19 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Climate Change Policy Is of Urgent Necessity


THE formulation of a Climate Change Policy for Zimbabwe has now taken solid shape, and may indeed meet the year-end deadline for completion of the final draft. Implementation would immediately follow. A document called the zero draft was due for release last week, which is essentially a framework paper highlighting the concern areas and supporting the cause for a national policy on climate change. Although lead consultant Professor Sara Feresu of the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Environmental Studies refused to comment, the zero draft is the base upon which the climate change policy would be built.

Herald Business understands that among many things, the zero draft provided for and promoted sustainable development and environmental integrity by offering regulated governance frameworks, which improve accountability and the efficient use of resources. It also defined local climate actions, which may be employed in mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. National climate change co-ordinator in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Mr Washington Zhakata said last week they had expected the zero draft to be ready and released by mid-November. He said after that it would go through the national consultative process, where stakeholders from across different sectors will scrutinise the draft, amend and proffer recommendations.

The final draft will not be ready until December 2012. The climate change policy is a legal instrument that provides direction for co-ordinated and planned national responses to climate change. Its absence has greatly hindered initiatives that seek to minimise damage from this phenomena. For example, the absence of a national policy means that there is no budget for climate change, at community, sectoral and national levels. Mr Zhakata said Zimbabwe's response during times of climate change disaster was piece-meal and disconcerted because of policy and funding limitations.

He said, for instance, when climate-related disasters such, as droughts and floods strike, Government was forced to forage for hand-outs from well-wishers or even stretch own resources meant for other purposes because of failures in climate change budgeting.

"A national policy would then be able to mainstream climate change into national development goals and limit the challenges currently being faced in addressing adaptation and mitigation strategies," explained Mr Zhakata. On Thursday last week, Finance Minister Tendai Biti released Zimbabwe's US$3,8 billion budget for the 2013 fiscal year and said nothing about climate change save for acknowledging its damaging impacts on agriculture. If the policy existed, the Budget may have captured climate change in a more comprehensive manner that allows allocation of dedicated funding to minimise climate related risks.

But we heard the minister project a 5 percent economic growth for 2013. Among other factors, the minister expects this growth to be underpinned by good performance in agriculture provided "we have a normal rainy season."

Research, however, shows that normal rainy seasons are now scarce in most parts of the country including the food producing agro-ecological zones two and three. It shows that rapidly changing climates have resulted in major changes in rainfall distribution and caused temperatures to rise.

More frequently, "normal rainy seasons" are being replaced by extreme floods or droughts or erratic rains, and then eventually by hunger. This is more pronounced in hot, drier regions of Masvingo and Matabeleland where precipitation has fallen 15 percent over the past 50 years, and is expected to continue falling with annual rainfall of below 600mm.

Studies by Raymond Mugandani of the Midlands State University's Water and Land Department actually show an expansion of 5,6 percent and 22,6 percent of natural regions 4 and 5 respectively, which are mostly semi-arid, and a shrinking of 49 percent and 14 percent for food producing regions 2 and 3.

Now, what these numbers highlight is that agriculture and food production in Zimbabwe are under serious threat, as hot, drier regions expand into hunger. There is no guarantee Region 2 and 3 will continue producing food at optimum levels, but there is sufficient evidence agriculture productivity will never be the same. Even in these regions rainfall has declined and now ranges between 550mm and 1 000mm per year. It is critical to realise that agriculture will not only decline in Zimbabwe.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that global agriculture yields will fall by up to 30 percent by 2050 due to the worsening impacts of climate change. That means future efforts to acquire grain from world markets may be very difficult for countries that fail to produce enough for their own citizens.

Shortages will result in steeper prices for world agriculture commodities. A climate change policy is, therefore, of urgent necessity. Apart from securing Government attention in the budgetary process, it would help define functional mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The climate change policy would curb business and individual losses from climate-related disasters as well as firmly set the economy on the path to green growth. While the policy would not prevent catastrophies from occurring, it would assist decision makers integrate disaster risk management into national economic and development planning.

Local climate and weather systems have been changing over many decades, and yet most farmers and Government at large, remain ill-prepared for extreme climate events, which usually result in severe food shortages.

However, with the policy in place backed by clearly defined national strategies, mobilising private finance for long-term climate projects may become a real possibility. As it stands, projections for economic growth built predominantly around agriculture may be anchored on false hope.

Climate change is now a major aspect in any country serious about socio-economic development they ignore it at own peril. Climate change must now be factored into every Government programme, into every development policy particularly where it relates to agriculture, which supports most, if not all livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe. This may increase preparedness in times of disaster and even reduce risk of similar occurrences in future.

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