Same storm different boats: The inequalities of climate change

Same storm different boats: The inequalities of climate change

It was our first trip in a long time since coronavirus disrupted everything including travel. In July 2021, my family and I decided on a road trip from Accra to Wa, the capital town of Upper West Region.  We wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and to clear our minds of all the negative news of coronavirus.

On the 695km road journey, I witnessed at first hand, from Ghana’s middle belt, how freshwater resources, biodiversity and wildlife continually decreasing in quality and quantity and through the north, once productive lands being transformed into a desert.

In Poyentanga near Wa, I met Iddrisu Osman, a smallholder farmer who was concerned about the climate crises and its current and future effects on humanity. “This area will turn into desert and might not be able to support human life” he lamented.

He also added that “the climate is so hot and dry; the soil forms an impenetrable crust; when the rain finally arrives, most of it simply runs off the land or evaporates in the heat”. For Osman, these are clear signs of climate change and it is not only in northern Ghana that experiences the effects of climate change; along Ghana’s coastline, rising sea levels are sweeping away homes and livelihoods. What I saw and heard reminded me of the poem published at the height of the coronavirus pandemic by British writer and broadcaster Damian Barr, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

Climate change threatens development

Dr. Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford, one of the authors of the recent 2021 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said “climate change is not a problem of the future, it is here and now and affecting every region in the world”.

Climate change has gained global attention due to its adverse effects and impacts on people’s living conditions and livelihoods including agriculture, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), biodiversity and wildlife, energy, tourism, infrastructure, human health, women and the poor, security and national revenue etc.

Even though Africa, Ghana for that matter is among the least contributors to climate change-related activities, Ghana and Africa as a continent is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of uncoordinated policy implementations and resource constraints.

Climate change is seen as a major threat to sustainable growth and development in Ghana including a threat to food and water security which can lead to conflicts. Addressing the challenge of climate change inversely offers mankind the opportunity to address almost all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The new face of inequalities

While the effects of climate change are global, its impact is felt differently in Ghana with a high projected impact on poorer communities especially for a larger part of the population in rural communities, who for their survival depend on resources provided by nature such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Ghana’s agriculture sector is dominated by smallholder farms that are predominantly rain fed and thus climate-sensitive.

In recent times there have been increase in climate-related challenges such as droughts, flooding in the northern regions, land degradation and water pollution in the forest areas, and in the coastal areas rising sea levels and increase in coastal erosion. What this means is that poorer communities who often do not have the power, or cannot afford, to make changes to their homes, including flood and drought resilience measures will struggle to recover affecting their livelihoods.

Similarly, climate change affects men and women differently, largely due to their gender-differentiated roles and responsibilities at the household and community level. The United Nations projects that 80% of people displaced by climate change worldwide are women, and according to a review by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance in 2016, women are more likely to suffer food and job insecurity because of climate crisis.

Gender-based differences such as; access to assets and credit, access to public to decision making space can constrain women’s opportunities and limit their participation on climate related policies. Ghana has made significant strides on primary education and health. But a new face of inequalities is emerging and if left unchecked will undermine Ghana’s progress on development.

Call to Action

As world leaders convene in Glasgow this week for the COP26 U.N. climate conference in what is described as ‘the last best chance to save the earth’, Ghana’s key asks for the global meeting are to seek funding to implement her climate change adaptation measures, negotiate for an alternative to the 2030 fossil to renewable energy transition agenda, and push for the conclusion of the discussions that deal with carbon trading.

It is equally important for the government to increase political voice for the marginalized and harder to reach communities affected by climate change. Government also needs to create opportunities for said marginalized communities and groups at risk of climate change to engage and integrate their concerns into national plans.

This is a timely reminder that the climate crisis affects us differently. We may all be weathering the same storm, but we have very different means to navigate it. How successfully we end up sailing through that storm depends on how financially secure we are, how well connected, how we deal with information and how resilient we are as a people.

As a farmer, you are more affected by climate change if your national as well as natural climate resilience systems are weak. If you live in a coastal area and do not have the means to move, or to fortify your home, flooding and other ‘natural’ disasters hit you more strongly, potentially starting a vicious cycle of poverty. If you have enough resources, you might just be able to jump on a new ship.

The writer is the Coordinator, Project13

Email: [email protected]

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