-UNFCCC. However, what countries sign up to would not be sufficient enough to limit global warming to below 2°C. Hence, non-state actors have a vital role to play.
How warm did you feel last year? Did you sometimes wish you could get into a cool room just to regulate your temperature? The State of Climate in 2016 report, by The American Meteorological Society (AMS), confirmed 2016 as the warmest year in 137 years of recordkeeping. There was an increase in, land and ocean temperatures, sea level, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere, and extreme weather conditions were at their peak. The agriculture sector is one of the most vulnerable to the extremes. For instance, extreme rainfall and the resulting flood washes away crops and grains, extreme drought and dry lands cannot be farmed upon. Consequently, soil pressure increases and water availability becomes a challenge. Warmer oceans are leading to loss of marine lives, and for those that survive; migration is the only alternative. The agricultural system is somewhat dependent on climate and yields are mostly determined by it. Agriculture is also a large producer of greenhouse gases. Cattles worldwide produce billions of Methane (CO2E) yearly. The vulnerability of agriculture to climate change may negatively affect food security, if climate-smart-agriculture is not practised. Climate-smart-agriculture is a skill which a lot of farmers do not have, hence it needs to be taught.
Some coastlines and river deltas in Africa are affected by rising sea levels. Coastal settlements are also prone to coastal erosion. The flooding which claimed lives in Sierra Leone recently is an indication of the danger and vulnerability of flood plain settlements. Increase in drought will adversely affect semi-arid and arid regions settlements. For urban dwellers, hydroelectric power generation could be reduced during droughts, meaning you may not have power, if your region is dependent on hydro. Have you noticed some new species of insects in your neighbourhood lately? If yes, you are probably experiencing migrations from their settlements into yours, perhaps due to temperature changes. This could result in more diseases vectors such as mosquitoes. It is not just insects’ migration that should concern you, human migration is also occurring. Well, if insects are smart enough to know when a habitat is no longer conducive for them and the need to migrate, humans are smarter. For example, pastoral farmers are more likely to undergo trans-boundary migrations. This is a key source of conflicts on the African continent. Imagine farmers who have lost some crops to floods and droughts, and later on cattle destroy their surviving crops; conflict is likely to occur between the pastoralists and the farmers. It is logical to conclude that, human settlements affect and is affected by climate change.
Like human settlements, transportation affects and is affected by climate change. Roads and railways are key mode of transportation in Africa. Climate change is likely to damage these infrastructures through higher temperatures, more severe storms and floods, and distortion to reliability and capacity of public transportation systems. Higher temperatures like what was reported for 2016 can cause pavement to contract and expand. This may result to ruts and potholes on roads. Similarly, rainstorms will disrupt air travel, especially as it becomes more difficult to predict. Runways are roads, thus susceptible to earlier discussed vulnerability of roads to extreme weather. Construction project time can also be affected by extreme weather conditions, heavy rainfalls (storms) will lead to postponement of works during rainfall periods. Thus, while African governments and non-state partners think towards infrastructural development, climatic factors must be incorporated to ensure that infrastructure serve their expected life span without an excess in cost of maintenance.
In all these, adaptation is key, as it is not business as usual. State actors should genuinely work to ensure their respective INDC are promptly implemented. Public and private authority is more intertwined in today’s international climate cooperation. Non-state actors such as NGOs and businesses are vital to addressing climate change. Hence, non-state actors have a role in tracking implementation, ensuring transparency, helping developing nations (State actors) with new initiatives, focusing more on adaptation, mobilizing finance, among others. Government targets and strategies should galvanize industries and businesses. These businesses and other non-state actors need to become more conscious of their vital role in tackling climate change. Humanity can progressively combat climate change, but it can only do it together.
Research Fellow — Policy Analyst