Climate change: can we change our horizons?
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Sokona, Youba. 1998. Climate change: can we change our horizons?. Spore 74. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Drastic changes in the world's climate are predicted over the next few decades. Apparently inevitable, they will force whole countries and cultures in ACP States and beyond to adapt their ways of life, and their agriculture. Yet the reality of...
Drastic changes in the world's climate are predicted over the next few decades. Apparently inevitable, they will force whole countries and cultures in ACP States and beyond to adapt their ways of life, and their agriculture. Yet the reality of meeting today's needs stands between them and the overwhelming changes which lie only just over the horizon. Youba Sokona sees the UNFCCC climate change meeting in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 as a missed opportunity to deal with urgent immediate and long-term challenges. Youba Sokona is Energy coordinator at ENDA, an environment and development organisation in Dakar, Senegal. He works extensively on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims at persuading governments to modify the impact of human activity on the environment and world climate. Human actions can contribute to climate change, mainly through combustion of fossil fuels, land-use changes and agriculture. These have increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides) which reflect back part of the earths warmth to its surface, causing global warming. World temperatures are expected to rise by 2°C by 2100 if human activities continue as they are, perhaps leading to different climate zones, rises in sea-levels and more frequent severe climatic events such as droughts and storms. For ordinary people and political leaders in Africa, climate change is not an immediate priority; our focus is on immediate needs and problems. Structural adjustment has imposed short-term perspectives upon us; many people in the North have the freedom of longer-term perspectives. The Kyoto meeting reaffirmed social and economic development and poverty elimination as developing countries top priorities; reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a second priority. The major efforts to reduce these gases are needed in the industrialised world and the decisions to cut them by 5% over the next ten years compare badly with the reduction of 20%-plus, that is actually needed now. Sharing the effects, not the blame Africa is not a major contributor of greenhouse gases; its emissions amount to less than 8% of the worlds total. It is, however, very vulnerable to climate change. Experts on the International Panel on Climate Change predict more widespread drought in Saharan and Sahelian countries. Lower rainfall will lead to soil degradation, lower arable and pastoral production and chronic food supply shortages. In general, considerable loss of biodiversity and severe damage to transport and communication networks are forecast. Worst of all, large-scale human migration and political instability are predicted, with social unrest and breakdown and impacting other continents through migration and terrorism. How much of this can we prevent? We can reduce the footprint of African agriculture on the environment and improve production, through better resource management, agro-forestry, and rational land-use. At the same time, our predominantly peasant-based farming has to shift to intensified production. Some approaches can both meet immediate needs and help to minimise the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. ENDA's SysPro programme in Senegal has successfully irrigated seedlings in relatively barren soil, increasing production and creating carbon sinks, which in turn support trees that capture carbon dioxide gases and remove them from the atmosphere. Despite our disappointments in Kyoto, we have to seize every opportunity, especially for our own capacity building. The Clean Development mechanism proposed by Brazil is one such chance. Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where Heads of State of most nations met for the first time to discuss global environment and development issues, awareness has grown that solutions cannot be imposed, and that in Africa we have to create capacities to allow people to make and take their own decisions. Remember that only a handful of Africans are professionally involved in climate change, compared with hundreds in Europe and thousands in North America. When we have built up our capacities, our decisions including for the future of African agriculture will be very different from those we are locked into now. The need to know We have to find ways and means to explain the nature of the changes that will probably happen. It is hard to explain to the small fishing communities on the Petit Côte in Senegal, for example, that their livelihoods will probably disappear as a result of sea-level rises and coastal erosion, but it must be done, and in a positive way that will not sow panic. Many people in the North see climate change as a threat to their way of life, which should be protected at almost any cost. They should look more at their wasteful consumption, and understand that the scenarios in store for Africa will affect them too. Whether you are in Watagouna, in northern Mali, or Winnipeg in Canada, or Rio or Berlin, you cannot escape climate change. We can be sure that extreme cases of effects will become more common: islands off the African coast will disappear, and massive power losses, such as those in Quebec in January 1998, induced by unprecedented ice storms, will become more frequent. We are driven by our short-term needs, even sometimes knowingly at the expense of future generations. We also suffer from the short-term vision of our partners in the North. We need more patient investment in success stories, in translating them into policies, and in capacity building. Above all, we must keep our own perspective of optimism: that change can bring benefits. Website: http://www.enda.sn/energie/cc/energycc.htm E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org fax:+221 8222695 mail: ENDA Energie, BP 3370, Dakar, Senegal The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA
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