World leaders defaulting on climate change promises

Female-run SMEs and youth at the heart of AfCFTA
Amos Safo is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.

Carbon emissions and their negative impact on climate change continue to top national and global discussions, as world leaders contemplate how they can reduce carbon emissions to zero.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is the latest conference dealing with this critical issue.

More than 130 countries, including Ghana, are discussing plans to comply with requirements and reach net zero by 2050. Ghana sent 618 delegates for the 28th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 28) in Dubai. This represents an increase in Ghana’s delegation size compared to the previous year, and signals the importance government attaches to carbon emissions and climate change.

Like previous ones, the current conference underscores negative impacts from carbon emissions and climate change on the planet – especially on Africa.  Though there is some amount of momentum building toward net zero carbon emissions, the transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free and clean energy is failing to meet agreed Paris climate change targets.

UN climate chief Simon Stiell challenged delegates to take ambitious actions in curbing global warming and ending the climate crisis. “We need the highest ambition, not points-scoring or politics,” said Mr. Stiell, who is Executive Secretary of the UN climate convention that facilitates COP28.

According to Mr. Stiell, having good intentions is not a guarantee that carbon output will reduce to planned targets. He therefore challenged delegates to take an honest look at the real work ahead, because “good intentions won’t reduce emissions this decade or save lives right now. We need enhanced transparency, and to deliver our promise to fund climate action across the world”, he explained.  Mr. Stiell reminded global stakeholders of the need for commitment in funding climate change impact mitigation, indicating that “only serious progress on finance can deliver results for climate action”.

Global stocktake

Furthermore, the United Nations and other stakeholders have agreed on the Global Stocktake as a modality to sustain action in mitigating climate change. The stocktake process was agreed to help review progress countries have made or are making toward net zero carbon emissions. Stocktake also involves plans to identify where there are gaps on reaching goals set by the Paris Climate Change agreement in 2015.

It is envisaged that when the conference ends on December 12, delegates must agree on action points to speed up climate action.

Some of the key pledges and declarations made include:

  • Countries have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars so far for the fund.
  • A pledge to shore-up global health care systems to withstand the worsening impacts of climate change.
  • A pledge to curb cooling-related emissions was joined by nearly 60 countries.

Climate transitions

A critical action to curb climate change has evolved around transitions to green energy. Climate change advocates define a just transition as a shift to more sustainable economies, whereby workers and communities do not bear an inordinate cost or burden. While a sustainable transition hinges on the rapid deployment of technologies; economic, environmental and social sustainability require a holistic approach to engage all stakeholders, especially those disenfranchised by technological revolutions in the twentieth century.

A survey by the UN World Metrological Organisation (WMO) warned that the world is heating-up at a pace that could signal the planet’s collapse if drastic and urgent action is not taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This timely warning should compel countries to move toward more ambitious climate action plans. The onus is on world leaders to achieve the world’s climate ambitions while creating economic opportunity for people, communities and businesses.

Climate engagement

Reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to green energy calls for stakeholder engagement at the national and global levels. It is envisaged that when shareholders actively engage with companies on climate-related issues, it sends a clear message that sustainability is a top priority.

The most fundamental form of climate engagement is sharing expectations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting, carbon transition strategies and other elements of net-zero alignment of corporate operations. As the urgency of addressing climate change continues to grow, investors have a pivotal role to play in driving positive change and ensuring a sustainable future for all.

Situation in Ghana

According to the United Nations Department of Agriculture and Global Agriculture Information Network, Ghana does not have comprehensive climate change legislation but rather piecemeal laws, regulations and policies across various sectors. Nevertheless, the country has ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and been actively participating in international climate negotiations, such as the one currently ongoing in Dubai.

It is however refreshing that government has launched the Renewable Energy Master Plan, which aims to increase the share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix to 20 percent by 2030. Ghana has also been implementing adaptation measures to build resilience against the impacts of climate change.

Ghana is experiencing changes in temperature, rainfall patterns and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods, drought and storms. These impacts have significant implications for the country’s economy, food security and livelihoods of its people.

To address these challenges, appropriate strategies need to be integrated into agriculture, environmental management and increased risk preparedness to promote sustainable energy production. The World Bank estimates approximately US$2billion a year in needed to fund economic hardships currently facing the country.

Rain-fed agriculture

Ghana’s agriculture sector is dominated by smallholder family farms, which are predominantly rain-fed and therefore sensitive to changes of the climate. An estimated 80 percent of farms are rain-fed, with few functioning irrigation systems. Most of these are small farms with an average size of less than 1.2 hectares. Therefore, erratic precipitation patterns have severe consequences on productivity, as only two percent of the country’s irrigation potential is in use.

The agriculture sector plays an important role in Ghana’s economy, and provides employment for about 45 percent of the labour force. Agriculture accounts for almost 20 percent of GDP and nearly half of Ghana’s export earnings.

Ghana is the world’s second-largest cocoa producer and exporter behind neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. These two countries together account for over two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply. Rising temperatures are projected to lower yields in major staple crops – for example, cassava yields are projected to fall by 29.6 percent by 2080 and corn yields by seven percent by 2050.

Furthermore, rising temperatures are likely to increase the presence of pests and diseases which can also lead to crop failure and reduced yields. Suitable areas for cocoa production, mainly along the coast, are also decreasing due to temperature increase, floods, soil salinisation and continued coastal erosion.

Besides, reduced rainfall will shorten growing seasons and hasten the desertification of agricultural land caused by unsustainable farming practices – such as limited crop rotation and poor soil management – that further inhibit production.

Impact on water resources

Climate change is already affecting Ghana’s water resources, as damage and flood exposure is projected to result in damages worth US$160million annually. Rainfall in Ghana is inconstant and will continue to be so throughout the century. The 2023 rainfall pattern attests to growing effects of climate change, as rain is still falling in some parts of the country even though we are in mid-December.

Climate change is a global issue that requires collective action from all countries to address its impacts. While Ghana has shown strong commitment to addressing these challenges through policy and action, the country has conveyed to major donors a need for additional financial assistance to address this issue. Ghana received US$776.5million from international donors between 2013 and 2017 to address climate change.

The three largest providers of climate change funding to Ghana are the European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB) and United States government. These funds predominantly targetted mitigation activities and were distributed across 405 projects in the country.

Poverty and climate change

In many countries within West Africa, especially Ghana, climate variability and irregular weather patterns are exacerbating food insecurity and affecting the rural economy at different points along the agriculture value chain – from on-farm productivity to off-farm issues ranging across policy to trade.

The World Bank’s recent Country and Climate Development Report estimates that at least one million more people could recede into poverty due to climate-related disasters. The Report states that income for poor households could be reduced by up to 40 percent by 2050 if urgent climate actions are not taken.

West Africa, in particular, has been identified as a climate-change hotspot since the region is experiencing rapid population growth (2.8 percent per year) in an environment with shrinking natural resources. Moreover, temperature increases in the region are projected to rise, and areas within 15 degrees of the equator are projected to experience an increase of longer and more frequent heat-waves.

Africa worst-hit

Several studies have affirmed that Africa is one of the smallest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions but is the worst-hit by impacts of climate change. Since climate change directly influences temperature and precipitation, the African agriculture sector is unmistakably the most vulnerable segment of Africa’s economy dealing with this challenge.

As things stand now, most if not all countries on the continent have experienced widespread losses and damage – such as water shortages, reduced food production and reduced economic growth – due to this global problem.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increases in global warming between 1.5° to 2.0° degrees Celsius (C) will cause severe environmental shocks throughout the continent – which will ultimately increase poverty, reduce food production and increase food insecurity.

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