12 October 2009

Zimbabwe: 'Now is the Time to Act Decisively On Climate Change'


Harare — AN article recently carried in this paper provided perhaps one of the most graphic glimpses into "arguably the last vestige of Zimbabwe's natural beauty" -- the Zambezi National Park -- through a powerful narrative that was as throbbing as the very life in any untamed jungle could be.

From the "wafting air", "the scent of the jungle", the monkeys and baboons preening each other, zebras, waterbucks, impalas, kudus, among others, to the "crocodiles snacking on schools of fish," marauding packs of wild dogs, and the "Big Four", Zambezi National Park is indeed a panorama of nature at its best.

Yet, this "last vestige" might well have its last admirers, as the depredations of the global phenomenon of climate change catch up with this side of the world.

The global climate change is believed to be a result of "global warming" which occurs when gases such as carbon dioxide, emitted in huge quantities into the atmosphere mainly through industrial activity, create an "umbrella" around the atmosphere, trapping sun's heat on earth.

The phenomenon is also known as the greenhouse effect, which is why the gases that contribute to this effect are referred to as "greenhouse gases".

Massive deforestation and desertification, which means insufficient vegetation to absorb carbon dioxide, and fires, have also been blamed for the greenhouse effect, as well as vehicle exhaust fumes.

The result has been a general increase in temperature levels, dwindling fresh water supplies, the rising of sea water levels as they absorb water from ice melting in the polar regions, among others.

A report recently released by a research centre shows that the Zambezi River Basin, of which the 56 000 hectare Zambezi National Park is part, faces a very bleak thanks to climate change.

"The Zambezi River Basin, like the rest of Southern Africa, is facing serious impacts of climate change," says a report by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre on a project "Climate Change in the Zambezi River Basin" released recently.

The Zambezi River Basin drains an area of approximately 1,4 million square kilometres, stretching across eight Sadc countries -- Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia -- whose population numbers more than 100 million people.

"Assessments reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," the report states, "provide evidence that Southern Africa will be one of the most affected regions in the world."

This is simply as much bad news for areas like "Zimbabwe's last vestige of natural beauty", Zambezi National Park, as well as other natural animal habitats, as it will be for the whole social, economic and environmental facets of the countries in the region.

"The Zambezi River Basin offers a wide range of tourist attractions ranging from the Victoria Falls, artificial lakes such as Kariba and Cahora Bassa to wildlife," the report says.

Climate change impacts on the range and habitats of wildlife, on river flows, as well as on the spread of such diseases as malaria. This would adversely affect the tourism industry.

"Similarly, reduced river flow will lower the 'smoking' sight of tourist attractions such as the Victoria Falls, making it less attractive," the report says.

Climate change in the region has been blamed for the erratic rainfall patterns in the region -- which include intermittent droughts and floods.

Citing a World Health Organisation report for the year 2007, the Sardc report said that the occurrence and severity of water-related diseases would increase in most developing countries due to climate change.

"The geographic range of the vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever is expected to expand because of changes in temperature and rainfall patterns due to climate change.

"By 2100, changes in temperature and precipitation could alter the geographical distribution of malaria in the basin, with areas of dense human population becoming suitable for transmission.

"Occurrences of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, while common to the Zambezi River Basin, may also increase due to climate change," the report says.

Climate change is also likely not only to negatively impact on the food production and security of the region because of droughts, desertification, flooding and scanty rains.

This will also have a strong bearing on the region's economy, as agriculture contributes about 35 percent of GDP and is a major source of employment.

Since 1980, the flow of the Victoria Falls has reportedly been far below average and 1995 had the lowest ever recorded flow, while the Zambezi River water levels declined between the 1970s and 2004.

Although this is just but the local face of a global problem of climate change, which has far-reaching catastrophes such as the swamping of small islands, extinction of some animal species and serious shortages of cereals by year 2080, it highlights the pressing need for action to reverse the slide to a horrible future.

Unfortunately, recent developments on the global front do not inspire much comfort to regions like Sadc which will ultimately bear the brunt of a problem to which they have contributed so little.

There is little to show that major contributors of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming and climate change -- America and China -- are committed to a deal that will effectively rest the spectre of a climate change catastrophe.

Some observers blame China, now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, for not offering "hard targets" on reduction of carbon intensity, although its leader has promised a reduction by a "notable amount" as well as plans such as reforestation, and use of more non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption.

China is blamed for continuing to add coal-fired power "at an alarming rate" and there are worries that global carbon emissions are growing too quickly.

The Barack Obama administration in America is also apparently non-committal on a solution to climate change, even though it has provided a modicum of hope by showing interest in finding one, unlike the previous George Bush regime.

A recent report on the talks in Bangkok, which followed up on the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Summit on Climate Change, September 22 2009, said the Obama administration was being viewed "as villains who aren't interested in reaching an ambitious global warming treaty when leaders from 120 countries meet in Copenhagen in December".

The deal would replace the Kyoto Protocol obliging rich nations to cut emissions blamed for global warming, which expires in 2012.

America rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol ostensibly because it exempted such countries as India and China, both major polluters, from obligations.

Even now, there is, unfortunately, a hint that America might refuse to sign the Copenhagen Deal, which is expected to supersede the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate change legislation hasn't passed the US Congress and the country insists that developing countries must show proof they are taking action to reduce heat-trapping emissions.

On the other hand, while there might be such pressure that compels developing countries to take action to limit the growth of their emissions, it depends on financial support being made available. So without financial support there might not to be an agreement in Copenhagen, some analysts say.

Yet a solution to the problem of climate change should be what every well-meaning world citizen is looking for at the moment.

South African President Jacob Zuma, in his address at the High-Level Summit on Climate Change on the sidelines of the UN Summit, offered a very sensible proposition.

"We need to act now to ensure there is a global agreement on this critical challenge. The global agreement should be guided by a shared vision. It should be inclusive, fair and effective . . .

"Leadership by all developed countries, through emission reduction commitments that are in line with science and that address their historical responsibilities, would ensure much needed progress in the international negotiations. Now is the time to act, and to act decisively," he said.

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