16 May 2003

Kenya: Expect Worse Effects of Climate Change


Nairobi — In 2001, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that, though, due to underdevelopment, Africa emits negligible amounts of greenhouse gases, it will suffer the most from the impact of climate change.

Remember the 1997/98 El Nino flooding? Remember the severe La Nina drought of 2000? We should expect more of these phenomena in the near future, caused by global warming.

It will no longer be like before. Our ancestors used to predict the weather and knew when to plant and when not. Climate change is going to cause weather variability and we shall continue to witness the displaced weather patterns confront us today.

What has precipitated this faster pace? Emissions of greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides and a host of chlorofluorocarbons - into the atmosphere from industrial processes, energy production and use, transport, the type of agriculture practised, deforestation.

Countries like the United States, all European member states, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the leading emitters of greenhouse gases, with the United States being the single largest culprit.

These countries produce what is called "luxury" emissions. For example, the World Bank, in its World Development Report of 2002, estimates that the developed nations spent $1 billion a day in agricultural subsidies alone to keep their farmers happy, subsequently dumping those products in the Third World. In regions such as Africa, we are responsible only for what is termed as "survival" emissions.

Although Africa is not to blame for the current state of climate change, we are on the receiving end. During the Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries agreed that they are historically and now responsible for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions.

They also agreed to assist developing countries with financial and technological resources to adapt to the impact of climate change. The ball is now in their court. They must move quickly to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and fulfil their commitments as our people are dying of "natural" calamities. African governments face even more challenges in infrastructural development as their efforts are hampered by the impact of climate change.

There have been some major international developments in the area of climate change. For example, in 1979, together with the International Council of Scientific Unions, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) convened the First World Climate Conference because there was a general agreement that the climate was changing at a faster rate than envisioned.

In 1988, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change was established jointly by the WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) "to study all aspects of possible climatic changes, including the socio-economic implications".

In 1990, the Second World Climate Conference agreed that urgent action was needed, including international negotiation of a Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This was reinforced in 1992 during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, during which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was opened for signature. Many governments signed, including Kenya.

This October, another such conference will be convened in Moscow. All these conferences reveal the concern world leaders have over climate change.

Since 1992, there have been at least two global climate change conferences every year in different capital cities, including Bonn, the seat of the UNFCCC secretariat.

This is not to mention the myriad of regional, sub-regional and national workshops and conferences taking place all the time. However, the greatest dilemma remains the failure by industrialised countries to fulfil their commitments.

It is now time our governments and citizens began to pressure industrialised countries to remain true to their commitments as our developmental goals will remain a pipe dream unless climate change is checked.

Our governments will not be able to cope with health problems associated with wet conditions - malaria, cholera, typhoid and pneumonia - and those associated with dry conditions including diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, chest congestion and coughs.

This will mean more investments in health by our governments, which already have their hands full with the Aids crisis.

On the agricultural sector, the challenges will be even more severe. Our food security will be seriously affected, with the attendant consequences of starvation and famine.

On energy, since 80 per cent of our electricity is hydro-generated, during severe droughts, we shall have more power interruptions and blackouts, seriously affecting our industrial output.

Considering Africa's level of development, we cannot adapt to the negative impacts of climate change without outside intervention. Africa's fate will lie squarely on the doorsteps of the industrialised countries responsible for spewing all those greenhouse gases. Their reluctance to reduce these emissions will only make matters worse.

Ms Akumu is executive director, Climate Network Africa

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