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NEWS: Our land is complaining


Discussions about climate change among developed world practitioners can seem far removed from the reality being felt on the ground by Africans, as CDKN’s Director of Policy and Programmes Ari Huhtala finds out in Ethiopia

Debates on climate change held in the global arena often discuss themes of emission gaps and caps, meteorological modelling systems and common-but-differentiated responsibilities. However, events in Africa present a different reality. Here key topics are: the loss of predictability in applying traditional knowledge; the vulnerability of small farmers and threats to food security; and strengthening the weak voice in international negotiations. They reflect the fact that, of all the continents, Africa is the most affected by climate change.

Farmers in Africa confirm this impact and understand what is happening to them. They need food on the table and support to deal with land degradation; the intricacies of climate diplomacy in the United Nation’s corridors do not seem to touch their lives. Speaking this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Secretary General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), Mithika Mwenda, highlighted this disparity: “We need to combat climate change collectively and think beyond science and environment. We need to bridge the distance between those who take decisions and those who consume them.”

Mr Mwenda was giving the opening address at the workshop Shaping an equitable climate agreement responsive to Africa, organised by the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, the World Resources Institute and PACJA, with sponsorship from CDKN. The workshop immediately preceded the Third Annual Conference on Climate Change and Development for Africa. Its aim was to provide inputs to messages that Africa will take to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 19th Conference of the Parties, being held in Warsaw in November.

Elder and climate justice champion, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was among the attendees, as was fellow climate justice champion, Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana. Ms Robinson characterised African farmers as “barometers and first detectors of climate change,” and called for “a new narrative for UNFCCC and post-2015 Millennium Development Goals.” “I am a prisoner of hope,” she added, as she made reference to the Declaration on Climate Justice, which calls on world leaders to take bold action on climate change and create a future that is fair for all.

Clear evidence emerged at the workshop of how climate change is affecting Africa’s farmers and fishers. Three farmers, among them a nun, were leading a project to rehabilitate degraded land on two private land holdings and a monastery. “Droughts are more frequent, erosion is breaking up communities due to unusual rainfalls; our land is complaining,” they told the participants. Although they were taking their own action, they needed support from the international community to educate villagers about the links between planting trees and replenishing water supplies. Another speaker, representing the fishers around Lake Chad, said climate change was provoking an increasing number of social and economic conflicts between fishers and pastoralists.

The workshop agreed that climate change has affected women disproportionately. “We have the same sky but different impact on the ground,” said Annabelle Waititu from the Institute of Environment and Water Management in Kenya. “Women are agents of change. We should consolidate their vast experience and knowledge, and support women’s leadership in natural resources management through, for instance, better access to credit by allowing land ownership.”

Among the main conclusions to be drawn from the discussions was the idea that climate change assistance should focus on inclusive development. In other words, the goals and metrics for equity in climate change negotiations should be linked with those of the Millennium Development Goals and post-2015 Development Agenda. It was also critical that developing countries ‘owned’ any development process, and could access breakthrough technologies to help them leapfrog to low-carbon development paths and embrace the concept of sustainable energy for all.

When it comes to promoting change, participants felt facilitation worked better than sanctions in international regimes, so funding capacity-building measures and incremental investments paid off. They also believed that metrics and indicators were powerful tools that could be used to make comparisons and monitor commitments, even if these were not compulsory and universal. Ultimately, what you can measure, you can manage.

The day of very dynamic discussions confirmed that many climate negotiators, civil society activists, researchers and government agencies in Africa are motivated, articulate and looking for an opportunity to write history for their most vulnerable groups. Their final message for the negotiators in Warsaw and beyond was that, while the UNFCCC processes grind at a slow pace, alternative parallel processes were vital to kick-start action and influence negotiations through evidence-based learning. In other words, others could sit and talk, but Africa’s farmers and fishers were ready for action.

The key conclusions and recommendations will be available soon on the organisers’ websites (see http://www.mrfcj.org/)

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