Time for action on climate change in southern Africa

Luangwa River, Zambia, at the start of the dry season. Emma Archer van Garderen

We know without a doubt that Africa’s climate is changing. We need political intervention if African countries are to mitigate the effects of this problem. African governments need to create policies and pass laws that will support the continent’s people in responding to climate change.

The regional body, The Southern African Development Community, has encountered challenges in creating climate change policy. With sub Saharan Africa being particularly vulnerable, the organisation needs to be active in designing and implementing effective policy.

Weather changes are likely to be a major feature for southern African countries. These changes include increased temperatures in all seasons and abnormal projected rainfall. This includes how often we experience extreme events and possible changes in seasonality.

Challenges in delivery

Weather changes are increasingly the focus of attention in policy-making communities.

Southern Africa’s regional approaches to addressing climate change have, to date, experienced challenges. Some countries have frequently developed their own measures. Botswana is one example of a country that has created its own policy to combat the problem. South African’s also have their own strategies, including some still in development.

The identification of regional priorities remains both critical, and a work in progress. A number of initiatives led by the regional group secretariat over the past several years now aim to address this task - addressing both climate change and the emerging green economy.

A three-pronged approach

Representatives of southern Africa’s member states, and invited partners, met recently in Johannesburg to revise three draft strategies.

The first strategy focuses on the impact of climate change on key sectors, including priorities around support for regional engagement and measurable and achievable actions.

The second comprises of a sister strategy which focuses on science, technology and innovative interventions. It also focuses on regional priorities to support climate change response, including how to support a green and low-carbon development pathway.

A further part of the strategy is how it needs to be done effectively - for example, how it will be financed, where the money will come from, and who will decide how it will be spent.

The third strategy is the regional green economy strategy and action plan for sustainable development. This provides a rationale for why we, as a region, require a green economy approach in development planning. A regional approach allows member states to work as a regional bloc. This has a number of advantages, including allowing us, as member states working together, to have more negotiating power.

The strategy highlights opportunities for taking a green economy approach in key sectors, like manufacturing and mining, biodiversity and tourism, energy and transport. For example, in mining, the recommendations include more resource efficient mining methods, as well as effective ways to restore the area after mining has taken place. The strategy also highlights what might create better conditions for developing green economy options (such as, for example, available skills and appropriate technology), as well as those aspects that might hinder development.

Success lies in execution

In the end it will all come down to implementation, or how we actually put these strategies to work. Ministers are meeting in September to have a look at the revised plans. The important decisions will be around how they make the plans a reality.

Getting all leaders focused on what needs to be done will be the challenge. Given the arguments over design and implementation so far, the real test will be in September. Agreeing on implementation will be tough. And pulling resources together to ensure all factions are working together will be a uphill struggle for southern African leaders. But actually creating green growth is likely to be what challenges these countries the most.