This Day (Lagos)

4 December 2007

Nigeria: Climate Change - United Against a Global Foe

Lagos — The Human Development Report (HDR), 2007/2008 edition, was launched by President Umaru Yar'Adua in Abuja last week. Abimbola Akosile, who was at the Africa regional launch, captures the strident calls for global redress to check an implacable enemy

Solidarity in Division

The urgent message in the Human Development Report (HDR) 2007/2008, which has a theme, 'Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world', was clear.

The whole world, both developed and developing nations, both those who contributed to the present bleak climate picture, and those who complied with global guidelines on climate; must unite to fight a common enemy that is bent on reducing the world to either a global sheet of water or an endless expanse of arid land.

A Dangerous Report

As part of its yearly contribution to global development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) commissions an independent Human Development Report (HDR) which sets the stage for debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity.

This year's report dealing with the challenges of climate change is was launched globally in Brasilia, Brazil on November 27 and in Abuja on the same day. Traditionally, one country is selected in each continent to host the regional launch of the report on the same day as it is being launched globally. Nigeria was selected to host the African Regional Launch of the Human Development Report 2007/2008. The UNDP HDR 2007/2008 builds on the recently-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report to set out a pathway for climate change negotiations in Bali, Indonesia, and stresses that a narrow 10-year window of opportunity remains to put it into practice.

But the authors argue, with the right reforms, it is not too late to cut greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable levels without sacrificing economic growth: that rising prosperity and climate security are not conflicting objectives. While countries from Asia and Latin America have been able to mobilise both resources and technologies for low carbon energy options, Africa is yet to reap the promised benefits of the Clean Development Mechanism, the report revealed.

For Africa, the 2007 Human Development Report states that the region is already experiencing the early impacts of climate change in the form of frequent and more severe droughts, floods and rainfall variability. In 2007 alone, more than four states in Nigeria experienced serious floods while some experienced mild drought.

The report further illustrated how climate shocks increase vulnerability and reinforce a vicious cycle of poverty. In drought prone areas, a higher number of children were found to be malnourished and stunted. The report shows that in Niger, children aged two years or less are 72% likely to be stunted if they were born during a drought year.

The report confirms that adaptation is both a necessity and a reality, and recommends that climate change adaptation should be integrated into national development plans and be placed at the center of international partnerships on poverty reduction.

It acknowledges that while rich countries are already adapting to climate change by investing significant financial resources to safeguard themselves, poor countries are being left to their own means.

The Human Development Report continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Kevin Watkins is the lead author of the 2007/2008 report, which includes special contributions from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Lula da Silva of Brazil and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The report is translated into more than a dozen languages and launched in more than 100 countries annually.

UNDP is the UN's global network to help people meet their development needs and build a better life. It is on the ground in 166 countries, working in partnership with governments, civil society and the private sector to help them build their own solutions to global and national development challenges.

Presidential Concern

The same message was highlighted by President Umaru Yar'Adua and top United Nations (UN) officials, in a bid to underscore the urgency of the matter.

As one analyst aptly put it, we do not have a choice in this matter. Either we like it or not, the effects of climate change are here while other more negative fallout are looming.

Both those who played key roles and who played no role in the current scenario are affected. Everyone has to pay for the sins of before, and at the same time do everything to stop the same painful process from occurring in the future.

Yar'Adua, at the Africa Regional Launch in Abuja, said reduction in greenhouse gases should start immediately to avert global climate disaster, while rich countries must cut emissions drastically.

The same view was echoed by Mr. Gilbert Houngbo, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director for Africa, UNDP, at a launch which attracted state governors, top government officials at national and state levels, parliamentarians, the international community, academia, media and civil society organisations.

In his keynote address, Yar'Adua commended the choice of Nigeria as the HDR launch host, which in his view will necessitate the position of Nigeria as the vanguard of climate change in Africa; and that this year's theme 'Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world', is very topical particularly to Africa, in many respects.

