AFRICA, CLIMATE CHANGE, HOSTILITY AND PEACE

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At a function organized by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), and the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), on Friday 20th September, 2019, in Lagos to mark this years’ International Day of Peace which had as a theme: “Climate Action For Peace,” I listened with rapt attention to the keynote speaker, Mr Ronald Kayanja, Director, the UNIC, Nigeria, the content of which will form both the plot and focal point of this piece.

Kayanja in that presentation used analytical method and properly framed arguments to underline how current conflict in North East Nigeria is not unrelated to the changes in climate in that region over time; as well as provides a link to how climate change also sets the stage for the farmer-herder violence witnessed in parts of West Africa and many countries that face violent conflicts in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Mali and the Central Africa Republic.

Local tensions over access to food and water resources can spill over into neighbouring countries as people seek to find additional resources and safety – placing more strain on the resources of those countries which could amplify tensions. In these instances, climate change does not directly cause conflict over diminishing access to resources, but it multiplies underlying natural resource stresses, increasing chances of a conflict, he said.

Obviously, a well-structured argument, however, should this be the only explanation for hostility in Africa? Definitely not – as there was a veiled agreement among stakeholders at the gathering that other factors such as the act of judging and condemning fellow citizens because they are from a certain tribe; social discrimination; the general tendency of public institutions not being able to manage the affairs and public resources; the inability to accept one’s ideas or way of life because of ethnic considerations; and public officials use of public office, not as an avenue for the public good but as an opportunity for private gains, fuel hostility.

This, however, is not particularly unique to Nigeria as a country but cuts across Africa. Indeed, apart from Kayanjas’, definition of climate change as changes in weather patterns over several decades or more which make a place warmer or receive more rain or get drier, what made the lecture crucial is the new awareness on the dangers of, and warning on the urgent need to address climate change which he said has become even clearer with the release of a major report in October 2018 by the world-leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning that in order to avoid catastrophe, we must not reach 1.5o C and 2oC.

More apprehensive is the record which indicates that today’s climatic warming – particularly the warming since the mid – 20th century—is occurring much faster than ever before and can’t be explained by natural causes alone.

As to the cause of the challenge, scientists explicitly attribute these to human action. Putting it more prosaically, humans—more specifically, the Greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions we generate, was reported to be— the leading cause of the earth’s rapidly changing climate. Greenhouse gases play an important role in keeping the planet warm enough to inhabit. But the amount of these gases in our atmosphere has skyrocketed in recent decades. According to the IPCC, the concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides “have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”

The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas for electricity, heat, and transportation is the primary source of human-generated emissions. A second major source is deforestation, which releases sequestered carbon into the air. It’s estimated that logging, fires, and other forms of forest degradation contribute to 20 per cent of global carbon emissions. Though our planet’s forests and oceans absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other processes, these natural carbon sinks can’t keep up with our rising emissions. The resulting buildup of greenhouse gases is causing rapid warming worldwide.

To further explain the challenge we currently face ‘as the earth atmosphere heats up, it collects, retains, and drops more water, changing weather patterns and making wet areas wetter and dry areas drier. Higher temperatures lead to melting of ice which in turn leads to sea rise, floods and storms and other disasters. The changes in weather patterns, drought and flooding affect livelihoods’.

As to what should be done to this appalling situation, it was reported that the UN Secretary-General has made climate action a major part of his global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their ambition to save our planet.

While this is ongoing, we are all called to adjust in psychological, social or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. We need to bring in changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damage or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. In simple terms, countries and communities need to develop adaptation solution and implement actions to respond to the impact of climate change that is already happening, as well as prepare for future impact.

Jerome-Mario Utomi, Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com