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OPINION: What can Mozambique show us about making development choices in a changing climate?


Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive of CDKN, asks what Mozambique can show us about making development choices in a changing climate.  This article first appeared on Alertnet.

The planes from Johannesburg to Mozambique’s airports of Maputo, Tete and Pemba are full of business people these days. My neighbours on the flight from South Africa last week were not heading to Mozambique’s beautiful resorts but there to take up the opportunities from the oil, gas and coal revolution that is transforming parts of the country and potentially the entire economy.  As well as oil and mineral firms, associated service industries from supermarkets to telecoms are all part of this energy bonanza. In March, the global energy group CWC hosted its first Mozambique Gas Summit. The gathering brought together more than 550 attendees from over 300 companies, and 55 countries in Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia and the Americas.  Mozambique is not alone in its mineral boom; oil and gas has been discovered in recent years in numerous African countries, including Angola, Namibia, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.

Mozambique has reason to celebrate its new mineral wealth: it provides an opportunity to transform the economy and livelihoods of ordinary Mozambicans. The country’s brutal civil war ended in the 1990s but despite being a donor aid ‘darling’ it remains ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world (185 out of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index, 2013).

Economic growth would support the much-needed public health, education, roads and other public services that ordinary Mozambicans need. It is also likely to stress the country’s social, economic and political institutions, particularly if the growth is uneven. As one local colleague told me, “we don’t have the capacity to keep up with the change.” Besides issues of governance, use of resources, impacts on equity and the natural environment, there is a question of what the energy bonanza means for Mozambique’s climate policy. The urgent development needs of Mozambique’s poor and the high-carbon profile of the country’s natural resources raise some tough questions about how ‘climate compatible’ Mozambique’s development path could be.

Energy extraction and use cannot be disassociated from climate change, as we were reminded of this week when global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in 3-5 million years.  Mozambique is on the front line of climate change: its 3,000 km coastline and five major river basins expose the country to flooding and weather extremes. In 2000, flooding killed 800 people and displaced half a million, which led the government to start mainstreaming disaster risk management into development planning. Mozambique has prepared a National Climate Change Policy focused around adaptation and disaster management and is now one of Africa’s most advanced countries in this regard.

Even this determined response has not been enough to prepare for every emergency: this February, severe floods in the Limpopo Basin displaced 150,000 people and caused over 100 deaths.   The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2012) has shown that climate change is likely to increase the severity and frequency of extreme weather events as well as sea level rise. Mozambicans are particularly vulnerable to climate shocks because of high poverty: they lack the resilience to bounce back after extreme events. Mozambique’s ongoing work to build its climate resilience is essential. Leaders thus face a question: how can Mozambique steer a course that embraces immediate needs for economic growth and the prospect of real poverty reduction – including energy access for all its citizens –  but also contribute to a climate-resilient, low carbon future? There are no easy answers, but there are a few places to start.

At national level, a whole-of-government approach is needed, where energy security, economic development and climate resilience need to be considered in a joined-up way. Mozambique’s climate-energy dilemma also calls for several forms of support from international partners: donors, businesses and others.

First, the international community owes Mozambique –  and least developed countries like it – an ambitious, equitable global climate deal in 2015 that recognises its low greenhouse gas emissions and its need to develop and pull its citizens out of poverty. Second, the country’s international partners owe Mozambique the opportunity to leap-frog old, polluting technologies and access the cleanest, greenest industrial technologies available to drive economic growth (for example, developing renewable energy options for Mozambique’s dispersed population). Third, they need to work with Mozambique to tap into international climate finance – beyond traditional aid budgets – to fund climate-resilient and low-emissions trajectories.

Fourth, there is an emerging evidence base on countries’ practical experiences in climate compatible development including those policies, programmes and strategies that deliver low carbon, development benefits without undermining climate resilience and economic growth. Mozambican leaders could do worse than to learn from others’ experience, and foster an open, national debate about the options for a sustainable and equitable development path.

Photo courtesy of Flickr – CDKNetwork

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