Monday, 14 June 2010

Communicating Adaptation in Africa

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji

Does it bother you that most discussions of how to address climate change in Africa has focused much more on adaptation(e.g. coping with the storms, floods, drought, sea- floor rise and other impacts that climate change will bring) than mitigation (e.g. reducing green house emission etc)?

Not to worry, both adaptation and mitigation are very crucial in addressing the challenges of climate change. However, the onus of addressing mitigation is common with countries like China, USA, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Canada, UK, South Korea, Iran, Italy, South Africa, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, France, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Ukraine and Poland etc whose expanding economy has a huge feed demand for fuel. For these countries, mitigation is a central concern they constitute the top 20 CO2 emitters per capita (measured at metric tonnes per person). Apart from South Africa, no other African country made this list.

However, it is germane to note that in Marrakech in Morocco in November 2001, at the Seventh Conference of the Parties, delegates focused their minds on both adaptations to climate change and mitigation measures and, for the first time, formally recognized the dilemmas of adaptation for the developing nations. This recognition took the form of funding mechanisms to assist countries to adapt. The Delhi Declaration from the Eight Conference of the Parties in November 2002 reinforced the importance of adaptation. The Delhi Declaration, in effect, has linked the participation of the developing world in mitigation of emissions to actions and funding on adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

While developing countries with lean economies and who no doubt suffer the negative impacts of a changing climate are still struggling to define and adopt an adaptation pathway peculiar to its milieu, those in the top 20 CO2 emitting bracket have long set out in setting emission reduction targets.

In August 2008 Brazil launched the Amazon Fund, aimed at protecting the rainforest so vital to the world’s climate and combating climate change. In December 2008 Brazil also launched a national climate change plan which proposed to cut the country’s deforestation rate in half by 2018. For South Africa, an emission reduction strategy was drawn in July 2008. A final domestic policy is likely to be adopted by the end of 2010, likely to involve mandatory targets for reducing transport emissions and plans for increasing the carbon price.

Countries in the EU such as Germany and the UK are part of the European Union’s Climate Action Programme. The EU is committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and is ready to scale up this reduction to as much as 30 per cent under a new global climate change agreement when other developed countries make comparable efforts. Barack Obama has set out initial overall ambitions on climate change; and these are to return US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce them by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. A key tool will be a cap-and-trade system like the EU’s Emission Trading System.

In April 2007 Canada released an action plan to reduce green house gases. The Canadian government committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (relative to 2006 levels) by 20 per cent by 2020 and by 60 per cent to 70 per cent by 2050. In June 2007 China released a three-pronged national climate change programme, the first by any developing country. Its aims are to control greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate research and development, and raise public awareness. It has a renewable energy target (15 percent of total energy by 2020), and a plan to increase forest coverage rate to 20 per cent by 2010.

The IPCC proclaims that there is now little doubt that human induced climate change is happening. All societies consequently need to learn to cope with the changes that are predicted such as warmer temperatures, drier soils, changes in weather extremes and rising sea levels. The vulnerability of a system to climate change is determined by its exposure, by its physical settings and sensitivity, and by its ability and opportunity to adapt to change or otherwise. To illustrate these categories, sensitivity will be high where the system in question includes, for example, settlements built on flood plains, hill slopes or low-lying coastal areas.

What this means is that some sectors will be more sensitive and some groups more vulnerable to risks posed by climate change than others hence underscoring the urgency to build resilience through adaptive capacity required to face the evolving challenges in the years ahead. Peoples vulnerability to the risks associated with climate change is feared to likely evolve many other tight challenges such as poverty, especially in places like Africa where dependence on resources that are vulnerable to changing climate such as farming, fishery, water supplies etc is very high.

In terms of action, adaptation may take the form of reducing dependence on vulnerable systems such as diversifying food production away from a limited number of drought-prone crops, of decreasing sensitivity by avoiding building settlements and infrastructure in high-risk locations, or by strengthening existing systems so that they are less likely to be damaged by unusual events.

It also includes the need to mainstream into adaptation projects the recognition that people of developing countries are not just passive victims. Indeed, in the past they have had the greatest resilience to droughts, floods and other catastrophes etc. Pastoralists in West African Sahel have been known to adapt to cope with rainfall decreases of 25-33% in the twentieth century.

However, as efforts to develop and diffuse adaptation mechanisms in Africa and elsewhere grows in momentum, one major constraint has been the failure to develop an effective communication strategy to drive the process. Effective communication as a sub-set of development needs to be developed in order to get the message down to the bottom of the pyramid where those most affected agglutinate. The concept of information in general and of climate change adaptation information in particular, as a resource for effective adaptation and development needs to be domesticated well beyond current cosy confines of conference rooms and research hubs.

In Guinea, rising sea levels linked to global warming is feared to likely result in stronger coastal currents, higher tides and sea encroachment of land. Guinea’s coastal region, home to West Africa’s largest and richest mangroves, would therefore bear the brunt of global climate change. The region’s entire economy is now under threat. It is feared that the main victims of all these climate variations would be people living near the coast. An estimate of 2 million people is likely to suffer income losses.

In an effort to limit the foreseeable damage, Guinea has launched a national plan of action for climate change adaptation (PANA-CC), which sets out priorities, among them measures for protecting coastal areas. It outlines vigorous action for saving the mangroves and reforesting the region, planting teak and cashew trees. Faced with rising water levels, communities are being advised in Guinea to build sea walls and plant trees along the coast in order to protect the rice fields that have taken the place of the mangroves.

Other recommendations include enforcing laws on coastal settlements and tackling pollution. For these adaptation measures to work, it is crucial that local people be provided with environmental education and prepared for possible catastrophes in the future. Efforts such as those in Guinea need to be supported and diffused into other countries in the region as quickly as is possibly.

As measures such as those in Guinea and elsewhere get developed, it becomes urgent to educate people including government officials on what mitigation is, and how it differs from adaptation. Local policy makers, planners and administrators need to recognize that information is indispensable to the adaptation process. This is apparent with due cognizance of the fact that in most parts of Africa, the essential information mechanisms and infrastructural facilities are not yet sufficiently developed to foster the generation, storage, preservation, retrieval, dissemination and utilization of information.

However, effective communication is seen as an essential tool for the establishment and maintenance of good social and working relationships and it enables people to exercise control over their environment. The purpose of communication is to bring about change of attitude, knowledge, skills and aspiration of the receivers. In Nigeria, various communication media are commonly used to transmit all sorts of information to people. Some of these include magazines, leaflets, newsletters, newspapers, pamphlets, radio, internet, telephone (GSM) and television, among others.

Among these lot, radio rates higher and is often the most preferred tool of mass communication in Nigeria. Radio programs are usually timely and capable of extending messages to the audience no matter where they may be as long as they have a receiver with adequate supply of power. The absence of such facilities as road, light and water are no hindrance to radio. Similarly, such obstacles as difficult topography, distance, time and socio-political exigencies do not hinder the performance of radio. Illiteracy is no barrier to radio messages since such messages can be passed in the audience own language.

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