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Climate change

What does the new UN Climate Report mean for climate-justice in Africa?

African countries on the frontline of the climate crisis are struggling to adapt to increasingly unstable and unpredictable weather events as they shoulder the burden of many decades of pollution by industrialised nations. The newly published IPCC report is another stark reminder of the urgent need for a global climate response strategy to protect the world’s most vulnerable.

Lene Nanthabwe's community in Machinga, Malawi have been provided with ten treadle pumps which are irrigating five hectares of land for forty four households. Photo: Alan Whelan/Trócaire. Lene Nanthabwe's community in Machinga, Malawi have been provided with ten treadle pumps which are irrigating five hectares of land for forty four households. Photo: Alan Whelan/Trócaire.

The report identifies human-induced climate change as the major source of extreme weather conditions and with every small increase in global warming the crisis is worsening. Developing countries are already being subjected to more frequent and severe droughts, storms, flooding and typhoons as they shoulder the burden of many decades of pollution by industrialised nations. 22.5 million people have been displaced annually by sudden climate and weather-related disasters in the last decade and the number of climate refugees in Africa is rapidly rising. The report states that ‘some recent hot extremes observed over the past decade would have been extremely unlikely to occur without human influence on the climate system’.

There is a pressing demand for international support to help developing countries not only reduce their own emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, but to also allow them to adapt to these challenging climate conditions. A rapid and radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is essential to achieving global climate targets. Much of the climate damage induced by human activity is irreversible and global warming of between 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during this century unless significant reductions in emissions are imminent.

Equally as important is the provision of adequate finance to those countries on the frontline of the climate crisis and already experiencing the worst effects of a changing climate. The report contains many stark truths about the impact of human activity on the worsening climate crisis. The report says it is certain that hot weather extremes have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s. We have caused widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere and the impact of this on the ground is already stark in the countries in which Trócaire works.

In Malawi, a small country in southern Africa, already, temperatures are increasing and changing rain patterns are damaging growth in agriculture, in turn directly impacting food supply. Women and girls, the majority of whom work on smallholder farms, are even more affected. As only 2% of the largely rural population have access to the electricity grid and households don’t have other means of energy, deforestation to produce charcoal (for cooking) is very high. This is coupled with widespread soil erosion, floods and droughts year on year, which makes Malawi particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. An increase in annual climate finance is needed to deliver on Paris Agreement commitments, particularly targeted at interventions dedicated to impacts for women, including funding for grassroots and women’s organisations to empower local civil society. In southern Africa alone last year 45 million people were unable to feed their families as a result of climate change, the cumulative effects of recurrent widespread drought.

Trócaire’s Malawi Country Director, Jeannette Wijnants, emphasises the point that vulnerable African countries who are the least to blame for climate change are the ones who are suffering most because of it.

“African countries account only for about 2-3 % of global carbon emissions. In Malawi this is even less than 1% yet the impact of climate change is felt here every day and it is getting worse. We have an urgency to act. Clearly climate injustice is at play here. Those least responsible for the causes of climate change are most impacted by its effects,” she says adding that the impact of repeated droughts is destroying livelihoods and felt by women the most.

“Recurring cycles of droughts and floods caused by shifts in weather are causing soil erosion, food insecurity, hunger, loss of livelihoods and displacement. The impact of these changes is felt particularly by women and children. For example, by having to walk longer and longer distances to find water, to fetch firewood and to save crops damaged by erratic rain fall,” she says.

“Trócaire Malawi works with local government stakeholders, partner NGOs, civil society networks and groups of young people to raise awareness on climate justice. We do this by including the voices of local people in climate debates and by influencing relevant policies and legislation. In partnership, we implement innovative programmes to make farming households more resilient using agroecology and natural resource management. People in rural communities are involved in reforestation through tree planting and using alternative energy sources such as solar power and energy saving cookstoves to reduce the use of charcoal. All of these small steps contribute to building climate resilient communities. Ultimately, we need to hold those responsible for the real causes of climate change to account,” Jeannette concludes.

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