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Life after COP26: Zim climate

By Makomborero Muzenda

ZIMBABWE is hot at the moment.

The dry season, which on average lasts from June to September, has been sweltering. Towns such as Kariba have hit temperatures as high as 41°C.

The country’s Meteorological Services Department is urging citizens to stay hydrated and avoid going outdoors between 11am and 3pm, the period where the sun is at its highest and hottest point in the sky.

The same department has stated that Zimbabwe can expect average to above average rains for the 2021-2022 rainy season, and some regions in the country (such as Mutare) have already received light showers or heavy thunderstorms.

Although relief from the punishing heat is surely welcome across the board, current weather conditions also raise a critical issue for the country and its citizens: how is Zimbabwe going to address the effects of climate change within its borders, and what would a failure to do so mean for the country’s economy?

Firstly, what is climate change? This may seem like a redundant question, given how the topic has dominated headlines with the recent 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26).

However, different organisations, institutions and countries can have different perspectives and definitions of what climate change really is. The United Nations defines it as “long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns… Since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.”

As a result, the decade of 2010 to 2020 has been recorded globally as the warmest on record, and temperatures continue to rise. As catastrophic as an increase in temperatures is, it is not the only consequence of climate change.

Once in a decade, events such as droughts, floods and cyclones are occurring more frequently. This is a reality that Zimbabwe has already experienced: in 2019 Zimbabwe was faced with a devastating drought and Cyclone Idai.

An increase in the duration and intensity of droughts affects food security and productivity, especially in agrarian-based societies, such as Zimbabwe.

On the other hand, increased flooding damages infrastructure, displaces local communities and disrupts economic activity.

Zimbabwe has acknowledged the particular threat that climate change poses a threat to national development and stability. The 2021 Global Climate Risk Index compiled by GermanWatch identifies Zimbabwe as one of the top three countries affected by climate change in 2019 – up 130 spots from its 2018 ranking.

Climate change costs the country an estimated 4,26% of the country’s GDP that year. In his speech at COP26, President Emmerson Mnangagwa began by emphasising just how vulnerable the country is.

“Zimbabwe has not been spared from climate change challenges, which have led to an increasing frequency of severe droughts and cyclone-induced floods,” he said.

“The impact of climate change is disproportionately borne by the vulnerable communities which have contributed the least to the current stock of atmospheric carbon.”

In addition to committing a conditional 40% per capita of greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030, Mnangagwa appealed for international support and funding for countries in the Global South in their efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

According to the Institute of Security Studies, he is not wrong: the countries most vulnerable to climate change have the least amount of resources available to adapt. Speeches and declarations are important for boosting morale and establishing a position, but they alone do not make a climate change policy? What has the Zimbabwean government been doing to mitigate the impact of climate change, and what are the consequences of not doing enough?

The 2017 Climate Policy published by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate states that Zimbabwe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2030. In 2013, the government established a Climate Change Management Department, whose mandate is to “climate proof all socio-economic sectors of Zimbabwe through effective climate change management.”

Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy also seen increased focus on climate education for children. Introduced in 2018, the programme focuses on educating children on what climate change is, and how best they can adopt climate-friendly behaviour and perspectives.

Climate-smart agricultural policies and programmes have also been established. Zimbabwe is also a beneficiary of the Green Climate Fund, which currently supports two projects focused on climate resilience in rural communities.

A US$26,6 million project aimed at supporting 2,3 million smallholder farmers was officially launched in November 2020. However, it is difficult to take such initiatives and projects seriously when environmentally harmful practices continue.

There has been almost aggressive development on wetlands, such as the Pokugara Residential Estate in Borrowdale and between Coventry Road and Ridgeview. Zimbabwe continues to rely on coal power: the government is expanding the Hwange thermal power station and granting new coal concessions. If one group of officials say one thing and another group does another, how can citizens trust that promises of sustainability and climate-friendly policies will actually happen across the board? There has been some action towards mitigating the effects of climate change. However, is it enough, and do ordinary Zimbabweans know enough about the issue?

Chido Nyaruwata is a digital researcher who has worked on climate change education. She believes there is a gap when it comes to fully understanding what climate change is, and what it means for Zimbabweans.

“One of my key desires is to make conversations around climate change more accessible,” says Nyaruwata.

There is disconnect between formal conversations and planning on climate action and daily life on the ground.

“When people hear about climate change, they think of COP26. But what happens after COP 26?” Nyaruwata asks, noting that climate change only tends to become a discussion when there are big events or big disasters.

Although the government has introduced a climate change learning platform for school children, the same effort has not been equally applied to educating the general population.

It does not help that climate change is not seen as a pressing issue across the political spectrum. While the two dominant parties focus on elections and campaigning (which is arguably justified), there is insufficient attention paid to what a failure to act will mean for Zimbabwe’s future.

According to the World Bank, Cyclone Idai inflicted US$2 billion worth of damage in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. With more unusual weather events such as cyclones set to be part of the future, can politicians across the field afford to not make climate mitigation a prominent part of their work and mandate?

When they come, the rains will break the heat for some. The rains will also cause destruction for others. This is what may become Zimbabwe’s new normal: two weather extremes that can disrupt economic activity, make daily life difficult and exacerbate already existing inequalities.

Life will go on after COP26, but until there is decisive and effective interventions and cooperation, temperatures will continue to rise.

  • Muzenda is an analyst. These weekly New Horizon articles published in the Zimbabwe Independent are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an Independent Consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES) and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). Email – kadenge.zes@gmail.com and Mobile No. +263 772 382 852.

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