He called on world leaders to see climatic change as an urgent matter; which if not addressed will derail Africa's progress towards the MDGs by 2015. According to him, reduction in greenhouse gases should start immediately to avert global climate disaster.

"While the report is advocating a reduction by 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 from advanced countries, I think the 30% must be reached before 2015 if they really want Africa to reach the MDGs", he said; while commending the United Nations for providing strong leadership by including climate change on its priority agenda.

Yar'Adua emphatically stated that his administration will not tolerate gas flaring in the Niger Delta beyond 2008, and enjoined his colleagues in other African countries to face the challenge of climate change as a matter of priority by acting 'now'.

UN Intervention

In his speech, Mr. Gilbert Houngbo UNDP Regional Director for Africa gave highlights of the HDR 2007/2008 which brings to the fore the alarming fact that wealthy countries' carbon footprint threatens to stamp out progress in Africa if effective mitigation efforts are not put in place.

The implications for sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 550 million people reside, and other for other developing regions of the world will be a reversal in advances in the areas of health, education and poverty-reduction.

"For Africa, the double mitigation challenge is the need for energy security and energy access by finding ways to attract enough direct investment to meet the growing energy demand and to drive investments towards lower carbon technologies," said Houngbo.

He said there is now very little argument about whether global climate change is having an impact on countries' economic, social and environmental systems; and that it is rather the size of the impacts and their implications which remain uncertain.

"Alongside these uncertainties, the developing world faces far greater challenges than industrialised countries both in terms of impacts and the capacity to respond", he said.

Houngbo called on Nigeria and South Africa to serve as vanguards for the African continent, in particular, to explore opportunities for promoting the transfer of low carbon technologies through CDM; and urged all stakeholders to work together for the establishment of a post Kyoto regime that reflects the needs and development aspirations of the African continent.

In a related development, the UNDP Resident Representative, Dr. Alberic Kacou, said the Global Human Development Report has progressively monitored human progress for about seventeen years across all regions of the world, first as an analytical tool shaping the global debates and discussions on sustainable human development.

To him, the report clearly points out that countries that emit the largest volume of greenhouse gases are paying marginal prices for doing so while developing countries that contribute the least are most vulnerable to the impact of global warming and have the least capacity to cope and adapt to mitigating technologies.

The implications of climate change take many forms but for Africa it has serious negative impact on agricultural productivity, access to water, human displacement and public health, Kacou said.

Human Devt Ranking

The 2007/2008 Human Development Report (HDR) has revealed that Iceland is now topping the list of surveyed countries in terms of human development.

Iceland passed Norway to take the top spot on the Human Development Index (HDI), according to the HDR released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Norway had held the number one ranking for the previous six years. This change in ranking is as a result of new estimates of life expectancy and updated GDP per capita figures, stress the report authors.

Introduced with the first HDR in 1990, the HDI assesses the state of human development through life expectancy, adult literacy and school enrollment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level, along with income, based on the most recent reliable data from UN partners and other official sources. Due to shifts in how countries report the statistics from which the rankings are calculated, the Index is subject to regular adjustment.

The Index analyses 2005 statistics from 175 UN member countries along with Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China) and the occupied Palestinian territories. The HDI rankings this year do not include 17 UN member nations, among them Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, due to insufficient reliable data.

Twenty-two countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, fall into the category of 'low human development'. In ten of these countries, two children in five will not reach the age of 40; in the case of Zambia that figure rises to one child in two. By contrast, amongst the top 20 countries, only in Denmark and the United States will fewer than 9 children in ten reach the age of 60.

In most countries, including Brazil, China and India, human development has risen over the last 30 years, but some countries have shifted into reverse gear. In all, 16 countries have a lower HDI today than in 1990. Three of these countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have lower rates of human development than they did in 1975.

This year's HDR, entitled Fighting Climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, which focuses on the impact of climate change on the world's poor and vulnerable, highlights that the role of energy in human development is reflected in the record of emissions of CO2.

