A KEY report by the UN’s panel on climate change last week reveals the complexity of the impacts of the science on human livelihoods, and that even efforts to adapt were facing limits due to extreme temperature rise.The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), compiled by over 300 scientists and released in Japan on March 31, reinforced findings from earlier reports of a difficult future for Africa’s agriculture, food security and adaptation.
The report, titled Climate Change 2014: “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.
Temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa will rise by up to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, the AR5 study shows, much faster than the global average. The report was high on confidence rainfall will decline in Southern Africa and that hot days and droughts will be frequent.
As a result, food security will be threatened, water stress worsen and adaptative capacity compromised.
Zimbabwe is expected to suffer yield declines in excess of 30 percent by 2050, according to the panel’s study.
Adaptation facing limits
But the IPCC report also made an important revelation, that of the emerging conundrum to adaptation, an important human response to climate risks. It said such actions may not be enough to respond to climate change.
That could mean human actions may never be sufficient to limiting climate risks if those responses did not tackle the fundamental causes behind climate change, greenhouse gases production from human activity.
Far from discounting the effectiveness of adaptive actions, the IPCC report does, however, show Africa and the rest of the world were ill-prepared for climate stresses and that actions to adapt were coming under serious pressure from climate impacts.
For example, Oxfam, the global non-profit organisation, indicated in a report on climate threats to global food security last week that its successes on an adaptation project in the Masvingo Province was encountering problems.
It said the drought of 2012/13 caused significant water stress for the irrigation project, supporting nearly 300 families, but the heavy rains in the current season damaged irrigation infrastructure, including the main pipeline.
“We are starting to see the limits to adaptation — even in our own programme — and at that point the implications for hunger are quite profound,” Tim Gore, head of policy and research for Oxfam’s GROW campaign on food justice, was quoted as saying by Reuters last week.
Indeed, the AR5 outcomes may be alarming, but they also highlight the urgency for African governments to strengthen action that safeguards food security for smallholder farmers, now and in the future.
The bias on agriculture in Africa is beyond deliberate, but an inescapable necessity. More than two-thirds of the continent’s one billion people rely on agriculture, which is 98 percent rain-fed, FAO says.
Thus, the threat on livelihoods from climate change on these people, who are predominantly smallholder farmers, is real and has started to bite.
The IPCC noted that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent . . . thus increasing the likelihood of diminished yield potential of major crops . . .”
However, Mr Elisha Moyo, a climate change expert and senior meteorologist at the Meteorological Services Department in Harare, said the outcomes from the IPCC study needed “to be taken with a pinch of salt.”
“What is needed for a country like Zimbabwe is to undertake localised and targeted research that highlights the true impact of the IPCC’s projections, say on someone in Dotito or Dumbuchena,” Moyo said by telephone last week.
“The projections (IPCC’s) are quite coarse. You need to refine them so they target specific areas, specific agricultural activities and specific time-frames. That has so far been the limitation.
“The IPCC only takes care of published meteorological material to come up with its own reports. There has not been that much material published in local journals due to lack of funding.
“As a result, there is limited work from Zimbabwe and Africa that is contained in the final IPCC reports. These are controlled reports and we stand as spectators.”
Urgency of climate change action
The publishing of the Fifth Assessment Report comes at an interesting time for Zimbabwe.
The country is expected to announce its National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) later this month.
It is a major policy document for mainstreaming climate change into national budgetary and developmental processes.
The Strategy, coming after two years of wide consultations involving climate experts, vulnerable groups, civil society and other key stakeholders, will show Zimbabwe’s strategies for addressing climate impacts in agriculture, water, health, energy, transport, tourism, environment and other economic sectors.
Now, the challenge is for the NCCRS to respond to the emerging climate risks as depicted in the AR5. What does it mean for the country that efforts at adaptation are facing limitations from the very science whose impacts it is attempting to limit? Clearly, dealing with the impacts of climate change compares squarely with chasing a moving target.
The pitfalls are many, but national responses should steer away from the one-size fits all approach because different regions and sectors are affected by climate change differently.
In view of the IPCC’s findings on adaptation, food security and agriculture, such manner of flexibility should reflect in the Strategy document, allowing policymakers or implementers the kind of reign necessary to achieving effective, long lasting results.
The Strategy is not cast in stone, therefore, those changes should be fairly easy to effect.
But it is important to highlight Zimbabwe has shown resoluteness in addressing challenges caused by climate change since joining the Kyoto Protocol in 2009.
A National Environmental Policy was published in the same year.
Although that policy does not single out climate change as requiring special attention, it stands firmly on tenets that directly or indirectly bear on the impacts of the science, influencing strategies in an important manner.
For the first in Zimbabwe’s history, President Mugabe created a Government ministry specifically responsible for climate change in September last year. The move highlights a new seriousness in tackling climate challenges, at the highest level.
“The message for Zimbabwe coming from the IPCC is that greater urgency is needed in light of the impacts of climate change,” said Dr Kenneth Odero by email last week, director at ClimateXL Africa in Harare.
“Sensible adaptation requires aligning adaptation and mitigation measures with national plans such as Zim-Asset. However, even if we were to stop thinking for a moment about climate change, the country would still better manage the risks of extreme events by doing things such as promoting production of drought, high-yielding and heat tolerant varieties which are already in our planning documents. These are no-regrets options.”
So, how can Zimbabwe cope?
Government should put money where its mouth is and not in people’s pockets, said Dr Odero. “Financing is key, but I have my doubts if there currently exists capacity to access, deliver, monitor and report on climate finance, both international and domestic.”
The IPCC is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.