According to the Report, the top 20 countries in the HDI emitted more CO2 in 2004 than all the medium and low human development countries combined; while China and India are the largest emitters of CO2 amongst developing countries, together they emitted less in 2004 than the top 32 countries in the HDI excluding the United States. By itself, the United States emitted almost as much as China and India combined in 2004.

Out of 177 countries on the Index, while Iceland came first in the HDI ranking, Nigeria emerged 158, and is among the 22 nations classified as experiencing low human development. Incidentally, nine other West African countries including Senegal (156), Guinea (160), Benin (163), Cote d'Ivoire (166), Mali (173), Niger (174), Guinea Bissau (175), Burkina Faso (176), and Seirra Leone came last (177) on the list.

West African countries like Ghana (135), Equatorial Guinea (127), Gambia (155), Togo (152), and even the nearest neighbour Sao Tome and Principe (123) were classified in the medium human development category.

HDR: Challenges & Threats

Some challenges and threats were identified in the Human Development Report. These include:

- World temperatures have increased by around 0.7 degrees centigrade since the advent of the industrial era, and the rate of increase is quickening.

- Beyond a threshold of 2 degrees centigrade the risk of large-scale human development setbacks and irreversible ecological catastrophes will increase sharply.

- The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.

- Semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa with some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the world face the danger of potential productivity losses of 26 percent by 2060.

- Yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020.

- Agriculture being the mainstay of many African economies, climatic change will portend danger to the goals of poverty reduction and employment generation. This will complicate the already high unemployment rates in many countries in Africa.

- Emerging health risks, with an additional population of up to 400 million people facing the risk of malaria.

Calls for Global Action

The report has raised a lot of urgent issues which ought to be tackled before any meaningful headway can be made in the fight against the devastating effects of climate change.

These include the establishment of a multilateral framework for avoiding dangerous climate change under the post-2012 Kyoto Protocol. Specifically, further agreement to cut greenhouse emissions by at least 80% by 2050, with 20-30% percent cuts by 2020.

There was a call for development of policies for sustainable carbon budgeting; that is, the need for each country to identify how much carbon dioxide it could emit while allowing the economy to grow and for the citizens to maintain high quality lifestyles.

Each country is expected to contribute a fair share in maintaining atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide below the allowable amount (estimated at roughly below 450 parts per million).

The report also highlighted the need for a robust financing framework; an estimated $86 billion in global investment is required for international adaptation efforts to protect the world's poor.

It also called for intensified programmatic responses, the need for strengthening the capacity of developing countries to assess climate change risks and to integrate adaptation into all aspects of national planning.

The HDR reports also urged inclusive responses, the need for empowering and enabling vulnerable people to adapt to climate change by building resilience through investments in social protection, health , education and other measures

To make any impact, the report sought committed and concerted efforts, with the need for expanding multilateral provisions for responding to climate-related humanitarian emergencies and supporting post-disaster recovery.

The report also drew attention to the need for climate change mitigation. For Africa, however, the double mitigation challenge is the need for energy security and energy access as well as finding ways to attract enough direct investment to meet the growing energy demand and to drive these investments towards lower carbon technologies.

The figures are staggering, over 80% of sub-Saharan Africa's population depends on traditional biomass for cooking. Nearly 550 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean energy, the report noted.

In the report, it was revealed that many cases unsafe energy sources like smoky stone fires used for cooking result in health problems like respiratory disease, which is the biggest killer of children in the world today.

Increasing access to modern energy services must therefore be an important policy action to be taken by African countries, experts have said.

The threat of climate change can only be under-estimated at any affected nation's peril. The effects are around us everyday, from flooding to hurricanes, from erosion to desertification, no one is spared or likely to escape the harsh reprisal of awry weather conditions.

The time to act on the climate change issue is now, and the scope is global. Selfish economic, physical or political interests have to be set aside in a united goal to battle a scourge that has the potential to wipe out man-kind. A word for the discerning.

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